There is a joke shop in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh that has “Push” beside the door handle on one side and “Pull” on the other. Of course, they’ve been reversed for comic effect. Simple but effective and it appeals to my immature sense of humour. At The Magnum on Albany Street in Edinburgh’s New Town, the signs on the door are also a little different in that they read “Shove” and “Tug”. It’s a nice, original touch and one that raised a smile as we headed along for drinks and a spot of dinner there recently.
I have to admit to not being particularly familiar with The Magnum. If you’d asked me before my recent visit, I would have probably described some kind of “trendy wine bar” as was made famous at the height of the Yuppie era back in the ’80s and early ’90s. A look at its website on my iPad and you might think it had been designed in the same era but thankfully, as is often the case, my assumptions were to be proved incorrect.
Upon entering, the bar is tasteful and homely without resorting to trendy muted tartan as is often the case these days. Dark wood furniture is complemented by a subtle green behind the bar while the walls are adorned with prints and maps of old Edinburgh. There is a clear emphasis on wine with several bottle holders on the bar although The Magnum describes itself as a “restaurant and bar”, rather wisely staying clear of the dreaded “wine bar” tag and its connotations. For an ale lover, there is only one handpull – on this occasion dispensing Copper Cascade from Stewart Brewing and I was happy to order a pint.
Although we planned to eat, we elected to sit in the bar area as we were intending just ordering off the bar menu. The Magnum has both a restaurant and a bar menu and, indeed, both a restaurant and a bar. However, there is not a great deal of segregation and both menus are served in either area. The restaurant probably offers more subdued lighting and more regular table service – perfect for that romantic evening out. However, myself and Mrs Barfly were more than content to sit at the table by the window, which is covered in something akin to Christmas lights, and enjoy dinner with both a great view of the bar and the world outside.
And enjoy dinner we did as the food was very good indeed. I’m a sucker for steak and couldn’t see past the ribeye with chunky chips, red wine jus, roasted vine tomatoes and salad. It looked and tasted the business – a world away from a recent disappointing steak experience I had in Gusto on George Street. The red wine jus may have been a little subtle but it did its job. Mrs Barfly elected to go for haggis, neeps and tatties and was pleased to find the haggis not too spicy and the whisky and onion sauce the perfect accompaniment.
Based on the mains, we decided to order pudding and again it was pretty good. Mrs Barfly had the plum frangipane while the dark chocolate and orange mousse was calling out to me. Again, both dishes were very well presented and went down a treat. Top marks. Price-wise, it’s not the cheapest place in Edinburgh but it’s far from the most expensive. I’m not sure how much my pint was but my large glass of South African Chenin Blanc was £6.50, though there were wines under six quid, while main courses ranged from just under £9 to just over £20 for the steak, which thankfully came as standard with chips and the sauce rather than them having to be added (and paid for) separately. Most mains on the restaurant menu were around the £18 mark while puddings were £6. Given that you’re on the edge of the New Town, it’s pretty reasonable and at least the quality is there.
Aside from the food, I think the highlight of my visit to The Magnum was encountering one of the most impressive dogs I’ve ever met. I’m not really a dog person (c’mon the cats!) but I do appreciate a dog that carries itself well, stays quiet and causes no trouble. K’eyush was like a well-groomed polar-bear-cum-husky and it’s no surprise that his name translates as “baby bear” in Inuit. I don’t know what breed he was, and I didn’t get a photo, but a little bit of internet research has led me to believe he may have been a Samoyed. Look out for him round the New Town or in The Magnum of an evening – he was insisting on blocking my route to the toilet when I was there but he was easy to shift and it gave me a great excuse to stroke his amazingly soft fur. Hats off to his owners for keeping him that clean and snowy white.
I INTERRUPT THIS BLOG POST WITH A DOG UPDATE:
I was thrilled to receive a comment (below) from K’eyush’s owner Nathan who was delighted to see mention of his dog on the blog, letting me know that he is an Alaskan Malamute. I got in touch with him and he’s kindly supplied a photo of K’eyush, albeit outwith The Magnum. This is very much his hero, publicity shot! A mighty fine dog, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Dogs aside, The Magnum is definitely on our list to revisit. It’s not the kind of place I’d meet my mates on a Friday but it’s definitely somewhere to meet another couple for dinner or drinks or to head to for a date. The whole place is very laid back and relaxing – when I asked Mrs Barfly how she’d describe the background music, her exclamation of “Oh, what music?” shows that this place isn’t a total assault on your senses.
The Magnum has a great neighbourhood feeling (if only I could afford the neighbourhood!) and the staff were friendly, helpful and quick to offer tasters of the ale on offer – always nice to see that done proactively, rather than having to ask. It also manages to retain a pub-like feeling in the bar area so that if you’re not eating, you don’t feel like you’re sitting in a restaurant when all you want is a drink. I can’t promise that K’eyush will be there if you choose to pop in but even without the dog, The Magnum is worth a visit.
The Magnum is at 1 Albany Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3PY. They are on Twitter here.