13 June 2013
I'll start by saying this was far from my first visit to The Magdalen Arms, on Iffley Road, nor shall it be my last – for The Magdalen Arms is walking distance from my house, and I am a huge fan. It's one of my favourite places to eat locally, but also one of my favourite places to take visiting friends and family.
If you live in/around Oxford and haven't yet been… what the hell have you been doing? Open over three years now, The Magdalen Arms is popular for its warm and inviting vibe, but mostly for its simply glorious food. Most notably, they serve up stunning ‘sharing’ mains that will wow even the snobbiest of food connoisseur – think achingly slow roasted lamb, served with dauphinoise potatoes (drool), enough to feed 2/3 people and delivered to your table in its own cooking pot for you to carve up and serve from – truly marvellous. On this particular visit, MrFoodie, MiniFoodie, his parents and I were looking forward to a casual lunch before the in-laws headed home.
You never know what to expect from the menu when you get there. There have been times when nothing has jumped out at me, when nothing sounds all that appealing, but thankfully the end result has never been a let-down. They typically offer around 8 choices for each course, plus a homemade soft drink or two to accompany the normal drinks list. The food has a strong Mediterranean influence; I've been there before to witness someone peeling their way through a gigantic pile of garlic – I LOVE garlic so this was a wonder to see.
Back to the matter at hand… the menu on this occasion included an array of promising dishes, but I knew what I wanted as soon as I saw it. Having tried the Pot Roast Guinea Fowl before, it was calling out to me. It's not quite as spectacular as their Seven Hour Roast Lamb, but certainly something I could eat on a regular basis. So, Guinea Fowl ordered for myself and MrF to share, Angus Steak and Ale Suet Crust Pie for the in-laws, plus some crushed potatoes and greens between us all, we tucked into a small basket of complimentary bread and butter (you can pay an additional £3.50 for more). The bread is definitely a welcome treat, as the food here never appears particularly fast – something a lot of people do find one of the negatives. I, however, don't think it's such a bad thing – sit back, chat, relax. The food will be worth the wait.
Service is a point which does need a mention, as it is a real sticking point for some. I completely understand this. You won't get any of the waiting staff coming to ask you how your food is, nor will you get them asking if you would like to order more drinks – I've experienced neither here so far. I have always found the staff pleasant and helpful, just not overly proactive. Maybe, as some suggest, this is due to arrogance. Maybe it's because the restaurant has always been busy when I've visited. Or maybe they just prefer a more relaxed style of dining. Whatever the reason, my recommendation is to eat in the bar area, rather than the often overcrowded restaurant – which is at the back of the building, separated by an old folding room divider. Either that or just don't go if you're in a rush, as I can't see the service changing any time soon.
Just at that 'OK I'm pretty damn hungry now' moment, the food arrived in waves. First a big pot containing the Roast Guinea Fowl, bathed in (I'm guessing) stock and Calvados or wine, along with crème fraiche, garlic, bacon and tarragon. Next to be delivered was the Steak and Ale Pie, beautifully golden on top. Last to follow were the vegetables. Carving knife and serving spoon in hand, having taken a little too long to appear, we dug in. The bird was cooked perfectly, the sauce it was bathed in rich, creamy and delicious. I'd eaten the pie on a previous visit, so can confidently tell you it's pretty blinding – third to the lamb then the guinea fowl though.
Bellies full and hunger sated, we relaxed in the afterglow of a good feed, for this is not a venue you feel overly rushed to leave. The warm plum walls and mismatched wooden furniture make it somewhat comforting. THIS is what a good friend feels like in the form of a restaurant – it makes you smile, and you always feel relaxed in their company.
Not just an eating venue, The Magdalen Arms also has a large bar area along with outside seating. It's a lovely place to stop off for a summer afternoon drink or a slice of homemade cake.