Restaurant Review: The Magdalen Arms

In Oxford, it’s pretty rare to come across a jewel of a place to eat that isn’t massively busy, expensive, or hard to get a table at. The Magdalen Arms, situated a little way down the Iffley Road, somehow has managed to slip through the cracks. Perhaps because it is still very much a pub rather than a restaurant, or because the website has been “coming soon” for some time now, so that you can’t see the menu unless you actually go there, The Magdalen Arms hasn’t been as ‘discovered’ as it should be. With a varied menu, fantastic food, and an enjoyable atmosphere, I would highly recommend it. Just make sure you find it out before everybody else does.

Food 10/10: Using local, seasonal food, the menu changes regularly and sometimes various items are not available- as it should be, in my opinion. I recently had some wild rabbit with chorizo, fennel, lentils and aioli for the main, and vanilla ice cream with Pedro Ximenez sherry for pudding. The rabbit was brilliant, perfectly cooked, and the chorizo and aioli provided a really interesting contrast. Bulked up by the lentils, the portion sizes here are generous, and experience told me I wouldn’t want a starter, despite many interesting things on the menu. The sherry ice cream finished off the meal well, with delicious aged sticky sherry flavours complementing the real vanilla and fresh creaminess. I had a bite of some others’ food as well- lamb shoulder, dauphinoise potatoes… all lovely. Some of the menu options are for two or more though- like the lamb shoulder- so it worked out that we came as a group. However, for the price of the food- around £5 for a starter or pudding and £10-£15 for a main- it is very hard to fault anything here.

Drinks 9/10: I’ve always thought that it is the sign of a good restaurant to have high quality house wines. The house wines here are French country wines- which is where all house wines should come from- as this is where the best value for money can be found. Very palatable, stood up well to the food, and well priced too at around £12 a bottle, you don’t have to delve into the rest of the well thought out wine list. Otherwise, there are a few specialty drinks like sloe gin fizz and home-made lemonade, and the beers and ciders seemed like standard good pub fare.

Atmosphere and Service 7/10: Not much here that would separate it from the standard pub- the place is decorated nicely, and the service was as expected. The furniture is all wooden, which adds a nice feel to the place, but it can be a little hard to sit on over the course of a long evening. Particularly nice that they haven’t gone for the gastropub-style decor, with fancy crockery, the plates you’ll get given here will vary from person to person, really highlighting the gastronomic focus that surrounds everything they do at the Magdalen Arms.

Here, restaurants are reviewed based on some idea of restaurant expectation, not objective quality. If the latter was used, anywhere moderately affordable would look like an undesirable place to eat, given it would have much lower numbers than hugely more expensive restaurants. So if a hamburger restaurant was being looked at, 10/10 would represent a top hamburger restaurant, and 5/10 might represent a poor one. So a top class French restaurant could have lower numbers than a hamburger restaurant, but be more desirable to eat at, as it is held to higher standards. It makes sense, trust me.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 09:35:23

    Hasn’t been “discovered”?! It was reviewed in The Guardian! 🙂


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