Magdalen Arms – Iffley Road Review

Magdalen Arms – 243 Iffley Road

I booked this due to my other half choosing somewhere he wanted to go to on his birthday. It’s a venue I would consider to be good for the meat eaters, but not so much choice for the vegetarian and pescetarians.  From past experience there was always a
choice, if not a wide one, you would at least find something veggie or fishy
for your evening.

We arrived for our booking time of 8pm it was busy as expected, so we were glad that we booked. For the first time we sat through in the restaurant, I was pleased as we’d gone for an occasion, and thought that this could be different from before. (Previously we’d sat in the bar area which had always been a nice relaxed experience). We were taken to our table, next to the ‘viewing area’ of the kitchen; I like restaurants that are prepared to let  their diners view the kitchen, I think it shows that they are willing to display what really goes on behind the scenes, so I was pleased with our spot, for now.

The Magdalen Arms decor is predominantly dark wood, the bar has a big impact as you walk in. The tables are fairly rustic with similar styled seats and flooring. There were single stemmed candles at every table and the lights have a half-light tint to them. (Imagine your own home, where you dimmed the lights to make it a romantic setting). Unfortunately the table we had was just that bit too dark, as the dim lighting wasn’t positioned that close to our table, and we weren’t nearby the window for any natural light, so the candle was our best light source for the evening.

I looked at the menu we had been given, dated Thursday 15th September 2011. The main courses were as expected, mainly meat options, the 1 fish option was: Roast hake, chips and tartare sauce (unfortunately I had breaded fish and chips at home the night before) and the vegetarian option was: swiss chard and ricotta rotolo, sage butter and parmesan.  I wasn’t that inspired by these options (though I can’t fault the fish and chips option, as that was just sods law). I turned in hope to the specials board, to see that it had 3 options: Linguini with Chilli and King Prawns; Turbot and squiggly writing (which I can’t  remember what it said, but it sounded good!), and Shepherds Pie. I was pleased/relieved,
as I now had other options, away from the main menu, which was something I had  assumed would happen that evening.

The wine available could be ordered by the glass, a carafe or by the bottle, the prices were varied, the average bottle hitting the £35 mark, which was higher than I expected for the area and the evening. In the end we opted for a bottle of white around £25, a dry sauvignon. When our white wine arrived there was no wine cooler that came with this, which I consider unusual for a bottle of white for a restaurant meal. Our bread and butter was served in a silver lattice bowl, but there were no side plates or butter knife, (my other  half wasn’t that impressed at this), I put it down to its rustic theme, but over the evening I wasn’t entirely convinced what their theme was.

As our wine arrived another waitress marched up to the specials board at 20.10 and drew a line through the Linguini and the Turbot. I was mortified, I was back to the pasta option or fish and chips round two. How can a restaurant that runs a service from 6pm-10pm run out of two of their specials by 8pm? Surely they had known how busy a Thursday night would be?

I opted for a starter as  well, so as to vary my evenings’ food. The starters were great for vegetarians and pescetarians, the only meaty item in the starters was the house terrine, what a contrast!! I went for the beetroot shallot and caper salad, it was a hard choice as there was plenty that looked great, including Sardines and Mussels Mariniere!

Between our table and the kitchen viewing area was a table, which looked like it was supposed to have been in the kitchen, my point was proved too quickly. It was piled with many Colmans mustard tins, grey cutlery trays and napkins. While waiting for my starter we had to endure cutlery drying in the loudest fashion possible, the clattering of the items being slammed into the grey trays, cut through our conversation and made our ears ring, not the most relaxing environment to eat and talk in. Clearly the lady who’d been tasked to dry the cutlery from the kitchen, was not in a good mood, and thought that we should all know about it in one way or another. Thankfully her mood didn’t continue for our entire evening but it was enough to irritate both of us before  receiving our dinner.

My salad starter was good; there was a lot of beetroot, as well as a good dose of horseradish in among the salad leaves, as you can imagine this gave a nice kick to the dish. The plate could have been a smidge bigger as the beetroot chunks were huge, but I was pleased that the evening was picking up. The plate was cleared with my cutlery, which was replaced with a new set, starter cutlery was not available.

Our mains arrived not too long after our starter. My pasta dish was in a nice round pasta dish, very Jamie Oliver style, so good marks for presentation, even if I wasn’t that excited by my choice of meal. The pasta was well cooked and you could taste the sage in the butter, but apart from that it was fairly bland, in my opinion it was alright for a pasta dish for a hungry girl, but I tend to enjoy strong flavours and spices so it wasn’t up there for me.

My other half had ordered the Hereford sirloin steak, chips and béarnaise sauce at £22 he was certainly looking forward to it. The chips and steak arrived on a small oval plate, nothing like my Jamie Oliver style plate. I didn’t expect the crockery to be mismatched, again maybe this was character? but either way it didn’t look quite right for steak and chips. I think image counts for a lot with food and this wasn’t a great image. The steak was an average size and the chips were plentiful, usually you expect the steak to take over the plate, with a small amount of chips, don’t you? The sauce was this dishes biggest downside, it was all over the steak and it didn’t taste right. There was a coconut flavour to it, which although may not have been coconut, we couldn’t think what else it was. Once scraped off from the steak, my other half described it as ‘alright’, a shame for a birthday meal I thought.

All in all it wasn’t the best night I’ve had in Oxford for eating out. From a vegetarian/pescetarian view point I had learnt from previous visits that choice might be thin on the ground. The starters had a good selection that evening for me and it would be good if they could have offered some of the starters as mains, with a higher price tag than the starters.

From a meat eating view point it had been hoped and expected, from previous visits and comments, to be a good night with good food, but on that Thursday it just didn’t happen.  Maybe we just picked a ‘bad night’ and it was due to a staff shortage somewhere along the line, or another reason.

For now it’s left a bad taste.  I’ll look to go again when I hear some more positive comments from others in the future. I’m sure that it’s not all bad, after all I have been before. But if a few key changes were made, then the evening could have been very different.


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