Keeping it in the family with good ingredients and wholesome cooking at Magdalen
When I meet Roger Faulks at Magdalen in Southwark, it's clear I'm talking to a happy man. And deservedly so – the restaurant he owns with his son, Head Chef James, has opened to such marvellous reviews, that it's become clear the investment he's made and the work that he and his son, his son's wife Emma, who's also the Pastry Chef, and Sous Chef Dave Abbott have put in is paying off in spades.
Roger is new to the industry – he sold a publishing business in 2004, which freed up the capital for him to start looking for a location for a new restaurant with his son. "We spent a year looking for a location," he says. "It's the most difficult part of setting up a restaurant, finding a place in a good location with the right operating licence – and in London, the location dictates what you can do."
But, although people said he was mad setting up in Southwark, the location has dictated a restaurant that has proven to be a great hit. On the site of the former Peruvian restaurant Fina Estampa, the extensive refurbishment – including a kitchen big enough for an establishment three times the size and dumb waiters that grabbed the attention of Nicholas Lander in the Financial Times – has cost them three-quarters of a million pounds.
But why did Roger Faulks jump into a restaurant business with his son in the first place? James Faulks actually graduated in genetics before deciding to be a chef.
"He shocked the life out of us," says Roger, "I thought we'd have a scientist in the family."
"It's a tough thing to admit," says James, nodding, "when you're doing a degree, that it's the wrong thing for you. I finished it out of stubbornness. But even at 20 years old, you're a late starter – Dave's been in kitchens since he was 17, so I wrote to lots of chefs asking for advice and I got one reply from Heston [Blumenthal] and another from Michel Roux Jr. I started as a Commis with Heston."
Now would be a good time to mention some of the misunderstandings about Magdalen that have appeared in the papers. First, the owners are James and Roger only; second, Magdalen is pronounced as it is written, not ‘maudlin'
as an Oxbridge college would be, and is so named because it's in front of Magdalen Street, in the parish of St Mary Magdalen, not because of anything in The Da Vinci Code. Lastly, and what brought me to this, when James started working in The Fat Duck, Blumenthal was still cooking Coq au Vin rather than Bacon and Egg Ice Cream, so it does not logically follow that a graduate in genetics would be attracted to working there because of any scientific affinity. Instead, James says, it was the small kitchen that attracted him to work there as opposed to Le Gavroche, enabling him to learn more, and faster, and thus, move up.
From there, James went to La Trompette, and it was there that he met Emma, now his wife, and Dave Abbott, and from there to the Anchor & Hope. "Seasonality wasn't important at The Fat Duck," he says, "but from Harry [Lester] at The Anchor & Hope, I learned about the importance of seasonality. If an ingredient is fantastic it does half the work for you. If have to go out of your way to find a fig in January you don't have to wonder why it tastes shit."
It's this ethos, good ingredients, honestly prepared, that has made their venture an almost instant hit, with a level of teamwork in the kitchen many would envy. James says, "It's very unusual to find someone who has the same feelings towards food as you do – but it's a real pleasure for us all to work together."
On the Menu? Hot Foie Gras, Caramelised Blood Oranges; Jellied Rabbit, Grain Mustard and Cornichons; Spanish Ham and Stewed White Asparagus; Slow Cooked Neck of Lamb, Laverbread and Boiled Potatoes; Roast Cod, White Beans and Garlic Leaves; Venison and Trotter Pie, Hispi Cabbage (for 2); Rum Baba; Baked Yoghurt and Rhubarb; Marmalade and Whisky Ice Cream.
Size? Ground floor 26 covers, first floor, 60.
Where? Magdalen, 152 Tooley Street, London SE1 020 7403 1342 magdalenrestaurant.