Monday 12 July 2010

The Magdalen Arms, Oxford

I think it's perfectly reasonable to travel miles and miles for a decent feed. When you can incorporate it into a day trip, then it's even better. The Magdalen Arms has been on my list of places to visit since Matthew Norman wrote about it, followed by Dos Hermanos. The owners were from the Anchor and Hope, and you can really tell from the menu; short, well priced and very seasonal.

Four of us jumped on a train at the ungodly hour of 9:30am (on a Saturday!) and an hour later, we were on the streets of Oxford in the balmy summer morning's sun. Having an alumni in our midst meant we could wander around the beautiful colleges, stopping off for some liquid refreshment on the way. We arrived at the pub, slightly sweating and starving. Seated in the back garden, we kicked off with a pear and elderflower prosecco, some excellent bread, and a bottle of light blush-tinged rosé.

I wanted everything off the menu. I could feel the panic rising, that fear of indecision and the terror of picking something inferior to my companions' dishes. It sounds melodramatic but food envy really does suck. Happily, we all agreed to order most of the menu to share and my fears were dispelled.

Brawn appeared terrine-style sliced thinly, fanned across the plate and it was meaty, wobbly goodness. Capers, parsley and shallots added tang, crunch and freshness while a mustardy dressing suited it perfectly.

Baked artichoke with goats cheese and herbed breadcrumbs drew admiring gasps from the table. Leaves slid off with the gentlest of tugs and each morsel was satisfyingly delicious. Definitely something I'd like to recreate at home, it made a change from simply steamed and dipped in vinaigrette. The heart was sweet and it was scooped up greedily.

Cheddar soufflé was divided into four studiously. Fluffy and with a generous cheesy hit, it was rich yet light. The salad was dill-heavy which pleased me and was an interesting twist to the salad. The people in the kitchen at The Magdelen Arms know how to dress their leaves.

After the excellence of the starters, we awaited the main courses eagerly. An enormous veal schnizel with a rocket and tomato salad arrived. The meat was beautifully breadcrumbed and was moist and tender. Tomatoes were sweet, juicy and actually tasted of tomatoes - something I haven't said in a long time.

Rabbit with bacon, mustard and shallots was gorgeous and I wanted it all to myself. I almost didn't let go of the plate. The braised shallots added sweetness, the bacon sharp hits of saltiness. The rabbit was tender, juicy and fell off the bone. Wilted chard beneath gave that luscious green mineral element to the dish. Top marks.

Whole crab with mayonnaise was perfect simplicity. At just under a tenner it was bargainous too. Crab viscera sprayed us as we extracted the sweet meat from its shell, attracting the flies in the garden to swarm around the detritus. The mayonnaise was abandoned for a purer flavour.

The only dud of the meal was the roasted pigeon with semolina gnocchi and braised radishes. The pigeon was over-cooked and tough. When I hacked off a piece to put in my mouth I was quite repulsed; livery in texture, and overtly gamey. It was abandoned. The rectangle of gnocchi, however, was delicious; pillowy in texture and shot through with sage. I'd never have thought to cook radishes either but will in the future. These were slightly crisp, warm and flavoursome.

All in all, a lovely meal. Although the pigeon was pretty unappetising, I am confident that it was a one-off mistake from the kitchen as the rest of the meal was outstanding. Service was sweet and friendly, and our total bill came to £102 including 2 bottles of wine and 3 coffees before service. A total bargain and I couldn't figure out why the place wasn't packed out to the rafters.

After a lazy punt and a sit in the meadows, we headed back to London, some 11 hours after we arrived. All in all, a perfect day really.

The Magdalen Arms

243 Iffley Road,

Tel: 01865 243 159

When booked in advance we managed to get return tickets for £10 each as part of the Groupsave scheme as there were 4 of us. Oxford is about an hour away.


Chris Pople said...

Pigeon is my favourite thing in the whole world and I was so disappointed they'd cocked it up, but then again it seems mean to go on about this one dud dish and the rest was fantastic. What a brilliant day.

Kerri said...

It all looks lovely, shame about the pigeon.

I really like the idea of stuffed artichokes and braised radishes.

S said...

must have been such a glorious day-love the baked arty. x shayma

Patrick said...

I love all of the places the A&H team do but I think this is my favourite - had a great meal here.

Su-Lin said...

Oooh, I've been meaning to pop over to Oxford to visit a friend and this shall be our eating place!

catty said...

Wow that whole crab for under a tenner was bargainous indeed! I really liked Oxford and would love to go back cos last time I went was just as I was struck down by a tummy bug. Not good.

Sophie said...

I can't believe you made it to the Magdalen Arms before me! We actually life in Oxford so I've no excuse for being so slow (we did have a table booked but had to cancel at the last minute). Glad to hear that you enjoyed it - I'm inspired to try again on my birthday in a few weeks time

Helen said...

That pigeon was just so at odds with the rest of the meal. Strange really. The rest though - delicious! I really enjoyed the trip down memory lane too.

Northern Snippet said...

The baked artichoke looks lovely and the crab looks huge what a bargain.

George@CulinaryTravels said...

What a bargain. I really like Oxford, should make a trip (and eat there) again soon.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great excuse for a day trip to Oxford!

Super Noodle Rach said...

so me and my friend have spent hours reading old post! love the blog, googled "panda panda banh mi" and it got me here!

The Curious Cat said...

Wow - what wonderful dishes! Looks like a really good place to go! xxx

Dan said...

Ive wanted to visit here since reading about it on Dos Hermanos, anything connected to The Anchor and Hope seems to be bloody fine, and nice to see that this doesn't dissapoint. Good work.