My parents are obsessed with Mark Rothko. A bit like how Peter Stringfellow is obsessed with girls in plastic high heels and bikinis. It's a sort of pseudo-sexual thing. All encompassing and fascinating. So it was with great excitement that we went on a Brown family outing to the Tate Modern for their hugely anticipated "Rothko - the late years" exhibition on Friday for a private viewing. It didn't disappoint. It just served to reconfirm, if that was needed at all, that Rothko's work is as moving and haunting as Bach and Mozart. It was more like an existential philosophy exhibition than a gallery of paintings.
We returned on Saturday to be in the audience for the all afternoon seminar connected to the exhibition. We were surrounded on all sides by people with even more emphatic Rothko fetishes than Mum and Dad! Not that I thought this was possible. I guess it's a bit like thinking your pretty good at football having scored a few goals for your school side and then going off to the regional trials - only to see all the other boys can kick the ball miles and have all the kit! But I am pleased to say that the Brown family held their own. Mum has vowed never to wash her right hand again having shaken hands with Mark Rothko's son, Christopher!
Still buzzing from 4 hours of in depth intercourse about the ins and outs of the world of Rothko, we strolled along Bankside up towards Tooley street where we were delighted to find Magdalen. It's from the Anchor and Hope school of cookery. Or if you are from Bristol, it's similar to The Albany. The deep maroon walls made us feel like we were eating with the Seagram Murals hanging around us!
The menu excited me more than the others. I loved the 3 part simplicity of it all. But on the downside it means that it reads less flamboyantly than menus tended to a few years ago. Beds, jus, tranches and so forth are gone. Now it's all about guess work and trust. It's the sign of a confident restaurant.
I was in two minds about what to have. The devil inside me was whispering in my ear... telling me to have the grouse... but at £26 I couldn't. Instead I was delighted with my choice of potted crab which was as silky as a silkworm's sleeping bag, followed by an unctuous combination of shoulder and leg of pork - served with a mustardy sauce and the lightest crackling I have ever had. This was top class cooking. And brilliantly British.
The others had a very good cauliflower soup with walnuts and other earthy autumnal bits and pieces... and Dad had a Rothko coloured maroon on black seared haunch venison. The fish soup, slow cooked shoulder of lamb and halibut that followed were equally memorable. All bore the hallmark of a kitchen that is at ease with itself. Don't get me wrong - it was all very good food. But I wonder what they are capable when they push things a bit further?
I shared a blindingly good lemon tart with a burn sugar crust which was top class The pastry was thin and crumbled at just the right moments when you showed it the spoon. And the lemon custard was still warm and silky.
Our only criticism concerns 3 embarrassments.
1. The step at the bottom of the stairs is not the same depth as the other stairs... I almost tripped over twice in the middle of the dinning room.
2. I had to queue to get into the gents in full view of the restaurant. It didn't really feel right.
3. Dad had an altercation with the manager about their policy of automatically adding a gratuity of 12.5%. Our waitress had been fantastic all evening - so we wanted to give her a tip... but we disagreed severely with their tipping policy. Surely if the gratuity is at the discretion of the person paying... it is not up to the restaurant to behave like this. It leaves a very sour taste in the mouth and we hope that Magdalen changes their policy.
Tremendous food. The perfect place for a Rothko inspired dinner.