28 February 2016

Review: The Magnum, Edinburgh

THE STREETS ALWAYS seem quiet when you saunter from Queen Street down towards Albany Street; quiet but with a degree of intrigue. After a minor refurb, The Magnum launched a new menu this week and after two excellent visits prior to this one, that intrigue was now completely focused on the food.

My opening act was a rather enticing carpaccio of spiced duck with pickled fennel, cauliflower cous cous and crispy duck skin (£6.95). The sweetness of the lightly smoked meat was offset by the delicate acidity from the fennel with the presence of the cauliflower contributing an earthy note.  The shards of crispy skin were inspired and added a degree of seasoning, while the dots of balsamic reduction contributed another well-tuned layer of flavour.  Overall, only a touch of good sea salt was needed to turn this dish into a real stunner.

Sarah opted for crispy squid rings, spinach, red onion and lemon salad with garlic aioli from the set menu.  Squid rings can only go one of two ways: utterly brilliant or complete car crash.  The latter reminds me of a cultureless marina area in Greece or Cyprus (name your generic British package holiday location) swarming with British tourists and terrible restaurants that serve up pizzas, all day breakfasts with chips, and every other dish you would associate with a stereotypical British diet. 
However, this was flawlessly executed to show what a delight it can be. The batter  that housed the melt-in-the-mouth squid was light as air, a tasty dressed salad of leaves was worth mentioning, but the star was a fantastic garlic mayo that I just wanted to steal for my own pleasure.

I’ve undertaken a strict(ish) fitness regime this past couple of months, meaning the temptation of spiced bass fillet with courgette and cherry tomato ragu was difficult to resist, but when there’s pork belly on the menu, it’s getting ordered.  This version came with puy lentils, buttifara fresca sausage, a crispy duck egg and apple ketchup that will set you back £18.25. For me, there is no point serving pork belly if you aren’t going to nail the crackling.  Flabby crackling is sacrilegious in my book.  First impressions were promising and when our excellent server declared “that crackling looks amazing”, I knew there would be no issues here.  I don’t heap praise easily, but this was a terrific plate of food: crunchy crackling with tender meat underneath, lentils cooked to perfection, a well-executed crispy duck egg complete with oozy centre, and a zingy apple sauce to boot.  The only thing I would say is that maybe some sort of gravy would have just tipped this dish from a nine out of 10 to a 10.

The aromas from Sarah’s chicken supreme with podded peas, smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, spinach with garlic crème and parsnip dauphinoise (£16.95) certainly warmed up the appetite.  The chicken was soft and moist with the sweet peas contributing both freshness and texture to the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the creamy dauphinoise.  The garlic crème rounded all the flavours together in a notably light dish that was thoroughly enjoyed.

The restaurant area suddenly looked very full and proceedings were in full swing by the time our puddings came around.  As the atmosphere warmed up, I ordered one of my all-time favourite desserts in the form of lemon tart with chantilly cream and honeycomb dust (£6.50).  Some people may find this a little too sharp, but that’s how I like it.  The pastry was thin and competently made with the crème chantilly all the better for not being overly sweet.  The honeycomb dust didn’t really offer much other than enhancing the presentation.

For her third and final course, Sarah went for The Magnum’s take on the famous Scottish dessert, cranachan.  This one in cheesecake form accompanied by a raspberry compote and coulis (£6.50). The creamy filling was smooth with added oats bringing a toasty taste and texture, although the expected honey flavour was hard to detect.  The base was nutty and delicious, but the star was the raspberry compote, as it cut through the cream and was packed full of fruity flavour.

I am confident this new menu will go down well with the punters. I think Sarah and I would agree that the professionalism of the service on top of the cracking food made this one our most enjoyable visit yet.  If you’re around the Princes Street area, this little gem is well worth the wander. Hat-trick completed.

Web: http://www.themagnumrestaurant.co.uk/
Phone: (0131)  557 4366
Address: 1 Albany Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3PY

Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 12:30-14:00, 17:30-22:00
                          Fri-Sat 12:00-22:00
                          Sun 12:00-15:00, 18:00- 21:00

Square MealThe Magnum Bar & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

26 February 2016

Gastronomy symposium helps shape Scotland's food landscape

The team behind the UK’s first MSc Gastronomy course at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University are teaming up with their Italian counterparts from the University of Gastronomic Science to host an ambitious event in the capital this April to celebrate food culture in Scotland.

Following the success of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, Scotland’s Food Symposium will feature two days of lectures, presentations and discussions, as well as tastings creative performances and food demonstrations that will offer a real insight into the significance of food to Scotland.

Charlotte Maberly, Programme Leader on the MSc Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University, explained: “In Scotland, food has been a cause for both celebration and concern - an economic success story and symbol of our environment. It can also be the source of cultural stereotypes and worries about our public health.

