This surprisingly stylish restaurant is well positioned on Tooley Street near London Bridge. Despite having travelled down that road literally hundreds of time (it’s on my way home), I’d always passed by the unassuming and slightly worn awning and sign and dismissed it as just another coffee and sandwich shop catering the swarms of suits (myself included) that worked in the area. Yet through the doors lies a sleek dining room which epitomises French elegance and, more importantly, has the top quality food to match.
It’s not cheap with mains running at around £20 and starters and desserts being £8, but the food is delicious and the staff unusually friendly and welcoming. In an area starved of quality restaurants, Magdalen definitely stands out as a bit of hope for those who want to plan a work lunch or dinner without settling for the old stand by of Gaucho.
There are plenty of places for a drink in the area from More London Champagne just up the street to the Horniman Pub on the riverfront. Alternatively, if you just want a pint then head over to the Shipwright Arms for your standard drafts at reasonable prices.
If you don’t mind a bit of a walk, there are a couple of excellent pubs on Bermondsey St from the Wool Pack which has a large beer garden and Village East which makes a spectacular Sazerac.
We’re well watered, how about the food?
I should preface this as noting I had just come back from a week of snowboarding in Chamonix, so I had had my fill of French food. Still, the boss has chosen this place so I went for it without complaint – and I’m pretty glad I did. In general, all the food looked pretty damn tasty and got favourable feedback from my colleagues. I opted for the smoked salmon to start, the roast rump of veal for a main, and a sticky date pudding for dessert.
The salmon itself was perfect – well seasoned and lightly cured without any overwhelming saltiness I often find with store-bought smoked salmon. And on its own, the potato pancake was likewise tasty with a balanced seasoning and smooth texture. However, given that it was served piping hot, it didn’t quite go with the salmon and gave the impression of cooking my fish further. An almost perfect starter with great flavours and just a slight miss in temperature control.
Moving on the roast veal, this showcased the skill of the kitchen. Veal is a hard meat to balance between cooking enough to bring out the flavour but not overcooking and losing the lovely pink colour and tender texture. The chef nailed it and the result was one of the most flavourful veal dishes I’ve ever had. The juices of the veal mixed with the bed of sweet celeriac puree and the resulting combination was very moreish – to the point where I had to control myself from licking the plate. Any dish where the plate is returned cleaner then when it popped out of the washer is one to remember. Most of the table went for the baked rabbit and in general it received high acclaim.
Finally, the sticky date pudding wasn’t quite French but it’s one of my favourites. Magdalen didn’t disappoint which a soft moist cake served steaming hot with a generous serving of caramel sauce. My only gripe is the choice of vanilla cream as opposed to ice cream as an accompaniment as I think the hot pudding requires the contrasting cold ice cream to really be enjoyed.
The other dessert which caught my eye was the chocolate tart with prune and Armagnac ice cream. My Italian co-worker pronounced it sublime and I reckon he knows a thing or two about desserts.
And to wash it down?
We started with the house champagne (it was a NY/Russian Xmas party after all) and it went down a treat. I didn’t manage to sneak a look at the bottle unfortunately but it looked legit (as did the wines). A special note to the glassware provided which was delicate and enhanced the experience. I find a number of restaurants are going to for thicker or odd shaped glassware to reduce damage or provide a quirky unique feel. That’s all well and good if it works, but there is something to be said about the understated elegance of a traditional glass that appeals to my inner posh dude in a smoking jacket.
Worth the dosh?
Despite the slightly small portion size (although after 3 courses I was quite full), I think yes. The food was excellent and the drinks tasty as well. I’d say a 3 course meal with wine would probably run you £40-50 so it’s not a standard dinner joint but a good place to take clients or a date you want to impress.
Find Magdalen here
152 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2TU
020 7403 1342