It is difficult to eat out in Oxford without ending up in a chain restaurant. After a while all the oversized, over logoed menus can blur into one. Which is why The Magdalen Arms, a year-old gastro pub buried in deepest Cowley, is a breath of fresh air.
So is walking further than across quad for a Sunday lunch worth it? As soon as I arrived I felt that the answer was yes. The place was buzzing, with every mismatched chair and oddly shaped table full.
We arrived starving (I blame the walk) and so attacked the baskets of salty, sourdough bread. However that wasn’t enough to stop me salivating over the menu, although we had arrived late for lunch so a few options were crossed out. It was impossible to choose between lamb, rabbit, patridge, quail or many of the other game and roasted meats that dominated the menu.
I went for slow roasted beef with mashed potato and horseradish cream. The meat was so tender that it literally fell apart at the touch of my fork, collapsing with its juices into the mashed potato. The horseradish cream added to the richness of the dish but gave it a sharpness that stopped it from becoming too meaty.
Many of the dishes were for two or three and there was even a leg of lamb for five, so my friends chose to share a partridge. It arrived, whole on a board with a carving knife. Whilst they managed to maul it beyond recognition (carving being one of those skills that feminism seems not to have touched) they could not finish it. Which seemed to be a theme throughout the restaurant; at least one person at every table around us was encouraged take home sizeable remnants of their meals.
The enormous mains had convinced us that we didn’t need pudding. But because it was Sunday and because we had trekked outside our college walls we shared a chocolate brownie. And I defy anyone to resist ordering one of the many chocolate based puddings, a sticky toffee pudding or a cheese plate.
The Magdalen Arms isn’t cheap, with mains costing about £15 each, but if your parents are in town, something needs celebrating or you want somewhere cozy to while away a Sunday afternoon then it is worth it. Just a warning, it is no longer the hidden gem it was last year with Sunday lunch being booked out up to a week in advance so give them a call before you head down.
Price: more than brunch in hall
Atmosphere: perfect for Sunday
Food: to die for