Considering it was the day after the pseudo-crisis on Oxford Street, we were expecting central London to be quiet on Saturday. Turns out, the British shopper is never deterred. All the way from Oxford Street to Shaftesbury Avenue the roads were rammed. Even the more typically quiet Soho streets were buzzing and restaurant queues overflowing. It was hell.
So we – the Other Half and I – were in need of somewhere to eat. Some respite. Some rest from the cold. Hopefully with some bang up food. I remembered Magpie being mentioned a lot recently, and after a quick glance at the steak tartare on the website, we decided to hope for the best.
Magpie at 2:15 on a Saturday afternoon was certainly a rest from the cold storm brewing outside. “It looks a bit like everywhere I just ate in New York” the Other Half commented referring to the heavy-handed use of industrial motifs. And yet, actually there was a cosiness to it – maybe it was the big lightbulb hanging just a foot or two above us.
A lot on the menu looked appetising. Magpie picks and chooses at will from the Nordics (lots of fermentation), southern Europe (arancino, pain perdu, Époisses), and varying parts of Asia (szechuan, prawn toast, tempura, unagi). For someone with quite the spice aversion, often a lot of flavours are absent from my plates. For me, Magpie was a great way to dip my toe into waters of relatively unknown flavours with the comfort of coq au vin coming in just two dishes time.
There are some real standout winners here. Their take on a caeser salad might just be the best one I’ve eaten all year (sorry Smoke + Salt). The parmesan dressing doesn’t smother the lettuce leaves, and instead you just get a short but sharp tang of parmesan at the roof of the mouth. The fried chicken ‘coq au vin’ (they marinate the chicken in red wine for a day, then fry it), is delicious and the whipped mayonnaise it comes with is divine. The steak tartare too is a real delight, and actually a great portion size if you find a usual starter (or main) tartare a bit too much. And their dessert of birthday cake, white chocolate crumble, thousands of powders is probably the most delicious sweet I’ve had all year.
For all the ups, however, there are some downs. The turbot dish that comes as bigger plate/main, is just too much after so many rich, smaller plates before. The deconstructed spring roll is so tart and vinergary it almost ruined the palate for other courses. Overall, there were too many rich, bold flavours here. We were recommended a Riesling (Schloss Marienlay, Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt, 2014) to drink – and if it hadn’t been for this, there wouldn’t have been much to cut through the weight of the dishes.
As the namesake goes, there’s a Magpie approach to flavour here. In part this works very well: a chance to pick flavours from around the world that within an individual dish work very well together. The problem here, as with many small plate eateries, is that as a menu it’s all a bit too much. A tasting menu from this team would have been a preferred option: one where some of the rich flavours gave way for lighter ones. There’s plenty of good dishes here, just pick wisely.