When the brisk Edinburgh wind blows and the pavements glitter with frosty icing, finding a warm, inviting place to enjoy comforting food or relax with a refreshing drink becomes a priority.
But with the city centre stuffed with bar and restaurant chains, finding somewhere a little different, that combines character with quality cuisine and atmosphere, and that’s right in the beating heart of the capital, can feel a bit like hunting down the perfect pressie for that hard-to-please relation.
However, as any intrepid shopper knows, sometimes you have to go off-piste to track down something that really hits the spot.
Past Harvey Nichols, down towards Dublin Street – just over five minutes’ walk from the packed pavements and Christmas crowds – lurks a little corner of pure, unspoiled Edinburgh. The Magnum has been a New Town institution for decades, flying under the radar, recognised by those in the know for punching above its weight when it comes to delivering exceptional food and in surroundings that whisk visitors back to a time when Christmas wasn’t quite so fraught – or expensive.
And when the weather delivers its icy wintry blast, it becomes a cosy haven, twinkling fairy lights in the window enticing diners and drinkers inside to discover that magical combination of exceptional food, served in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
“It’s brilliant for winter," agrees Chris Graham, who has run The Magnum with his partner Eva for around a decade.
“On the long dark nights when the lights are turned down and the candles are on, it feels like you’ve been wrapped in a duvet.
“It’s really snug - when it snows people say it’s like being in a Charles Dickens book."
He’s not wrong. Understated and unpretentious from the outside, it blends in with the Georgian houses which surround it – perhaps another reason why it can be overlooked by passers-by as they make their way to the night-time hub of George Street, to laid back Stockbridge or vibrant Broughton Street.
Step inside, though, and it’s like coming home.
Whether in t-shirt and jeans or suit and tie, The Magnum is one of the relaxed and unpretentious venues that manages to feel ‘just right’, unlike some other uptown venues where style can sometimes overwhelm substance.
Catering to the individual and constantly improving the experience of the diner is what sets The Magnum apart from other city restaurants, stresses Graham.
And the fact that The Magnum is a city centre ‘local’ – unlike some of the big chain venues on its doorstep – often resonates with visitors.
“We’re not trying to compete with the large chains,” he adds. “We’re just saying this is an Edinburgh restaurant and we’re proud to be local.”
High-end comfort food
Those who do step over the threshold can be taken aback by the quality of the menu. If The Magnum has the character and cosy vibe of a traditional country pub, its high-end ‘comfort food’ with its emphasis on local produce rubs shoulders with some of Edinburgh’s finest.
Lunchtime diners can be found warming up with a creamy bowl of cullen skink followed by venison haggis wrapped in smoked streaky bacon.
And in the evening, there’s the likes of pigeon breast served with haggis and ‘neeps and tatties’ dauphinoise to start, and pan-fried hake with burnt cabbage puree, buttered savoy cabbage and parmentier potatoes.
Sourcing food locally is important to the couple; the fish on offer is sourced from Welch’s fishmongers and the venison arrives from the highlands. It’s one reason why those in the know often book their tables well in advance.
But sometimes the chill of that stiff Edinburgh breeze requires something stronger to chase it away. Unlike some establishments where the wine choice is limited to white, red, small or large, The Magnum boasts a 52 bottle strong wine list bolstered by a wide array of spirits.
When the winter begins to bite, Graham warns visitors may lose track of time in the snug venue.
“You’ll come in for one warm rum during the day to escape the winter weather and before you know it, it’s 11.30 in the evening.”