22 August 2014

Review: The Magnum, Edinburgh

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.  

Follow: @MagnumBar_Rest

1 Albany Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3PY
Opening times: Sun-Thurs 12pm -12am
                        Fri-Sat 12pm- 1am

14 August 2014

Recipe: Pea velouté with chorizo and broad beans

I love this recipe, as it's ridiculously quick to whip up and ideal for a cool summer day.  It reminds me of a version I done while in first year at catering college. 

Chef Norman Bendix would emphasis the beauty of its simplicity, and how it was important not to over cook your vegetables, so you don't lose their goodness.

I've used broad beans and chorizo to jazz up this simple soup recipe. I love the flavour combo and the added texture it brings, plus broad beans are bang in season.

You could also use smoked ham hock, pancetta or coconut milk to elevate it just as effectively.


1 onion, finely diced
450g frozen peas
200mls full fat milk
1 chicken stock cube
200g unpodded broad beans
80g chorizo, diced into cubes
Double cream to garnish


1) First, get a pot of water boiling and open up the whole broad beans. Remove the beans and drop into the boiling water for 10 seconds.  With a slotted spoon, remove the beans and plunge into cold water to stop them cooking.  Take them out of the water, and pod the beans.

2) Next, put a pot on the hob.  Toss in the chorizo and cook for a minute.  Pour both the chorizo and the oil into a bowl. In the same pan, add a dash more oil to replenish and lower the heat slightly.  Add the onion and gently sweat for 5-6 mins without colouring.

3) While the onion is sweating, blanch the peas in the boiling water for two mins, then pour into the pot with the onion. Season, cover with milk and add the chicken stock.

4) Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer, and allow to cook for 2-3 mins. Blitz in a food processor or with a stick blender. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

5) To serve, pour into a warm soup bowl, mix the broad beans with the chorizo and spoon a generous helping in the centre of the bowl.  Drizzle around the chorizo oil and cream.

7 August 2014

Festival Foodie Guide

IT DOESN'T SEEM like any time has passed since I published last year's Festival guide, and since then, I've visited some really great dining spots. I hope visitors to Edinburgh manage to visit these marvelous restaurants that truly cement the city as a real foodie destination.

Must Visit:

Purslane is a gem of a find and a restaurant I suggest no visitor misses out on while visiting Edinburgh. Nestled downstairs on St. Stephen Street, Purslane serves up a mouth-watering menu of seasonal delights with ingredients predominantly sourced from the surrounding  Stockbridge area. 

Chef Paul Gunning has honed his craft under the watchful eye of some of the top chefs in the UK, including Marco Pierre White (The River Room) and Phil Thompson (Auberge Du Lac).  

Offering three courses for around £28 (taster menu is also available) and a considerable wine list, Purslane will give any visitor (or local alike) a real taste of modern Scottish cooking and the best value for money in the city.

Phone: (0131) 226 3500 

33a St. Stephen Street, Edinburgh, EH3 5AH

Top Lunch Spot:

Located just off Princes Street, The Edinburgh Larder's food philosophy is an inspiration for any foodie. Not only does the eatery offer a top rate lunch deal (two courses for £12 or three for £15), it also houses an artisan bakery where you can purchase their breads and pastries. 

The restaurant doesn't just take pride in the way ingredients are turned into top notch dishes, but also in informing the customer of the provenance of such produce by promoting their excellent array of suppliers.

I highly recommend one of their gin cocktails with home-made lavender cordial!   

Phone:(0131) 225 4599

Bistro: 1a Alva Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4PH
Cafe: 15 Blackfriars Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1NB

Taste of The Sea

Scotland offers some of the best seafood in the world, and you're in good hands at A Room in Leith. This popular seafood joint serves up some of the finest fish in the city, with a range of beers and whiskies to boot.

Situated on The Shore area, their use of quality produce is given the necessary respect that will send you away with fond memories of Scottish cuisine - a far cry from our reputation as deep fried Mars bar eaters! 

Their neighbouring pub, Teuchters Landing, is the ideal spot for an after dinner drink, and also serves up a brilliant mug menu to snack on - ideal for munching on their outside terrace. 

Phone: (0131) 554 7427

1a Dock Place, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6LU

1 August 2014

Review: Manchester House, Manchester

I’VE LONG HAD an affiliation with the city of Manchester.  The music scene in the late '80s through to the mid-'90s inspired me to pick up the bass guitar and join a band, and I’ve enjoyed bags of success as a United fan since I was eight years old.  But, it always lacked a food scene to satisfy my hat-trick of hobbies.  Until now…

Manchester House is located in the upmarket business district of Spinningfields and is run by one of the youngest chefs ever to gain a Michelin star, when a then 22-year-old named Aiden Byrne achieved the accolade at Adlard’s in Norwich. 

