Located on the Southwest end of Mass Ave, MacNiven’s has been a favorite of mine since I moved to this town. The front bar-style tables are a must during the spring, when the windows are opened and one can watch friends and strangers pass.
As I waited for my friends, I sat at the bustlingly busy bar. Despite the business, the other patrons were friendly. It may seem minor, but some establishments’ clientele don’t seem to care about anyone but their own companions. The bar menu has a fantastic selection that mirrors the food menu: lots of authentic Scottish selections with some delicious picks from other parts of the world also. If you want to try my favorite scotch (Lagavulin), MacNiven’s is one of the only places that serves it. A server was pouring Scotch ale for someone, and I asked her if it was any good. She responded by happily pouring me a shot of beer to sample. This won my business on two levels: first, she was extremely busy and was pouring a sample for someone who hadn’t even placed an order. Second, any business that stands by its wares enough to give samples knows the quality will speak for itself. This beer was no exception: I ordered one immediately and savored it while I waited.
The Belhaven Scotch Ale was amazing, with a light, creamy head. The hops were pronounced but did not overpower the smooth, smoky malt finish. The sweet, toasty caramel flavors of the finish made this a beer that novice tasters will like, and that pairs well with dessert flavors- I’m thinking of toffee ice cream with a chocolate and scotch ale sauce (or is that too Cannery Row- Beer Milkshake-like?). When my dinner companions arrived, the bartender made my transitions to the table effortless, offering to bring me my brew and my tab instead of making me wait. It gave me the ability to enjoy the company of my friends instead of waiting on a tab.
I met a couple of people there for dinner, and I was excited to review the fare. However, though the menu has an amazing variety of authentic Scottish dishes and elegant casual dining meals, both of my dinner companions gravitated to the sausage rolls for dinner. I had the Scotch eggs appetizer and one of my companions started with the Scotch egg salad.
Hot from the oil, the Scotch eggs did not disappoint. I would have chosen a different beverage, as the assertive flavors overwhelmed my Scotch ale (perhaps a thick Xingu or hoppy Gumballhead would have been better). The eggs are hard-boiled, then wrapped in a spicy sausage coating and fried to perfection. They are served with a garlic-coarse red pepper aioli with just the right heat to balance the sausage. If you’ve never tried them- you are in for a treat that elevates bar food. The Scotch egg salad was a garden salad topped with sliced Scotch eggs, avocado, and bright red peppers. While the salad was good, the eggs are better alone with the aioli.
The sausage rolls are 5-ounce sausages wrapped in a puff pastry- think Sausage Wellington. The delicate pastry was tender, yet flaky, indicating it was not only made correctly, but also didn’t sit in the back for long before being brought to the table by our server. The side of beans was more of a palate-cleanser than an interesting dish.
Our server was attentive without being overbearing, and he was available when we had questions or requests. Despite the fact that it was a busy Thursday evening and we were finishing dinner around ten o’clock as the bar crowd arrives, he didn’t push the check onto our table until we requested it. Our glasses of ale or water were always filled, and we didn’t have a lot of interruptions or feel like the server was in our laps. The service staff was a mix of young, attractive folks that would have blended well with the bar’s clientele except for their black t-shirts and aprons.
Well done, MacNiven’s. I highly recommend this place for a brew, a scotch, or a full meal- either right after work or late in the evening, the menu and atmosphere are sure to please you.
Atmosphere: [rate 4]
Beer Selection: [rate 5]
Wine Selection: Not rated
Food: [rate 4]
Service: [rate 5]