“This event allows us to explore our thriving food culture and our relationship with food. By talking, thinking, making and eating, we will consider the actual and potential significance of food in Scotland. Health, taste, heritage and creativity will play a role, as will Scotland’s place within the network of global food systems.”

Donald Reid, Food Editor at The List and Lecturer in Gastronomy at QMU, said: “Food connects us all. It is both ordinary and extraordinary, nourishing mind and body, shaping economies and social justice. It connects us to particular places and helps us express our culture and history. This symposium will allow us to celebrate Scottish food, assess the food and drink landscape in Scotland and look at different ways to influence positive change in our societies – both at home and internationally.”

Charlotte Maberly concluded: “We are also delighted to have a prestigious line up of panel guests including Shirley Spear (The Three Chimneys and Scottish Food Commission), Sheila Dillon (BBC Radio 4 Food Programme) and Geoff Tansey (Food Ethics Council and Fabian Commission) to lead discussion at the symposium.

Scotland’s Foodscape will take place on the 26th and 27th April at Summerhall, Edinburgh.
Opportunities are still open for contributors as well as delegates. Further information at www.scotlandfoodsymposium.com 

If you are interested in studying Gastronomy, visit the QMU website: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/businesspg/pg_mscgastronomy.htm

20 February 2016

Recipe: Homemade pigs' cheek ravioli with spicy tomato sauce

BELIEVE IT OR not, I'm not actually a huge lover of pasta. It's the type of food that I just have to be in the mood for, no matter what variety happens to be on offer.  I had some pigs' cheeks left over in the fridge, I say leftover, I had just cooked them because they needed to be used up, and I had really wanted to do something different with them.

I'll never forget buying pigs' cheeks in Waitrose and the 'butcher' recommending not to pan fry them! Why the bloody hell would you pan fry such a cut!? For this one, I made more of an aromatic tomato sauce, using garam masala rather than a spicier arrabiata-type, choosing to keep the slow cooked onions in there to add a little texture.  I can't stand fusion cooking, so I suppose this is as close to it as I ever hope to get!

Pasta is so easy to buy in dried form -  and there are some good ones out there -  but it's just so satisfying to make from scratch.  When you think of all those cookery programmes by the likes of Floyd, Rick Stein and even Jamie Oliver, filming Italian grandmothers making it with their rolling pins in the streets of whatever Italian city they happen to visit. It just adds to the romance of it and shows that you don't need a pasta machine when the old-fashioned ways still do a job! I doubt there are many more ubiquitous dishes than pasta, especially not ones that require only two ingredients.

Ingredients (serves 2)

4x pigs' cheeks
1x medium onion, sliced
2x cloves, garlic
1x tin of good quality chopped tomatoes
1tsbp garam masala powder
1 tbsp tomato puree
Good dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp Dark soy sauce
Three spring onions, thinly chopped
Chicken stock
Rapeseed oil
Chives, chopped to serve
50g Parmesan

For the pasta
150g '00' pasta flour or plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
2x eggs


1) You can cook the pigs' cheeks a couple of days in advance if need be.  Place your slow cooker base or a heavy-based pan on a low heat.  Add a splash of oil and sweat the onions for 6-7 mins.  Add the garlic for a further minute.

2) Next, add the garam masala (you could add a little chilli as well if you want more heat) and stir for 30 seconds.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and tomatoes, giving a quick mix before adding the pigs' cheeks to the sauce.  Bring to the boil then place in the slow cooker on its lowest setting for around 4 hours. Set aside in the fridge for when needed*

When the time does come, take the cheeks in your hand and shred with your fingers.  The meat will be so tender that it will just flake away.  Return it to the sauce.

3) To make the pasta, place the ingredients into a food processor and gently pulse until it forms a loose ball.  Tip out to a lightly floured surface and gently knead for about a minute until a smooth ball is formed. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 45 mins.

4) Place your pasta machine in its highest setting.  On a floured surface, roll out to around the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut the dough in two and place one half aside. Lightly flour and fold the first half in half.  Pass it through the machine two or three times, repeating this process for each setting.  When done, you should be able to see a silhouette of your fingers clearly through the dough when placed up to a window.

*TOP TIP* place a damp tea towel over the dough whilst you roll the second batch to prevent it drying out.

5) At this point, have a pot of rolling boiling water ready and add a generous pinch of salt. Lay out one sheet of the pasta and cut in half. Next, using your cutter as a guide, cut the individual squares for the ravioli; you should leave roughly an inch gap on each side from where the cutter sits.

6) Take the shredded pork mix from the fridge.  Spoon a generous dollop into the centre of the pasta sheets (you should get around six sheets per half of that mix,  enough to make three ravioli), add a few spring onions for texture. Again, use the cutter as a guide if need be - you need to leave space between the filling and the cutter in order to seal the ravioli.  Brush water or egg wash around the pasta and place the spare sheets on top, pressing the pasta down to encase the filling and seal it.

