The Magazine: Restaurant review - it's an instant London landmark. What it isn't, quite yet, is a restaurant

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Kensington Gardens London W2 (020-7298 7552)

Strange things can happen to unwary travellers who venture into the park after dark. Unsettling things. They may find themselves perched in a deserted space-station, pecking at mystifying specks of food, while strangers pop up murmuring "Can I introduce you to our bread?". They may end up lurching out into the night, grateful for the comparative safety of an isolated car park. They may have visited The Magazine.

It was never going to be bland, this new restaurant and event space in Kensington Gardens, which wraps around the Serpentine's new Sackler Gallery like a whale's pelvis fused on to a Soviet war memorial. Designed by Zaha Hadid, it's a bold statement of creative intent, a billowing, melting canopy which swoops and soars fantastically, and has about as much interest in blending into the landscape as Grayson Perry.

It's an instant London landmark. What it isn't, quite yet, is a restaurant. The interior is dramatic, but it has a drafty, makeshift feel, like a temporary pavilion at the Venice Biennale or a futuristic expo. "Zaha hasn't finished the cloakroom yet," apologised the manager, as we bundled coats and bags under our wobbly table, rather ruining the effect of all that stark whiteness.

Introductions to the bread complete – the black-pudding loaf with whipped butter is worth meeting, though it doesn't have much small talk – we navigated our way through a menu which could well be an exhibit from the neighbouring gallery space: The Possibility of Japan in the Mind of Someone Eating Pork Scratchings. The list veers randomly from sushi and sashimi to braised pork with crackling, occasionally forcing a collaboration, as in sea trout with unagi, or Black Angus fillet with yakiniku sauce.

The artist behind it is chef Oliver Lange, whom we can safely call a wunderkind, because he is young, German and very successful. He also trained in Japan, and is apparently famous for his sushi, which makes him perfect casting for the Sackler; those arty types love that stuff. If the rest of the meal had been as good as the five little flavour-bombs which began our meal – I didn't catch their names when we were introduced, but they included a dragon roll, mackerel nigiri and something involving white truffle – we would have been very happy.

The rest of the meal, though, passed in a hallucinatory blur of morsels, foams and evanescent mystery tastes. A couple of the dishes came into focus; a starter of pork cheeks, braised to a sweet, dark shine on a slick of puréed Jerusalem artichoke, and garnished with huge curls of puffy pork scratchings. And a terrific, suede-soft slab of beef fillet in a belting umami-rich sauce, with edamame beans, Swiss chard and pickled mushrooms, like a Japanese take on Sunday dinner.

But others were incoherent, hobbled by over-complication or downright weirdness. Actively nasty was a kind of veggie twist on coronation chicken – slices of griddled cauliflower, charred at the tips, the flesh acidly al dente, in a mildly curried cream sauce. "This is... not good," said my friend James, "in a way you rarely get in a restaurant."

Constant interruptions from the sweet but maniacally effusive waiters began to turn the meal into an ordeal. When one popped out from behind the giant stiletto-shaped pillar next to us to respond to an idle speculation about what the surprise in the 'chocolate surprise' might be, I almost let out a girlish shriek.

This vast room would be first-date territory only for a pair of astronauts looking to experience the effects of atmosphereless space. As the blippy ambient soundtrack rose in volume, we began to feel like we were the last guests at a wedding. Quite who the music was for it's hard to say, given that most of our fellow guests seemed to be middle-aged European architects. "It's not cosy. It's the opposite of cosy," my other guest Joanna grumbled, prodding at her deconstructed apple crumble.

Our bill for three came to £200, including a £32 carafe of Riesling, chosen and ordered by me, but given to James, the male guest, to taste. Not very modern, in this most modern of environments. But that summed up The Magazine experience; poised between the formality of fine-dining and the let's-wheel-the-decks-out-now grooviness of the pop-up, it's a restaurant that doesn't seem to have quite worked out what it is yet.

The Serpentine's tireless directors are right to try and fill Zaha Hadid's dream-like space with a food offer that's equally ambitious, and clearly there is something clever and interesting going on in the kitchen. But maybe the huge proportions of that glacial exoskeleton of a room were always going to be difficult to animate with heart and soul. Lange and his team may need to settle down and simplify if they don't want to end up as the restaurant equivalent of performance art; stimulating for a single experience, but you tend not to go back.

Food ***
Ambience ***
Architecture *****

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Kensington Gardens London W2 (020-7298 7552). Around £70 per head, including wine

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue