152 Tooley Street, London, England, SE1 2TU, United Kingdom

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Magdalen is set in an unpromising location near London Bridge Street. There is a downstairs bar and a few tables, but the main dining area is upstairs. The decor is simple and unfussy, and service is relaxed and pleasant, though not very slick: "who ordered what?". The booking process was also rather unfortunate; I had changed the table from a booking for two to a table for three, and when we arrived they could find no record of the change. Later on the waitress said that they had indeed found the change, but we were still crammed into an uncomfortable corner table with no legroom, despite a regular table for four a few yards away being unused all evening.

The menu changes daily and has seven or eight starters and a similar number of main courses, aiming for rustic British cooking. I started with smoked eel, which had good texture and enjoyable taste, served with a capable remoulade of celeriac, a combination that worked well (15/20). My dining companion's rabbit terrine was hearty and well made, while potted Devon crab and toast was pleasant also. As can be seen, there are no frills with presentation here.

My main course of roast Middlewhite pork was less good. There was a generous slab of pork but it was surprisingly fatty, yet also a little stringy in places. This was accompanied only some slightly undercooked purple sprouting broccoli, and the mild mustard sauce with it did not help to provide any balancing acidity to the richness of the pork. This was troubling, since not only was the pork rather disappointing in itself, but the conception of the dish seems to me somewhat flawed (11/20). Better was smoked haddock, choucroute, sausage and butter sauce. A baked lemon sole with a few tiny shrimps was correctly cooked but had a watery beurre blanc, and the fennel advertised actually appeared as leeks.

A plate of cheese was entirely British: Tunworth, Westcombe cheddar and Colston Basset Stilton; these were in reasonable, though not perfect, condition (15/20). Rum baba was nicely made, managing to be quite moist, which is not a trivial thing to pull off (15/20). Apple tarte tatin was fairly well made, served with good vanilla ice cream which had smooth texture and plenty of vanilla taste. The apples were caramelised but there was no caramel liquid so perhaps it had been made some time earlier. The pastry was crisp but a little hard (14/20).

Bread comprised slices of reasonable bought-in crusty brown bread (14/20). The wine list is fairly priced, with wines from good New World producers like Bonny Doon as well as some pleasant French wines. The mineral water was warm when served, which should really be fixed. Starters ranged from £6.50 to £10.50, main courses from £14.50 to £24.25 and desserts from £5 to £6.

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  • Norman Hui

    Got a tip from my very knowledgeable friend that the Peruvian restaurant on Tooley street was replaced by a much better incarnation. Having worked in London Bridge for over seven years, I felt more than most the area desperately needs a good restaurant, something more reasonably priced than the Conran rip-off of Le pont de la Tour and the Chophouse that charge punters huge amount for the view, less trendy than Roast or Tapas Brindisa in Borough market so that a conversation is possible, and more food orientated that a decent meal can be had for the gastronomically-initiated. Magdalen was the answer to my prayers. The dining room was decorated simply in a dark shade of burgundy with semi-circular wall lights. Tables tend to be small but reasonably spaced. But the main attraction here is the food, the chefs had previously trained at the Fat Duck, Mandarin Oriental and Manoir aux quat' Saisons. From the lunch menu I had the hot foie gras with prunes and Armagnac sauce. The foie gras was a whole lobe of the liver sitting in the plate, it had a rather light pinkish colour, upon enquiring the waitress told me it was first poached then fried, the result was most satisfying: warm, succulent yet firm, melt-in-the-mouth tender (8/10). This is on par with any other I had in more expensive or fancier places and only better, for this dish alone I returned for another meal. My main course was written as slow cooked breast of mutton, sprout tops and turnips but turned out, quite to my surprise, as three rectangular, breadcrumb encrusted long slabs sitting on a bed of green leaves. These large "mutton fingers", as they reminded me so much of the fish fingers, were very good indeed: the meat was moist, tender and flavoursome and they worked very well with the slightly bitter sprout leaves and the sweetish turnips (6/10), only I detected a whiff of greasy smell from the evidently deep-fried breadcrumbs that was less than perfect…perhaps they could tone down the frying a little bit. My friend's baked brill with leeks and brown shrimps was very attractive not only for the eye but also for the palate, the snow-white flakes of the brill contrasting with the yellow and green of the leeks, the texture is light and smooth with a clean taste to match (5/10). On a return visit for dinner, the foie gras had increased in size: this time two lobes of the quivering delight in each plate, made even more amazing as the price remained the same. The sheer size of it put all other restaurant to shame: it is easily double that I had in Square or Captial, and almost four times as much as in Club Gascon or Greenhouse; to top it all, it was cooked to perfection with its rich flavour and smooth texture complimented well by the Amagnac sauce (8/10). The roasted wing-rib of Longhorn beef with fried potatoes and watercress for two was happily shared between my friend and I, the beef was suitably juicy and tender with copious amount of fat giving it full flavour as one would expect from meat roasted on the bone (7/10). The sauce was also very good but I would have preferred if they hadn't left it in an indentation on the wooden serving board: it may look original but a difficult task to scoop out without a spoon; with the amount of beef there was, and there was enough to feed two hungry gym-going guys, we practically soaked up every last drop of it. We couldn't resist the dessert so I got the last of the chestnut millefeuille of the night, unfortunately it fell short of the high standard set by the preceding two courses; my friend's chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream was perhaps the better choice. We had a very good Grand Cru Classe St-Emilion, Ch. Troplong-Mondot 1994 to go with the beef. I have had several vintages of this wine in different restaurants and have never been disappointed; the bouquet was enticing, the body full and the finish long. In comparison, the Bergerac "Le Classique", Ch. Tour des Gendres 2004 was much harsher in tannin and much less well balanced with almost no bouquet to speak of. What can one expect when drinking on the cheap?! Service was at times slow, but the waiters all tried to be helpful so give them points for enthusiasm if not for efficiency. Costs about £75 per head, rather good value for money if one doesn't include the £60 bottle St. Emilion.