Two for joy: Magpie of Mayfair serves up plates for sharing

At the second restaurant of James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, of Hackney's Pidgin, diners can expect a similarly eclectic mix of British fare


Opening a restaurant can be a high-pressure endeavour at the best of times – add a weekly changing menu into the mix and the temperature rises to a whole new level. However, the gamble has undoubtedly paid off for James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, founders of Hackney favourite Pidgin, which is yet to repeat a dish in the 100-plus weeks it's been open. The restaurant, which grew out of humble beginnings as a supper club, has garnered rave reviews and was handsomely rewarded with a Michelin star last year.

The duo has now spread their wings and headed to central London to open their second restaurant, Magpie. 'One of the frustrating things about changing the menu so often is that every Sunday night we have to kiss goodbye to another set of fantastic dishes,' explained Ramsden. 'So it's great to have Magpie where we can reintroduce some of those.'

While the new opening certainly retains the hallmarks of the creative, modern British cooking on which the original made its name, it comes with its own distinct identity. Indeed, the idea was in the making even before Pidgin became a bricks-and-mortar reality. 'There's a restaurant in San Francisco, State Bird Provisions, which I'd read about and always wanted to go to. It sounded really interesting – they were doing dim sum-style service but not doing dim sum food. I thought, that's such a cool idea, somebody should do it in London,' said Herlihy of its genesis. 'We felt like it was a bit ambitious as a first restaurant. We carried through the things we'd learnt doing a supper club into the first, and thought that would be a better starting point. So we'd been thinking about it for a few years.'

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Diners are presented with a trolley of cold dishes, before a tray of hot ones are circulated. There's also a small a la carte menu that can be ordered directly from the kitchen. Not only allowing you to eat with your eyes, it also sets out to solve the age-old quandary of small plates – judging how much, and when, to order. 'With sharing plates, more often than not you put in an order and you're told quite abruptly by the server that the food will come when it's ready, which makes perfect sense for the kitchen because they don't have to wait until you've finished one course before sending the other,' said Ramsden. 'So having trolleys come to the table, and then trays, and having things you can order from the kitchen when you like, means all the control is back in your hands… Really you can pace your own meal, which often you can't do.'

This mode of service extends right down to the drinks list. Alongside a fully stocked bar, the trolley is back, loaded with pre-mixed cocktails developed by general manager Ajax Kentish, such as the Smoke off the Mountain, a rum-based Manhattan-style drink with peated whisky, and the I'm Jim Morrison I'm Dead, a mix of rye, oloroso, and cherry liqueur. There is also a big selection of wines available on tap.

'In a similar way to how we do the menus, we all put in ideas, and then Ajax has the difficult job of working out how to make those things work in a drink,' said Herlihy. 'We're about people being creative and talking about food, and Magpie is another opportunity to do that.'

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