Byrne’s CV boasts a host of top establishments, including The Dorchester and Tom Aiken's Chelsea restaurant. He also cooked at The Great British Menu banquet a couple of years back, and owns another restaurant, The Church Green, in Cheshire. Manchester House sees Aiden return to his fine dining roots. With a huge £3million investment in the restaurant from Living Ventures, the aim is to gain a star here too.

You enter via lift from the ground floor and are instantly hit by the modern, chic vibe of the place, with the metal work and exposed brick giving a nod to Manchester's industrial past. We stroll past the open kitchen where the man himself is keeping a steely eye on proceedings as we take our seats for lunch.

I felt immediately relaxed, despite thinking the restaurant décor would be a tad loud and modern (I’m an old 30 year old) for my tastes.  It wasn’t at all.  Actually, I surmised it might be one of my favourite dining spots.  Mind you, I haven’t tasted the food yet.

The waiting staff were all dressed casually, with just matching waistcoats and shirts resembling any sort of uniform.  Our waitress Charlie started us off with an amuse bouche of cep brioche that was light as a feather, a light and delightful mushroom consommé, which she suggests "needs a couple of minutes to really infuse" and a delicious seaweed butter that would set the tone for the entire meal.

To begin, Sarah and I both had chicken and lobster consommé with Jerusalem artichoke ravioli. If the beautiful presentation didn’t give this dish instant appeal, the smell of the consommé certainly did.  Crystal clear, it was packed with flavour and seasoned perfectly.  The lobster was so soft, and the chicken rich with the woody artichoke ravioli lending another welcome note of flavour. I thought that dish looked amazing – it tasted even better.

For the main, I had Longhorn beef sirloin, with caramelised onions and watercress purée, which was a variation of Aiden’s Great British Menu main course. For me, this dish epitomises everything modern British cooking should be: simple, with exceptional produce, sound technique and not a pointless foam in sight. The beef was rare and cut with the back of your knife, while the watercress pureé brought a pepperiness that was an ideal partner for the meat.  Aiden later told me the beef is hung in the restaurant for an extra two weeks in addition to the three on the farm; it's that extra touch that leads to accolades. There were also these little ox tongue croquettes that gave a contrast of cheap to expensive cut. Perfectly seasoned, they held their own against the sirloin.

While the cow was amazing, the real star for me was those little onion petals.  It made me sad so many people across the country were in supermarkets buying tasteless, rubbish alliums while I was sitting in this fine restaurant appreciating what an onion should taste like.

Sarah had roasted turbot with asparagus risotto and red Sicilian prawns for her main course. You could tell the risotto had been expertly cooked by the way it held its shape on the plate, with the prawn’s head adding a playful touch to the presentation.  The turbot was magnificent, with the sweetness and a garlicky taste of the prawn a notable highlight.  I’m big on seasoning, as you can probably tell, and this dish yet again fulfilled by expectations.

Charlie and her co-workers really delivered on top service throughout the couple of hours we spent at Manchester House.  They were friendly and chatty, and had an effortless confidence about their work. I especially liked how she came across and kept Sarah company as I popped to the bathroom – lovely touch. 

I’m a sucker for a panna cotta, and opted for the lavender version with gooseberries and Champagne bubbles. The set cream came with some majestic candyfloss that kind of tasted like Palma Violets.  The panna cotta was creamy and scored sufficiently high on the wobbly scale.  Those little Champagne spherifications were little globules of pure flavour – a prime example of molecular gastronomy actually enhancing a dish.  The little shortbread biscuits brought crunch and counterbalanced the sharpness of the gooseberries.

The warm date sponge with parsnip cream and carrot distillation was another eye catcher.  There were a few mini parsnip panna cottas in there that brought a creaminess to the light, warmth of the sponge.  The slightly sweet carrot brought texture to the plate with the ice cream bringing it all together.  It was like a carrot cake meets a sticky toffee pudding, but not as rich and heavy. Delicious.

I’m reading my words back and thinking through this meal trying to find fault, but I genuinely can’t pinpoint one.  From entry to exit, the staff were phenomenal and the food attractive, well-seasoned and a joy to eat.  At £27.50 for three courses, it’s up there for a Michelin-starred lunch, and I certainly think it was there standards wise too.  Hat-trick completed. 

Phone: 0161 835 2557
Follow: @MCRHouse

Opening hours: Tues-Thurs Lunch 12.30-14.30
                                         Dinner 19:00-21:00
                        Fri-Sat       Lunch 12:00- 14:30
                                         Dinner 18:00- 22:00