by Ashleigh Togher
If you’re talking originality, The Magazine restaurant at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park has everything going for it.
Its amazing, seemingly shifting, cavernous and orb-like building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, and the space is usually peppered with changing exhibitions - when we visited, large traditional Cameroon sculptures from Belgium-based artist Pascale Marthine Tayou loomed over the restaurant, adding a slight and strange colonial sense to the space.
Relatively quiet for a Friday evening’s trade, we seem a long way away from the pulsating heart of London’s thriving restaurant scene, but that adds to the Magazine’s charm.
My prelude to dinner – a long walk through Hyde Park as the sun set in fuchsia and burnt orange, reflected off the lake, home to the gliding swans, was - dare I say it – magical. And entering The Magazine’s strange, enigmatic space made it almost otherworldly - but magical still? Not entirely.
Invited to try The Magazine’s brand new spring/summer menu, we began at the bar with cocktails, both slightly too sweet for my taste (my guest's sweet tooth was delightfully pleased), but our bar seats brought good views of the rest of the restaurant and the open (but tucked away) kitchen, led by half-German, half-French head chef Emmanuel Eger (read the QH interview with the chef here).
Choosing a curious table right by the speaker, streaming the music of two black-clad DJs in the back of the half-empty room, we settled into dinner. Making our experience even more curious, despite the rather effusive service, no food touched our lips until at least an hour after arriving.
Nevertheless, when our starters arrived they sang of spring – my Scottish salmon ceviche with charred avocado, lemon verbena and piquant pickled radish brought back to life my lifeless palate that had that day, at a branding workshop out of town, been drowned in a horrid mixture of crisps, cheap pastries and sorry soggy sandwiches.
My guest’s colourful dish of heritage tomatoes, salt-baked fennel and burrata was a substantial and beautiful vegetable affair.
The mains, brown butter roasted bream, ajoblanco (a type of Spanish bread sauce) with asparagus, plus Scottish smoked salmon steak with crunchy cos lettuce and sauce béarnaise, paired with sides of baked sweet potato, crunchy cumin seeds and coriander, and charred avocado, harissa and ricotta, were faultless. Full of colour and a real ode to texture.
Our selection of puddings could not have been more distinct: the guanaja, hazelnut and caramel dish with popcorn screamed of naughtiness and nutella, while the citrus semifreddo with almond oat butter, elderflower sauce and grapefruit was a zingy-sharp citrus hit (a palate cleanser if there’s ever been one), and the rhubarb with fromage blanc and pistachio was perfectly poached and generally just perfect – tart, with a touch of creaminess and a crunch.
The Magazine serves quite beautiful food in a beautiful setting, but the well-meaning concept seems to be missing something. Service hiccups must be a factor, but I think The Magazine have a challenge in conjuring a presence that fills Zaha Hadid’s structurally profound but uncompromising space.
QH RESTAURANT REVIEW:
The Magazine, London
30 April 2015