Magdalen, 152 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TU, UK
The Restaurant: Magdalen is a well-established restaurant near London Bridge. The menu is British with European influence but strikes you as a celebration of great British food (take heed French readers – we can do it!)
The situation: Business lunch for two.
The environment: Walking into Magdalen is like walking back in time to an elegant Victorian dining house. Deep plum walls have an almost womb-like effect and the practical, if plain tables give off an air of past-times understated decadence. Chandeliers ensure you are never in the gloom. The atmosphere is quiet, friendly, semi-formal and calm.
The service: Like the décor the service is understated and warm. Staff are friendly without being in any way obsequious. If you start to chat and do not look at the menu that is not a problem. There is no rush, no pushing, no pressure. You relax into the plum-coloured room as if it is your friend’s parlour. Requests to change the menu to suit taste were met positively and we were impressed when we were asked if the chef needed to know about any food intolerances. We rested assured that everything was freshly made.
The food: We kept to fish, though there was a good offering of meat on the menu. You get the impression this is a winter menu focused on comfort.
We started with fresh bread and salty butter. The bread was the perfect balance of lightness and chewiness and the butter to die for. This would happily make a meal with just a glass of wine. For the starters we chose potted crab and a dish of hot smoked salmon on potato pancake with crème fraiche. The potted crab was perfectly presented in a pot and generous. Crab was fresh and not overwhelmed by the butter and nutmeg. The accompanying toast set of the flavours well. The smoked salmon starter was a mini-meal. The very light potato pancake was the perfect base for rich, salty salmon (smoked salmon heated rather than hot-smoked salmon). The crème fraiche further cut through the richness to make the flavours more subtle but somehow did not make the dish greasy.
Mains were fish stew and smoked haddock. The fish stew arrived in its saucepan and the aroma made your mouth water. It was a generous mix of hake, bream, clams and potatoes in a subtle but flavourful broth. Toast and aioli balanced well as an accompaniment. The smoked haddock was cooked to flaky perfection and served in a seaweed butter which gave delicate flavour without being too ‘seaweedy’. Leeks and spinach made a good base. The potatoes were a little underdone for me – but I like them soft. Sides of sprout-tops and white beans were well cooked and turned out to be a dish too far as the mains were so generous and had vegetables.
Desserts: We were simply too full to sample these. However, there was a good range which catered for all tastes - gingerbread ice-cream, Somerset apple brandy trifle, clementine cheesecake, chocolate and pear tart, lemon pot and cassis. For non-sweet toothed there was a good cheese board.
The price: Magdalen is not cheap at £94.00 for two including two drinks and service. We liked the fact that the restaurant is part of the Streetsmart charity which adds just £1 to your bill to support the homeless. However, the mix of comfort, service, very good food and generous portions made the bill very easy to pay. This restaurant is Sassy-recommended.
Overall rating: We are giving 8/10 and will be back to try the summer menu.