Q&A: Pidgin's James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy on new venture Magpie and dim sum-style dining

When you're awarded your first Michelin star, what's next? According to Pidgin's James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, you open a second, larger site, with a whole new concept. They give us the low-down on their new venture, Magpie

A dish on the menu at Magpie

The past 12 months have been big for James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy: their Hackney restaurant, Pidgin, won its first Michelin star; they opened Enfant Terrible, a pocket-sized wine bar a stone's throw from the restaurant; and most recently, they put said bar on hold to establish a new venture, Magpie, opening in July.

Located in the West End, it'll serve their characteristic pared-back, internationally inspired cuisine with a twist – via a dim sum trolly. Here, they tell us why they like this unusual style of dining, what to eat, and what to expect.

What's Magpie going to be like?

We wanted to take the eclectic modern British food we serve at Pidgin and do it in a different way. The idea of serving some dishes from trolleys dim sum-style seemed fun and different, and we hope it'll bypass some of the frustrations associated with the small plates style, like over- or under-ordering, dishes coming out in a slightly weird order and not quite knowing what wine to drink. It puts the ball a bit more in the customer's court, as opposed to the kitchen.

Sam Herlihy (left) and James Ramsden

Sam Herlihy (left) and James Ramsden

What do you mean by a British interpretation of traditional dim sum restaurants?

Everyone loves a trolley. Imagine the faintly ludicrous excitement you feel when the airplane trolley is coming towards you down the aisle, and then imagine that feeling when the food on it is actually awesome. That's what we want to create. The food is not going to be a British re-imagining of traditional dim sum dishes. We're not going to be making Morecombe Bay shrimp dumplings… Although that actually sounds pretty nice.

The food is going to be our food, similar to the food at Pidgin where we take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. The difference at Magpie is that the food is smaller dishes, shared by the table, taken directly from trolleys and trays which circulate the restaurant and larger format dishes ordered more traditionally through your server.

This is quite a departure from Enfant Terrible; why have you chosen to go with such a different concept?

The idea behind Magpie has been floating around since before we opened Pidgin. We had read about State Bird Provisions, a restaurant in San Francisco where they use this type of service to put out their own style of food. It felt like too huge a task to open Magpie as our first place. We were paranoid that some already established restauranteur would steal a march on us before we were in a position to do it ourselves but fortunately we managed to get to this stage in time.

The site for Enfant Terrible appeared while we were progressing with the dull and stressful legal side of opening Magpie and we felt like it would be a fun distraction shucking oysters, pouring vast amounts of wine and making very strong cocktails for guests. We had to close down ET, unfortunately, but it will be back bigger and better in the future.

Fried chicken coq-au-vin is dangerously good

What about dim sum inspires you so much?

We just think dim sum service puts power back in the hands of our guests. Sharing plates seem to often be a convenience for the kitchen and a pain for diners. Here you get to see exactly what it is you are ordering and get as many of them as you want. We also get to have a bigger menu which obviously we don’t have at Pidgin and also potentially bring back dishes we’ve had on at Pidgin that people have really loved.

Do you think there’s a gap for a restaurant like this in London right now?

We do. It’s a really fun way to eat and we certainly feel a new angle on small plates could be a good thing. You can pop in for a couple of small dishes and snacks or structure yourself a traditional starter, main, dessert meal or come in and have a feast by ordering the whole menu. Giving those choices back to guests seems like something that you can’t get in town anywhere else.

Whats your favourite dish and cocktail on the menu?

Fried chicken coq-au-vin is dangerously good, as is Smoke Off the Mountain - a Manhattan-style drink with aged rum and a peated whisky wash. Hanky Panky on tap is also going to be a pretty strong feature.

What's the inspiration for the drinks list?

Great beers that don't beat you round the face with hops; great cocktails that don't beat you round the face with 'mixology' and just taste damn fine; the biggest selection of wines on tap in London, and a list of wines by the bottle that are all quirky in one way or another.

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