Hello dear reader,
Today I am bringing you a restaurant review from the heart of Edinburgh. My dining companion for lunch was my father, who came to stay for a week to see some concerts at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The Magnum is located in Albany Street just a few minutes walk north from Princes Street.
A sign of the friendliness and decor to come is the quirky sign on the front door, which made us laugh.
The bar is small but well-stocked and I am delighted to find Peroni on draft, one of my favourite Italian lagers. My father is pleased with the wine selection and orders, just as I knew he would, a glass of Carlos Serres Tinto Roija. He later proclaims it to be very good, especially with food.
There is a decent amount of standing room around the bar and comfortable seating. It is very popular in the evenings.
We place our drinks orders, are seated immediately at a window table and given the lunch menu to peruse. The Set Menu is very reasonable at £13.95 for two courses and £15.95 for three. There is a choice of three starters, three mains and three desserts – all of which sound interesting and delicious. There is also a varied bar menu and á la carte.
The decor is a fresh but warm grey with delightful poetry written in scrolling golden lettering around the bright red cornice. It provides an elegant but welcoming ambience. The background music is very pleasant, with the gentle crooning of Frank and friends from the Rat Pack, unobtrusive but nice to listen to if the conversation should lull.
Our drinks arrive quickly and give me the opportunity to ask the very friendly waitress about a couple of items on the menu that I have never heard of before. A polpette it turns out is a meatball, whilst involutini is an outer layer, in this case sliced aubergine, wrapped around a filling. It irks me a little to find unusual terms on a menu – whilst I don’t mind asking what things are, I know that some diners find it embarrassing and overly pretentious. It also seems a little odd to find Italian terms on a the menu of a restaurant that proclaims to pride itself on its “Scottish menus”. I worry that the meal is going to be all show but no substance.
We both order our starters from the Lunch Set Menu…
My father’s soup is very nice with a beautiful texture and a perfect, delicate balance of ginger. We both think it tastes more like carrot than sweet potato but, on checking with our waitress, we are assured it is definitely sweet potato. Later she comes back to tell us that she has checked with the chef – the soup was made with five sweet potatoes and three carrots. We have a discussion about whether the carrot has outcompeted the sweet potato, or if the ginger enhances the carrot flavour, or if the mind just expects to taste carrot when it tastes the ginger. I vow to experiment with differing combinations of sweet potato and carrot at home. I was very impressed that our waitress had taken the time to speak with the chef. Interestingly my father mentions that he would have had no qualms about ordering Carrot Soup but had been a little dubious about ordering Sweet Potato Soup.
A generously-sized bread basket arrived with the soup but unfortunately no side plate – the large rim on the soup bowl was perfect for resting bread on but awkward for spreading the butter. Although the bread looked wonderful, the crusts were very tough and chewy. Even I struggled to chew them, whilst my father had to remove the crusts completely which unfortunately left the bread tasting quite insipid. When I enquired, the manager was a little embarrassed to say the bread was not made in-house but I was relieved to hear it, as it certainly wasn’t up to the standard of the rest of the meal.
My own starters look beautiful – a little work of art on the plate. The pea shoot salad is very nicely dressed, rich with quality salt and black pepper, with the delicate pea flavour coming in at the end. The goats cheese mousse is beautifully creamy with a very mild delicate taste. The beetroot salsa is bold, punchy and delicious in flavour. The artfully drizzled balsamic reduction, which was not mentioned on the menu, is a very nice extra touch.
The individual parts of this dish are delicious, especially the goats cheese and pea shoots which complement each other perfectly. Their flavour is completely lost however with the overwhelming beetroot salsa. Perhaps grated beetroot would work better here as the more delicate strands would offer a better balance of flavours. I did eat the whole delicious dish but more as two separate items than as one harmonious dish.