7) When this is done, cut your ravioli with the cutter, take each one in your hand and gently press around it to ensure it's properly sealed.  If it's not, you risk the filling bursting out!

8) Blanch in the boiling water for a good minute and refresh in ice cold water.  These will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

9) When serving, reheat the sauce (it should still be fairly thick, so reducing it is not necessary).  Place the ravioli in the sauce for 2-3 mins to finish the cooking.  Serve in a bowl with more of the sauce, some shavings of parmesan and a sprinkle of chives.

*I recommend leaving it in the fridge overnight, as it really enhances the flavours from the sauce.


14 February 2016

Recipe: Ox cheeks with silky mustard mash, ginger carrots and red wine sauce

Ox cheek is such a wonderful cut of meat, vastly underused of course, and I  recall my first experience of eating it with very fond memories.  Sarah took me to The Kitchin for lunch and this recipe will show just how easy it is to cook this flavoursome piece of meat, as well as how to execute a restaurant quality sauce at home. Hopefully you'll enjoy it even half as much as I did on that occasion.

It's a dirt cheap piece of meat, but it does require some cooking, hence why I've cracked out my trusty slow cooker for this one. You could just as easily use a cast iron casserole dish or a pot on a very low heat, but a slow cooker is a great investment.

As far as the sauce goes, I never see the need for those packets or pre-made sauces you can buy in the supermarket.  It's so easy to make a great sauce or gravy from the cooking juices and a little bit of effort.

Ingredients (serves 2): 

500g ox cheeks, trimmed
Handful of chestnut mushrooms, quartered
2x onions, sliced
1x celery stick, chopped
1x carrot, chopped
2 cloves, garlic, grated
1 tbsp tomato puree
2x rosemary sprigs
Bunch of thyme
300mls red wine
200mls chicken stock
50g butter
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

8x King Edward potatoes, peeled
50g butter
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard (optional)

2 large carrots, cut into the desired shape
1tsp ground ginger
Few cubes of butter
Chicken stock to cover



1) Place the wine, vegetables, herbs and garlic into a bowl.  Place the trimmed ox cheeks into the mix and place in the fridge to marinade overnight.

2) Remove the cheeks from the liquid and strain the wine into a jug.  Set the rest aside and pat dry. Place the pan or slow cooker base on a relatively high heat and sear the seasoned ox cheeks on both sides. Set aside.

3) Reduce the heat slightly and add more oil if required.  Sweat the onion, carrot and celery for 7-8 mins.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the tomato puree, stir, and add the herbs. Cook for an additional minute.

4) Add the red wine and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and reduce by half.  Add the ox cheeks and top up with stock to cover.  Add a touch of seasoning, place the slow cooker base into the unit on the lowest setting and place the lid on.  Leave undisturbed for around 5 hours.

5) For the mash, add the peeled potatoes to cold water and add a generous amount of salt.  Cook until soft and drain into a colander.

6) Strain a few ladles of the cooking liquid into a pot and bring to the boil, turn heat down to a simmer and allow it to reduce until it's spoon coating consistency. Set aside.

7) For the carrots, dissolve the ground ginger in a little of the chicken stock, then add the carrots and top up the stock to cover.  Add salt and bring to the boil, reducing to a simmer at that point.  Cook for 6-7 mins until tender, then drain. At this point, remove the ox cheeks from the slow cooker and allow to rest.

8) When there is no steam coming from the potatoes, pass them through a ricer or use a masher.  Beat in the butter then add  the mustard.  Warm back up in a pan, adding milk to adjust the consistency if needed.  Season.

9) In a frying pan, melt some butter with a splash of oil and saute the mushrooms for 2 mins. At the same time, melt some butter in another pan and add the carrots for the same amount of time. Place a pinch of salt and a crack of pepper in both pans.

11) Whisk in a few cubes of butter to the sauce to give the sauce a silky sheen and richness to it.

12) Return the ox cheeks to the sauce to coat and add the mushrooms to it. .  Place a good dollop of mash onto the plate, then the carrots.  Remove the ox cheeks and put on the plate. Spoon the mushrooms over and  pour the remaining sauce into a just for serving.

8 February 2016

Competition: North Hop is coming to Edinburgh and you can win tickets right here!

FOLLOWING THE SUCCESS of their craft beer festivals in Aberdeen and Inverness, North Hop have added dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow to their 2016 calendar. The festivities begin in the capital at the Assembly Rooms, on Saturday 5th March and the team have paired up with Phil's Food World to give one lucky reader the chance to win a pair of tickets to attend the afternoon session.

