Magdalen – Beautifully unpretentious fine food

So this is my second review in 2014 and for the second time, I’ll be raving about the place, making me worry whether I lost my “edge,” but I do believe I just happen to have a lucky food start to the year.

Recommended by a friend’s colleague, five of us Japanese finance girls in London ventured to the Magdalen last week for our girls night out, the location of London Bridge often chosen as a good compromise for the City vs Canary Wharf crowd that needs to be accommodated. Part of the modern day phenomenon, relying dangerously too much on Google maps, I wasted a few minutes walking up and down the corner of Tooley and Shand Street before activating my brain the tiniest bit and actually checking the address which indicated that Google maps was in fact lying to me, the restaurant being just one block down on Tooley Street itself.

Having booked for 18:30, it was a rather early dinner and despite it being Thursday evening, I was the first one in (first one from my table as well). The initial quietness was temporary though, as soon enough the place was buzzing with guests. The very tastefully decorated wooden interior had an elegant understatement about it, which was to be reflected in the food as well.

The seasonal menu (I LOVE seasonal menus!) was easily structured on a one page double print with today’s date. There was a selection of about eight starters and main courses each with starters ranging from £8 to £12 and mains around £18 (though mine was over that at £23.50). A challenge for a group of non-native speakers like us (despite decent English skills) was to understand what was on offer. Braised Dexter featherblade? (We wrongly deduced it must be some kind of bird) Roast Calves sweetbreads? (We were pretty sure it had nothing to do with bread) Gurnard and Kid? (We could hardly tell whether this was about some animal or not) After a few google searches and asking our friendly waiter however, we narrowed down our selection.

20140123_194447For the starters, we were split between the Devon crab salad and Italian ham and baked ricotta toast (3 to 2). My starter of Devon crab salad was nicely presented with the few pieces of blood orange giving a refreshing zest to the more than satisfying amount of crab meat. But I must say the Italian ham on the other side of the table looked more than delicious, again with plentiful of that salty ham, the flavour filling up the air, with the baked toast.

20140123_204336On the mains, we went all our ways and I chose the calves sweetbreads (after having researched what it is). Now I know sweetbread isn’t to everyone’s taste and although I’m a sweetbread lover and could go for almost any form, I believe these were very nicely prepared to even please the amateur or first timer out there. While still having that strong juiciness, the meat wasn’t all too chewy or fatty and was also very mild in taste to enjoy.

20140123_212150Nothing really jumped at me on the dessert menu but I still went for the chocolate tart. Although the tart was fully meeting my expectations, the fruit pieces in the Armagnac ice weren’t necessarily to my taste. Still, with my camomile tea, the tart with just the right amount of moisture went down well.

If I were to come up with any shortcomings…(And that would definitely qualify as nit-picking) It’s that we got four pieces of bread even though we were five!

My menu for the night:

Devon crab salad, blood orange and salsify £11.00

Roast calves sweetbreads, braised lettuce, white beans and chicken juices £23.50

Chocolate tart and prune & Armagnac ice cream £6.50

Our girls night out averaged £52 with three courses and a bottle of white wine. The Magdalen is a very classy restaurant of understatement with caring hosts where food definitely plays the central role. I’d recommend it for either a date (not necessarily that anniversary celebration but definitely more than your average weekly dinner out) or a small group, quiet enough to enjoy food as well as conversation.

 

Price: ££££

Food: *****

Service: *****

Decor: ****

 

Square Meal

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Sushisamba – Converting the Fusion sceptic in me

My first restaurant review in 2014 aptly connects to last year having had to book well more than a month in advance to pick a date that worked for us. After reading quite a few critical reviews on Sushisamba, I feel hesitant to say it, anxious to come across as too simple and naïve in taste but… I must admit I absolutely loved my experience there celebrating a friend’s birthday, easily catapulting it into my Top 5 special occasions restaurants in London.

“Fusion cuisine” is a word that usually makes me queazy and I’m especially skeptical of the results when it involves my delicate native Japanese cuisine abused and brutalised for the sake of a modern food experiment. And so I came with more than a healthy amount of bias towards this Peruvian Brazilian Japanese fusion food from across the pond.

