The croissantification of King’s Cross has been great to see. New restaurants seem to be popping up every week. But to stand out in what is now a saturated market, a new venture needs to bring something special to the party.
Enter stage left vivid Magenta in the Megaro Hotel, just opposite the station. Allowing a little time for it to bed in since its opening in May, it was surprising to find it so quiet at 8pm on a Friday night. This would be a peak time anywhere and especially in bustling King’s Cross – once a lugubrious area for waifs and strays but now a destination in its own right. The restaurant has space for 66 covers. There were 6 diners. My companion and I may have increased this to 8 but it was still as empty as a windsock.
I spent most of the meal trying to work out why. It wasn’t the service. Each course was served promptly and the staff were perfectly pleasant. Nothing to fault there at all. The cocktails we tried – the “Little Italy” (Vecchia Romagna brandy, wine liqueur, Cynar) and the “Cardinale” (Aurum orange liqueur, red wine, peach bitter and lemonade) – were delightful. I’m not sure the desolation could be attributed to Covid either, given how packed so many other places have been. Something just wasn’t hitting the right notes.
Perhaps the answer was hiding in plain sight. The design is as bold as statements of intent get. According to their website, Magenta’s concept can be summarised in a question: “what if, in 1880, British engineers and scientists from the St Pancras Coal, Steel and Gas industries decided to create their own public house, with rooms above?” To meet this brief, artist Henry Chebaane has juxtaposed industrial slate-grey girders, metallic frames and exposed air ducts with garish, magenta upholstery and… butterflies. It ends up being a Faraday cage of confusion – confusion which permeates through the food.
Chef Manuele Bazzoni, whose CV includes stints at Le Boudin Blanc and Trinity in Clapham, apparently aims to bring his native northern Italian influences to seasonal British ingredients. All fine and lovely on paper but, in practice, there’s work to be done.
Starting with his own-recipe coal-like charcoal bread, this black hunk of starch was neither visually appealing nor appetising (the accompanying olive oil, however, was delicious).
Some of the flavour profiles in the dishes we tried were all over the shop. Burrata with cherries and peaches seemed an interesting take on a starter that’s now as ubiquitous as Timothée Chalamet but had too many hits of cloying sweetness.
Dorset crab with bisque jelly and preserved lemon gel fared better, as did the scallop ravioli with samphire in vermouth and lavender sauce. Credit where it’s due, these were executed well.
But then the inconsistency came back to haunt us. Beef agnolotti with hazelnut pesto had a pleasant nutty crunch but the whole dish was very one note, its taste emulating its dull, beige colour.
Perhaps in an effort to compensate for the bland agnolotti, the seasoning in the secondi went into overdrive. I’m not sure what the suckling pig had suckled on – salt marshes in the Camargue, a tub of Maldon or perhaps a shoal of anchovies – but it was way, way too salty. Discs of sliced apple provided some contrasting relief, as well as the advertised British touch, but it needed something much zingier to counteract the sodium chloride. It was also presented in a stack and anointed with black pudding, which is a gastropub look I thought had been left behind in the 90s. The seared halibut with mushroom jam, lardo, peas, girolles, tropea onion puree and nasturtium butter sauce (for a £5 supplement) was similarly crowded, though to be fair was much more palatable than the pork.
Since desserts would bring us into the £42-for-3-courses price bracket, we skipped them and just had the petits fours with espressos. At least the meal ended on a slightly more positive note.
As I say, there’s really nothing wrong with the service, but it’s hard to love, or indeed feel anything about Magenta other than ‘meh.’ Still, thinking back to the King’s Cross of just 10 years ago somewhere like this would be unimaginable, so we have to be grateful for that at least. Maybe with time it will find its mojo.
23 Euston Road
by J A Smith