WITH THE CITY centre's capacity swelling, dinner in Edinburgh's New Town was a welcome break from the chaotic flurry of the Festival. I had yet to visit The Magnum, and this chilly August night offered the perfect opportunity to remedy that.
The bustling atmosphere instantly hit as Sarah and I took our seats at the window by the bar, ordering a very enjoyable bottle of Rioja (£19.95) as we decided upon our grub. My starter was Devonshire crab gazpacho with avocado cream, peppers, cherry tomatoes, which was finished with olive oil (£6.95). This dish was fresh and light and would have been perfect for a warm summer's day - if we had been fortunate enough to get one.
The sweetness of the gazpacho was enhanced by the crunch and warmth from the green peppers, which really made the dish for me. Crab is a ridiculously underused ingredient in my opinion, and the delicate meat was delicious alongside the chilled soup, although a crack of salt wouldn’t have gone a miss.
Sarah started the evening with pan-fried breast of pigeon, with frisee and radicchio salad, toasted pine nuts with sultanas and Quail’s egg (£6.95). The pigeon was adequately pink, juicy and tender. The pine nuts and sultanas brought an earthiness to the plate as well as texture. It was a pity the quail’s egg was a little over; no runny yolk this time boo hoo. The only other minor foible was that Sarah felt it could have been a little hotter, and the plate wasn’t warmed either.
The menu proudly focuses on Scottish produce, and for main, I chose whisky and vanilla cured salmon with saffron potatoes, wilted baby gem lettuce and samphire (£18.95). I reckoned the salmon had been steamed, and while I love the crispy skin that comes from pan-frying, the cooking was so good that I forgot all about it. The fish was beautiful and flaky, and any fears I had of being over-cured and sickly were dispelled with the first forkful I devoured. The warmth of whisky and tinge of vanilla didn’t overpower the salmon either, and those little potatoes stained with saffron were sublime. I love cooked lettuce and it worked well in this dish, adding crunch and slight bitterness, with the saltiness of the expertly cooked samphire adding to its enjoyment. If I’m being picky, a sauce or even a drizzle of olive oil would have just rounded the dish off perfectly.
Continuing her game theme, Sarah ordered venison steak with dauphinoise potatoes, broccoli, thyme and garlic infused mushrooms and redcurrant jus, priced at £19.95. The venison was soft and tasty, with the classic dauphinoise sufficiently cooked and adding a creamy note to the plate. You could really taste the thyme and garlic, and the dish was all the better for it. The enormous portion was excellently seasoned, and the full-flavoured sauce made this a high standard gastropub dish allround.
Sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream (£6.50) would be my third and final course of the night. I’ve often found that desserts let places of (what I’d consider) similar ilk down, but this pudding was actually very good. The cake itself was light and manageable after two courses. The sauce was sweet and with just a hint of saltiness, and while the ice cream was middle-of-the-road and could have presented a little neater, it nonetheless provided a cold contrast to the excellent sticky toffee pudding.
For dessert, Sarah went for chocolate and star anise cake with fennel ice cream (£6.50). The star anise brought a welcome twist to a normal chocolate torte pudding, with the fennel ice cream lending to the aniseed flavour. It was rich, yet light and well-balanced flavour-wise.
As far as gastropub fayre goes, The Magnum is ticking all the boxes. The menu is well thought out, with the technique of the chef apparent, and gives the customer a sound interpretation of Scottish food. The portions were generous and the surroundings lend to a really decent dining spot in the New Town.
Phone: (0131) 557 4366
1 Albany Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3PY
Opening times: Sun-Thurs 12pm -12am
Fri-Sat 12pm- 1am