On the 38/39th floor of Heron Tower, getting to Sushisamba I must say was a bit of a wanna-be fussy show walking through the door next to the neon orange restaurant sign on the ground floor past the receptionist walking through a short small corridor to the glass elevator. Not for people suffering acrophobia, the fast elevator provides a clear view of the city. Finally on the 38th, there was yet another small corridor to cross to finally reach the restaurant’s cloak room. Perhaps it was because we arrived at the same time as another party but guidance was lost somewhere and we ended up standing in the bar area not really knowing which way to go. After apprehending one of the many waiters rushing by, we were guided to the receptionist. After some waiting, our voyage finally came to an end, seated at a window table with a perfect view over London and the Thames which helped appease my earlier irritation. From then on, the entire experience was almost impeccable.

The interior was modern stylish. I had seen the terrace with the illuminated tree already online but the real view was even more stunning. We also came with the perfect weather to enjoy it. The lighting was very unique, not too obnoxious to steal the attention away from the food or service and yet very detailed. If you ever run into a conversational standstill, you can definitely bridge the gap discussing the various lightbulbs in the room.

2014-01-19 19.23.24

Our friendly waiter explained the menu perfectly well (his Spanish accent took a while getting used to but he made up for it in his charming manner), also highlighting his personal preferences without any hesitance. Whether or not I follow recommendations, I do like waiters who have an own opinion and give me a feeling of knowing and caring about the place they work at.

And so following our waiter’s suggestion to pick 2 to 3 dishes (not from the large plates which are for bigger groups) per person and choosing a few of his recommendations, we ended up with the following mix:

From the small plates

2014-01-19 19.32.10CRISPY TAQUITOS (2 per order) £12.00

Yellowtail avocado and roasted corn miso

WAGYU GYOZA  £12.00

Kabocha puree, sesame and su-shoyu dipping sauce

From the raw section

SASHIMI SEVICHE ‘MIXTO’ £11.00

Octopus, prawn, south coast white fish, sweet potato, aji limo leche de tigre

From the Robata

2014-01-19 20.05.11SALMON £14.00

Orange miso, peruvian dark chocolate

And finally from the Samba Rolls

SAMBA LONDON £16.00

Crab, tuna, salmon, white fish, prawn, scallop, wagyu, avocado, tempura crunch, wasabi mayo, aji panca, housemade soy reduction

STRAWBERRY MAKI £14.00

Soy paper roll, goma wakame, strawberry, yuzu crab mayo, tobiko caviar, avocado, sweet potato, wasabi mayo

2014-01-19 20.09.44

Strawberries in rice?? Dark chocolate on salmon??? We had our doubts. But almost as a dare, took up the challenge, only to find ourselves truly impressed by the level of sophistication and thought put into the dishes, not only in terms of taste but artistic display. It was truly fusion cuisine with influences of all three cuisines collaborating in our dishes. Daring, challenging and delicious.

After this more than filling meal, we took a peek at the dessert menu. ASSORTED MOCHI? We were a bit worried we might end up with the Japanese supermarket frozen food variant just a bit touched up, but were pleasantly surprised by a colourful dessert with so many diverse ice fillings. I myself went for the YUZU TART CHEESECAKE our waiter couldn’t stop marvelling about. The presentation was nothing like I expected: glazed scoop of ice cream, once you cracked the surface, a cheesecake with a magical freshness awaited.

2014-01-19 21.16.502014-01-19 21.16.41ASSORTED MOCHI £8.00

soft japanese rice cake filled with ice cream

YUZU TART CHEESECAKE £13.00

sugar sphere, crispy yuzu, strawberry gelée, yuzu-basil granité, orange zest

At the end of our dinner, like so many of the popular busy places, the next group was waiting to get our table, but without any rushing, our waiters at Sushisamba, more than polite, kindly suggested we could move on to the bar to enjoy the view some more. On this occasion we didn’t, but we’ll sure do next time.

Square Meal

The Letter and the Speech (or Documents of a Twisted Personality)

I sit, the blank digital page of the screen shining against me in the dark, take a sip of water and sigh. Looking down, looking up again, I finally take my fingers to the keyboard.

For those who don’t already know me, I am Allison and the Maid of Honour today. Claudia and I know each other for fourteen years now and I am touched to be standing here today on one of the most special days of her life. This wedding is double special for me as the groom has grown over the past year to become a very close friend of mine too.

I have known Claudia from just about the age where boys started to play any role and have accompanied her through all her ups and downs, loves and heartbreaks. There are many funny memories I cannot share in this censored environment. Instead I’d like to focus today on clearly the only one relationship that ever mattered.

When it comes to Sandeep and Claudia’s relationship, I had a front row seat in the movie theatre premiere, having been there from the earliest days. I remember Sandeep’s fierce courtship and Claudia’s denial, hesitant to lose a wonderful friendship. But it’s perhaps just that hesitance that made this relationship even greater when she finally gave in. Because when that first kiss was shared on our living room couch, it wasn’t just a steamy moment but a sweet promise of all that would eventually come.

