Lisa Richards pushes past the braying Brioni suits for a superlative meat feast and breathtaking views, courtesy of City brasserie Madison
Despite the foreboding clouds heading for London from the west, by the time we reached Madison on a muggy night at the end of July, the weather had produced a perfect sultry night in the city. Perfect for dining and drinking perched atop the looming glass Jean Nouvel creation that is One New Change, that sits cheek-by-jowl with St Paul’s. From street level we could see that the sun was bathing its sixth-floor roof terrace with the last of its rays. We were hoping for some dramatic end-of-day skies, so we could make the most of the views across the river.
We heard Madison before we reached it. And we had a sense of its clientele as the glass lift’s doors closed at the ground floor. It was a warm Thursday night in the City, and the banking boys had come out to play. Chomping at the bit, quite literally, our fellow lift travellers hooted and brayed as we ascended to the roof. As the lift doors slid open, we were hit by a wall of noise. And bodies. We briefly took in St Paul’s creamy cupola, bathed in pinkish light, and wondered how this modern glass behemoth had been allowed – Prince Charles must have been holidaying when this one was passed by the Mayor of London.
We fought our way through the bodies to reach our table inside the restaurant. We were hoping for a sedate drink before dinner – to make the most of the really very beautiful view, Madison’s al fresco terrace and their exclusive sale of Moet Ice champagne. It would have been the perfect setting from which to take in London at its finest: on a warm summer’s evening, with a setting sun, a warm breeze and a glass of ice-cold bubbly. The assembled throng had other ideas, though, as they guffawed, gulped Veuve and chain-smoked their way through the evening. So instead, we shuffled inside, hoping for respite. But not even the piped muzak could be heard above the din. A shame, as the place and its setting really is wonderful – with St Paul’s still in view thanks to the glass-skinned restaurant’s enviable position. As one of my dining companions sagely noted: “Crisis? What crisis?”
Madison, when it opened in June, took a beating from the first wave of critics through its doors. And while that hasn’t stopped the drinkers from packing it out, the management had decided that the food offering needed an overhaul. As often happens with restaurants in starchitecture-designed buildings, the view takes precedence over the menu; Madison are eager for that not to happen, so we were here to taste the improved menu. One can only doff one’s cap to a F&B outlet that listens and takes on board criticism. And while some of the staff were a little shaky over the course of our three hours there, that was no doubt due to their being harangued and baited by the inebriated boys and girls flashing their wads of cash.
So, once inside, we tried the Moet Ice – the Champagne house’s new blend is designed to be served on ice and with red fruits. We loved the ceremony of it, and it’s perfect for a summer’s evening: lighter than a traditional Moet, with a hint of sweetness and a really fruity nose. As we sipped, and attempted to converse above the racket, we perused chef Nick Cuadrado’s menu. At first glance we immediately realised that you don’t come here for clever or intriguing cooking. And that I don’t mind one bit. Instead, we were hoping for a simple, expert handling of great ingredients. Brasserie-style grub that is nothing more than a really good feed with really good flavours. It sounds simple to achieve on paper, but I’ve been to countless restaurants where the grasping and execution of this concept is hideously inept. Native lobster and avocado cocktail sounded gloriously retro – I hoped, as I placed my order, that it hadn’t been messed with too much. Just a generous helping of succulent lobster, some tangy, house-made sauce and the freshest of produce. It was great and just as I’d wished for. As were the scallops – hurrah for a chef that knows how to tarnish and caramelise their translucent flesh, rather than leaving them flaccid and anaemic. The only let-down was the pork belly on toast – a flawed concept, not particularly well handled. The pork belly was too dense and dry, there was no crackling, and the accompanying fried oyster sat strangely. An anomaly that needs to be ditched from the menu.
As I was dining with fierce meat-eaters, including two friends who spend the majority of their time in Spain, the cooked flesh on offer was going to have to be not just good, but really great, in order to impress. It was steaks all round – between us we ordered a 300g rib-eye, a couple of 300g sirloins, a Dedham Vale fillet topped with foie gras, plus my burger (if you can’t get a burger right, you may as well close the kitchen). The steaks lived up to their provenance and were fantastic: “One of the best I’ve ever had,” remarked my Iberian-dwelling friend. That’s no mean feat. All were perfectly cooked, and seared and blackened on the outside, bringing out the meat’s natural sugars. The chefs had done their suppliers – some of the finest butchers in the South East – proud. The side dishes were also great, especially the French fries fragranced with rosemary and garlic, and seasoned heavily with salt. The béarnaise, often the testing of a sous-chef, was thick, vinegary, jewelled with tarragon and expertly made. The burger, too, was great. Well assembled, well seasoned and with a good quality cheese. It was pink in the middle and oozed juices.
We were stuffed. Resource’s office pooch, Henry, a steak-loving Great Dane was to be sorely disappointed at the amount of meat left over for his doggie bag – only the strips of fat that had flavoured the sirloin so beautifully and kept it moist were wrapped in foil for him. As for puds, we decided to force a few down between us. A chocolate tart, a berry crumble (which was very good), champagne jelly (not so) and adult versions of ice cream coupes were washed down with the remnants of a really excellent Malbec, which was priced very fairly.
As we were finishing up, a fracas kicked off right beside our table – three Savile Row suited chaps had a set-to, no doubt about whose bonus was biggest, and decided to attempt to get each other into headlocks. I’m sure their mothers would have been proud. The manager dealt with them swiftly and professionally, removing them from the establishment without any fuss or bother before they scratched each other’s Audemars Piguets or caused damage to their handmade shoes. It all added to the event! I’ll be avoiding Madison. But only in the week. Not even braying City boys could keep me away from meat this good. So once the bankers have left for their Tesco-a-likey mansions in the Home Counties on a Friday, I’ll be heading to Madison for weekend cocktails, naughty burger brunches, fine slabs of meat of a Sunday lunchtime and for those spectacular views. Beautiful place, stunning views, attentive service, great food… shame about the mid-week clientele.
Tel: 0208 305 3088