“It’s neither a bar nor a restaurant,” my friend told me the day before my visit, “it can’t really work out what it wants to be – it’s a bit confused.”
I can’t say I was hugely optimistic after hearing that, but I am so glad I was totally wrong to think that way. It’s true to say that The Magnum is neither restaurant nor bar, but because it’s both rather than neither. It’s also a brilliant balance between an Edinburgh eatery and a cosy country hotel.
1 Albany Street, EH1
The Magnum balances its easy ambience with a well crafted menu in a way I don’t know I’ve really come across in Edinburgh before. Its menu is short, concise, yet still manages to include diversity both in its food and the price (we saw no final bill, some fast maths showed that our dinner was good value for the quality). There’s a focus on high quality game and meat, but also options for sausages or a burger, so whether you’re sitting in the thickly carpeted dining area for a three course dinner or perched by the bar looking for an easy supper with a pint you are going to find it here.
For this particular dining adventure I was joined by a fellow game-loving set of tastebuds, known in other circles as my mum. Once I’d read about The Magnum’s reputation for game I knew she was the critic to take with me; that and she always takes as long as I do pondering the menu. We were slightly concerned that a cold and windy January weeknight might mean we were the only people in the place, but it seems that there is a small number of people who have heard about this little gem of a place already – I’m glad to say we’re a part of that now as well, and that you will be soon too.
I feel very sorry for our poor waitress; I think she had to come back about three times before we were ready to order. Then when I asked for some suggestions I realised that there were other things on the menu that I wanted so much more than when I’d started asking her. Talk about a terrible table. In our defence, the reason it took us so long is because we both wanted everything on the menu. It looked amazing.
Our starters were going to be a big test – was the delivery of the food going to match up with the expectations the menu had given us? Out came a steaming bowl of cullen skink and a long rectangular plate with my haggis spring roll. Cue two pairs of eyes opening wide with delight. The soup was smooth, rich and the fish virtually melting in your mouth. The haggis (although perhaps not quite as warm as it could have been, owing to the large diagonal cut for presentation) was peppery and rich, the tomato relish tangy and the salad rounding it off nicely. We were happy. Very happy.
As is most often the case our starters were swiftly followed by the mains. There was confit guinea fowl served on risotto on the other side of the table and a seared haunch of venison in front of me. One mouthful and I was away to my happy place. Both dishes we mouth-watering. I would go back and have them time and time again. The risotto was thick and full of flavour (although perhaps a little too much on the plate, it was felt later on), the confit fowl coming away from the bone at the slightest of touches (the urge to pick it up and gnaw a little was apparently very strong). The creamed broccoli and blue cheese puree was every bit as wonderful as it sounds and lusciously thick gravy the perfect match for the tender meat. Simply delightful.
There were not many words exchanged whilst we ate mains, just the occasional noise of utter contentment or a pause to take a sip of the rather good Pinotage we were drinking alongside it – the wine list is impressive for a place of this size, with a great collection available by the glass as well. When our plates were cleared there was barely a trace that they had recently held food; we then had to have an intermission before we had dessert – we were tempted to skip it, but it just sounded so tempting.
And so it was, we could only manage to share a portion of the cranachan cheesecake, but I’m glad we did. It was almost impossibly light, with raspberry puree and honey drizzled around the edges it was just the perfect way to round off a brilliant meal.
So The Magnum doesn’t fit into any particular silo, but does that matter? With a menu this good and a wonderful staff, I would say not at all. The menu changes along with the seasons, so once you’re one of that select number who seem to be aware of this place you know you’ll never be bored. Our evening may not have started off seeming promising, but a brilliant meal can do wonders. The only question that remains is when I’m going back.