There are two key moments I remember thereafter:

February 2013, the visit to Singapore

The day you, Claudia, came back from visiting Singapore and Sandeep’s family for the first time officially as his girlfriend. You were all smiles telling me how much you loved it there, how wonderful his mother was, taking you in her arms like you were her own daughter. I never told you this, but that day I cried alone in my room, in happiness and sadness. Happiness because I knew you had finally found the one. Sadness because I knew that it was the end of an era for you and me.

June 2013, the proposal preparation

When Sandeep messaged me asking me to meet him in the nearby pub in the City, I knew it was serious. I didn’t dare say anything but already knew what he was going to ask.

“I want to steal your roommate from you,” he said half asking as if requiring my permission. From this day on, I spoke to Sandeep almost every day, planning the proposal, collaborating on secretly measuring Claudia’s ring size, discussing when and where the proposal was to take place, even suggesting he should practice going down on one knee, making sure his trousers don’t crack. The highlight of it all was that I was allowed to be a part of that very special moment, right there in that romantic setting of their favourite French restaurant where Sandeep was so nervous he couldn’t get the ring out, while Claudia was gasping and in tears.

Another fourteen months have passed since that special night. Although you are husband and wife for the first time today, I know your hearts and souls have merged already long ago.

Now, I invite you all to stand and raise your glasses in a toast to Claudia and Sandeep, wishing them ever-lasting love and happiness in their new life. To new beginnings!

I put my fingers to rest. I read over the draft and save it as “Claudia_wedding_speech.doc.” I open a fresh page, sigh once more and type away again.

Dear Claudia,

I know this must be coming as a shock to you but I cannot hold it any longer. Today, I am writing you to request terminating our friendship. We know each other for over a decade and have been sharing a flat for half of that time and so it may seem irrational of me to request such a sudden end.

But truth be told, for the longest time, ours was a marriage of convenience, me having a two bedroom flat and you being a clean person to live with. When you started to refer to me as your ‘best friend’ or ‘soul sister,’ I was taken aback. To me, you were nothing more than a person who lived in the same square-foot space who paid me regularly. And yet, like a weak-willed man giving in to an overbearing girlfriend, I gave in to your neediness and have a couple of years ago even decided to upgrade your status in my mind and call you a friend.

Continue reading “The Letter and the Speech (or Documents of a Twisted Personality)”

If you’re interested…

Dear cherished followers of my little musings,

I should apologise for my lack of recent updates… And this update isn’t really an update… But more a notification…
Should any one of you be interested to see some of my more creative side, please check out the new blog I have just started as part of my New Year’s resolution to dedicate more time to creative writing.

I just finished an experimental short story called “The Ken Doll.” For anyone who’s got a few minutes to spare, this is an easily digestible (maybe less so for the men out there) quick tube ride read.

I will of course continue my explorations of London here, so stay tuned!

A happy 2014 everyone! x

 

The Ken Doll (or The Curious Case of the Shrinking Tool)

He closed his eyes and rubbed it, conjuring the images from last night, that blond nymph sensually moaning on top of him. Then, he rapidly took out his tape measure, holding it from the base on the inner side right up to the tip where the hole was, like the NHS site had suggested, using the same method as in the past few weeks. 12.9 centimetres. There was no denial, it was smaller.  He didn’t keep records initially because really, it couldn’t be true. But 12.9 cm? Since those silly teenage days, where hidden in the family bathroom he’d quietly measured himself, he always had at least 15.0 cm, if not 16.5 cm on a good day, well above average. 

***

He recalled that ominous Thursday walking into the bar; no wingman, no friends, just tired of everyone. Worn down by a long week that only resulted in a major deal falling through at the last minute, a good fuck was in order. The rooftop lounge turning into a club with the view of St. Paul’s cathedral wide in front of him was one of his favourites. He had avoided this place for a while; too many familiar faces. But today it felt just right. Sitting at the long sleek black counter and having ordered his one drink for the night, a Campari with orange, like a predator he slowly let his eyes glide through the room scoping for his perfect prey, simultaneously confirming that he was at the upper end of the male contenders here.  