For his main course my father ordered from the bar menu. The fish is flaky but still moist and with a good flavour, the batter light and crispy. The big chunky chips are lovely and still have their skin on – more like deep-fried potato wedges they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The aioli is truly exceptional and the absolute star of this dish, rich in gherkins and mustard but wonderfully balanced and perfect for the fish. The salad, although perfectly nice, does nothing to enhance the dish and seems rather discordant. The entire dish would be exceptional if the salad were replaced with a pea and pea shoot salad or a pea purée. My father declares it a beautiful mains and that he would order it again but would ask for a warmed plate and no salad.
The aioli was so good that I asked our lovely waitress if the chef might be willing to share the recipe. It turns out the aioli is so well-loved that it is a house speciality and the recipe is actually laminated and pinned up in the kitchen. The chef was happy for me to take a copy of it and I shall bring the amazing recipe to you in a later post! Thanks chef!
My own mains started off disappointingly, as the salmon skin was not at all crispy but was rather greasy and flabby and overpowering in maple flavour. The salmon itself was moist and flaky, full of sweet and sour flavour from the maple and lime. The soy-glaze was virtually lost – perhaps gone along with the discarded skin.
The “mache” goes nicely with its slightly sour iron and nutty taste and I realise that it is lamb’s lettuce. Again I am irked by this pretention – why not just call it lamb’s lettuce, or if you must use the French, then get the spelling of mâche correct.
The couscous had a good flavour of mild ginger and spring onion and goes well with the succulent salmon but the strips of unpeeled red pepper are a mistake. The couscous is a little dry and would be elevated if the couscous were cooked in fish stock, or had a little more dressing. The bursts of sweet cherry tomatoes do help as does the lemon wedge served on the side but the lemon flavour seems a little out of place and it would have been nice to have a lime wedge instead to tie-in with the other flavours in the dish.
This is a perfectly nice but unremarkable dish that with a few simple tweaks could be outstanding.
My father’s dessert is beautifully presented, looking exceptionally pretty on the plate with its teardrop of cheesecake and bright swirls of red berry compote. The cheesecake is beautifully smooth and creamy but the whisky and oats that should make it a cranachan are unnoticeable. The rich buttery biscuit base adds a nice texture and balances perfectly with the sharp, tangy, delicious raspberry compote.
The sticky toffee pudding is the lightest I have ever had and is not “sticky” at all but is moist and delicious. All the work of adding stickiness is given to the sauce, which is hot and sweet and rich in caramel, although sadly lacking in its promised salt. The ice cream is creamy and soft, rich in double cream. Unfortunately its delicate flavour doesn’t stand up to the rich caramel and toffee but the textures are a perfect combination.
As usual we requested our coffee “with dessert” and most unusually this is when it actually arrived – big bonus points here as many restaurants hold it back until after dessert even when requested with! It was an exceptionally nice touch to have a cube of fudge on the side too. The cups are beautifully shaped, with thick sides perfect for retaining the heat and keeping the coffee hot. Unfortunately the handles are very small, even for my little hands, and they are quite awkward to lift.
I would highly recommend The Magnum, not as a fine-dining destination although it does have the potential to achieve this, but as a lovely bar restaurant. The staff are great – efficient and unobtrusive but friendly and helpful. The food is good quality, locally and seasonally sourced, and well-priced. The Magnum is an excellent choice for a relaxing unhurried mid-week lunch and I plan to go back to try their dinner menu, cooked by head chef Paul Dow who wasn’t cooking when we visited.
The sign on the way out summed up my feelings about our dining experience. Fun, with great intentions and decent touches, but occasionally lacking that little polish that would elevate it to perfection.
P.S. Vohn and her father were guests of The Magnum for a three-course lunch. As always, all opinions are honest and are our own and Vohn was not asked to write a positive review. Drinks were paid for independently.
The Magnum Bar and Restaurant
1 Albany Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3PY
Tel: 0131 557 4366
Open seven days a week from noon to midnight (1am on Fridays and Saturdays) and serving food until 10pm.