Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Anna Inman compare notes on The Magazine.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Anna Inmanis a pre-sales bid director from Hertfordshire. Her favourite types of food are modern British and French. Her best eating out experience was at Gordon Ramsay’s Hospital Road and her guilty pleasure is Cadbury’s chocolate fingers.
The Magazine is an ultra-modern addition to the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens. With its bold sci-fi front, the restaurant stands out from the gallery’s traditional red brick façade. The building was designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid and it’s a sleek space, in greys and whites with splashes of lime green. Berlin-born chef Oliver Lange has a love of Japanese food (even being known by the nickname ‘Olly-san’) and his modern European menu is Asian influenced. À la carte, starters range from sushi to grills such as robata lamb tartar with aubergine and cornbread, while main courses include Dingley Dell pork, carrots and plum. There is also a good-value set lunch menu.
With the exception of a wonderful sommelier, service was sweet but rather vague. Wine lists were promised but never materialized, with wine glasses left mournfully unfilled. Despite the restaurant being fairly empty on a weekday lunch time, trying to catch the attention of the staff could be testing. It wasn’t that the front of house was actually bad, just a touch amateur. Tap water wasn’t offered and I wasn’t recognised.
As we excitedly entered the grounds of the gallery, the modern glass restaurant twinkled with candlelight. The Magazine has a cool, space-age feel and we were welcomed into its cavernous but intimate space by friendly staff. Our table for two was next to the pass, but sadly, the sleek white wall that wrapped around the kitchen was too high for us to be able to see the theatre of the cooking. Tap water was provided.
There was nothing appallingly wrong with the food, no leathery pieces of steak, or rancid scraps of fish, but it was distinctly unmemorable and seemingly unable to decide whether it was Asian or European. Now there’s nothing wrong with attempting to do both but here pretty much every dish underwhelmed. Sushi was notable only for the blob of fresh wasabi, grated at the table. Great to see a real wasabi root, but why go to all that trouble when the actual sushi is merely a notch above average? Thai beef salad was packed with wonderful slices of rare, properly bosky beef and had decent chilli heat. While yuzu juice is an interesting addition to this Siamese classic, it’s used with an over-heavy hand and dominates pretty much every other flavour. The same is true of the hamachi sashimi. The fish is beautifully fresh (although hardly a sashimi cut), but any delicacy is drowned by an aggressively sharp sauce. Pork Donburi was easily the best dish, the meat soft and rich, and rice wallowing in a deeply flavoured broth. An oozing egg adds its considerable charms, while pickles supplied a nicely acidic kick. It could hold its head up high in even the most traditional of Japanese restaurants. It’s a shame that everything was not this assured. A great hunk of cod was well cooked too, but the sauce was cloyingly creamy. And dull. One mouthful was enough – little more than an edible shrug.
Zingy elderberry sour cocktails were the perfect accompaniment to a spot of people watching. At £10, they’re pricey, but a must. I started with delicious seafood sushi. The portion was on the large side but I was happy. Fresh wasabi was grated at the table and was far superior to any paste. My husband ordered the lamb tartar but was served the baby beets instead and he felt it was style over substance. The fillet of beef was exquisitely tender but lacked flavour and was completely overpowered by the yakiniku sauce which was very salty and spoiled the taste of the whole dish. A main of cod was well cooked, flavourful and looked beautiful, although it lacked texture. Because the main courses arrived very swiftly after the starters, we both felt like we had indigestion. Desserts arrived three minutes after ordering. I opted for the chocolate surprise. The surprise was an unnecessary addition of salt to an otherwise perfectly fluffy mousse and caramel sauce. (It was later removed from the bill, along with two coffees, after I mentioned the salt). My husband’s apple with oak smoked ice cream looked great, but he dived in only to find that a simple apple crumble would have been better. If we had not had an espresso, we would have finished our meal in just over an hour; it felt very rushed. However, I imagine the speed of service would be appreciated by lunch-time diners.
the bottom line
The room is magnificent and you can gaze out at the distant form of the Albert Memorial, but the food simply doesn’t live up to its surroundings. Ingredients are top notch but, in pretty much every dish, they’re smothered under an excess of bullying flavours. There’s talent here, but at the moment, there’s little reason to return.
FOOD 6/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 6/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 19/30
The design, cool vibe, fantastic cocktails, wine list and service were highlights. The music, provided by two bored looking DJs, was annoying and the over seasoned food let The Magazine down.
FOOD 5/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 8/10; ANNA’S TOTAL: 21/30
The Magazine Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
The Magazine achieved its best sustainability rating for meat-sourcing, as much of the produce is organic and local. The lowest score was for fish sourcing, and the SRA would recommend implementing a sustainable supplier agreement. The restaurant should look to assess its fish against the criteria set out by the Marine Conservation Society as the menu includes seafood and sashimi. The Magazine caters well for vegetarians and is communicates its sustainable, ethical stance well. It’s fortunate to be in a building created with environmental forethought, and the SRA commends it for separating and recycling its food waste.