He had a shortlist of three: the petite Asian peeking at him through her colourful drink; the tall blond conquering the dance floor reminding him a bit too much of Jenny from last week, though he couldn’t deny her nice figure underlined by the white tube dress clearly here to be stripped; finally the brunette sitting at a table with a group of friends, the desperate girls night out, every single one of them screaming for a guy to rescue her. He was satisfied with the diversity he had picked. Too many men just stuck to one type until every single replacement just looked like a bad xerox of the last one. Where was the fun in that? 

Suddenly like lightening she caught his eye. Sitting on a bar stool at the end of the counter, her red lips sipping on a martini were so sensual, her appearance was surreal. Her hazelnut wavy hair was draping her beautiful shoulders remaining free above a red velvet dress smoothly flowing over her expressive curves. She distinctly reminded him of the first woman he ever considered sexy: Jessica Rabbit. 

Turn around, so I can see your face. Just in that moment, she swirled around on her seat to face him, her emerald eyes emitting a mysterious spark. His shortlist was long lost by now and the winner was clear.  

He wasted no time to close the deal and walked right up to her, her eyes fixated on him. He wasn’t too surprised. He was a good looking fellow after all, tall and well-built from his regular gym workouts at the craziest hours of the day, his square jaw with just the right amount of dark stubble to look manly and not rogue. His tailored grey suit accentuated his features, while his Tag Heuer Carrera watch was an easy item to communicate his financial standing without being blatantly obvious like the sad men with their overdone gold Rolex bling, bigger than their wrist (and any other part of their body).

“I see you’re having a martini. They do have a killer mojito here. Would you like to try one?” He said now leaning in right next to her. 

“I’d never say no to a free drink,” she said, putting hers to the side. 

Jackpot! “My name is Ken.” Always a monosyllabic strong name. He extended his hand. 

“Annika. Pleasure.” She said.

Continue reading “The Ken Doll (or The Curious Case of the Shrinking Tool)”

New Year’s resolution 2014: a commitment to writing

At what point does a fuzzy reflection turn into a defined ambition?

Around this time a year ago, I started my first creative writing course at City University. The poster I saw every day walking up Barbican station to my job in the London finance world, had gradually burnt itself into my mind until one not so busy day, I browsed and search, eventually finding myself drawn to “Creative Writing.”

From the deepest dark caves of my memory, a childhood self (a little girl always thought to be a boy by others) beckoned me, pushing me to remember the first answer I ever gave to the question “What do you want to become when you grow up?” A writer.

Despite this ambition long forgotten, graduating in mathematics I scratched the larger field of writing once becoming a financial news correspondent in Tokyo for a a large US newswire, and left quickly ticking an imaginary box of accomplishment. But what if the dream could be revisited, not just lightly brushed but fully soaked?

And so, in January 2013, I found myself attending “An Approach to Creative Writing,” a handholding Kindergarten-like experience of the subject of writing gently told by an ever so patient and not too expectant Caroline Natzler. Not life-changing though mind-stimulating enough, after the 10 weeks experience, I joined yet another course, Katy Darby‘s “Novel Writing and Longer Works.” This course, just as the previous one, had no entry requirements and one of the more practical aspects for signing up was that it ran at the same time as the first course, making it easier to coordinate with my work colleagues. If the first was the Kindergarten version, this certainly had more of an A level feel to it, Katy Darby setting clear targets on what had to be produced: a 500 words synopsis to a novel idea and an up to 5000 words first chapter. It was a steep learning curve but at the end of the course, I found myself with exactly those two pieces, encouraged by the feedback and constructive criticism from my fellow students, workshopping writing for the first time.  (for more detail, see my older comment on these courses here)

Creative writing was gaining a new shape from a capricious evening activity in an attempt to wind down from work to a more defined hobby I wanted to share with the world. A very raw first chapter and an idea in hand, I applied and was accepted to the “UEA/Guardian Masterclass: How to complete a first draft of a novel.” Although just a number, the larger financial burden was a big step towards a committed relationship with writing.

With the course starting in September, I have since, apart from working on my novel, attempted to increase my writing output in any sort of form. “Just write!” was all I demanded from myself at first, creating a Twitter alter ego linking myself to all forms of writing related personalities and working on resurrecting my own blog from its comatose state, documenting my life in London.

Several months down the line and an entire year of writing to look back to, I’ve decided to step up my commitment another notch by creating yet another blog, this time dedicated to creative writing only. Why did it take me this long? (Or is it really that long?) It was the fear of the result possibly being an empty blog with nothing to say. Still, the ambition and commitment have triumphed and I’ll take the challenge to fill these virtual pages with something creative and meaningful.

So I thank all of you in advance, who are here to share this experience with me. x