Serving up an exciting mixture of craft beers, cocktails, street food and live music, North Hop is the biggest celebration of craft beer culture in Scotland, expecting to attract over 8,000 visitors over this four date extravaganza. 

Festival organiser, Michelle Russell, cannot wait for the tour to begin: "To be taking North Hop 2016 'on the road' is incredibly exciting, What started as a wee festival in the Highlands has now evolved into a year-round, nationwide programme celebrating the very best that craft beer culture in Scotland has to offer.  What's more, all the dates are indoors, so we won't be at the mercy of the Scottish weather!"

On the day, visitors can sample a wide variety of different styles of beer in a selection of cask, keg, bottles and cans from 13 of Scotland's finest brew houses, including Stewart Brewing, WooHa, Fallen, Drygate, Windswept, Tempest and Edinburgh Beer Factory.  There will also be a cocktail lounge featuring mixology and drinks from 10 Dollar Shakes, Solid Liquids and Bijou Wine, while Leith-based newcomer, Electric Spirit Co., have created an exclusive small-batch gin that is only available at the Edinburgh leg of the tour.

To celebrate the festival, local beer masters, Stewart's Brewing, have concocted a limited-edition brew named 'Moscow Mule Saison - Festival Brew'.  Inspired by the popular cocktail, Head Brewer, Bruce Smith, said of the Festival Brew: " With North Hop bringing together so many elements of craft beer, craft spirits, and cocktails, I took inspiration from the classic vodka cocktail, The Moscow Mule.

"The Fresh, Saison-style beer will be infused with lime and ginger and will have a distinct citrus characteristic from the blend of American hops we're using; Mosaic, Belma, Crystal and Willamette." 

If that wasn't enough, there will also be some delightful street food on offer from the excellent El Cartel, delicious Scotch eggs (does anything else go better with beer!?) from Aye Love Real Food, and seasonal Scottish-sourced dishes from Fresh Revolution.

The festival will then head back up north to Aberdeen (30th April - 1st May) before making its debut in Glasgow (18th-19th June), culminating in an as yet to be announced venue in the Highlands.  Each date will feature an afternoon and evening session lasting five hours (12pm-5pm and 7pm-12am), with tickets priced at £17.50.

All you have to do to win a pair of tickets for the afternoon session at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh is answer this simple question (strictly over 18s only):

What spirit is used to make a Moscow Mule cocktail?

A) Gin

B) Vodka

C) Whisky

Send your answers HERE to be in with a chance of winning. Competition closes at 9pm on Friday 26th February and a winner will be picked at random.  

For more details and to purchase tickets visit: http://northhop.co.uk/.


Twitter: @northhop #northhopedi

7 February 2016

Recipe: Mushroom risotto

I WAS SURPRISED to see an Italian staple like risotto featured so frequently on menus when we visited San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain last October.  With such amazing produce on their doorstep, I have always admired the humility of the Spanish when it comes to their own food.  With that in mind, I suppose it's no surprise that you would find this humble dish so prominent in the wonderful plethora of pintxo bars that this beautiful city is famed for.

The key to achieving maximum enjoyment from this dish is to avoid buying those bland white mushrooms from the supermarket.  It's worth paying a little extra for chestnut mushrooms, or, even better, wild mushrooms if you can get them.  One of my pet peeves is seeing restaurants billing this dish as "wild mushroom risotto" when it's clearly just made with white mushrooms that pale in comparison flavour-wise.  I suppose it adds another couple of quid on to the bill... 

For me, this dish also represents where my own cooking-style is at at the moment: just simple cooking, using good ingredients and not trying to reinvent the wheel - classics are classics for a reason and some things, given the care and attention they deserve, just don't need to be tampered with.

Ingredients (serves 2)

150g arborio or carnaroli rice
100g chestnut or wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
150mls white wine
75g Grana Padano, grated
2 chicken stock cubes, dissolved in 500mls boiling water
Two tbsps creme fraiche
Bunch of chives, finely chopped
Truffle oil, to drizzle
25g butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, grated


1) Melt the butter and add a splash of olive oil in a saucepan.  Sweat the shallot for 6-7 mins then add the garlic and chopped mushrooms.  Cook for a further minute. Make sure you have brought the stock upto the boil at this point.

2) Add the rice to the pan and mix with a spatula.  Let it cook for 1-2 mins until you hear the rice "pop".  Add the wine and allow it to reduce right down to almost nothing.

3) Start adding the stock ladle at a time, just to cover.  Allow it to reduce, then add another ladle or two, stirring occasionally.  Repeat this process for around 15 mins until rice is cooked "al dente". 

4) Turn off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche, Grana Padano and chopped chives.  Check the seasoning (remember the cheese is salty, so it's key to do this after adding it). Allow the risotto to rest for a couple of minutes.

5) Serve in a warm bowl and drizzle a few drops of truffle oil over it.