Thursday, 19 March 2009

32 Great Queen Street

My first post is about the Great Queen Street restaurant. I have been meaning to go here for a while as I have read some decent reviews, including AA Gill's review in The Times. The concept is simple, good food and a relaxed atmosphere (a gastropub without the pub?).

Firstly, location and first impressions. This is an interesting spot for a restaurant. Not quite in the tourist trap that is Covent Garden but equally not in the serious environs of Holborn. Great Queen Street as a road is a curious mix of Freemason related paraphernalia dotted with the odd pub. All said and done it is a fairly quiet road in between two well-trod areas. The restaurant itself it fairly inconspicuous with a black frontage and no name, just a golden crown painted above the door. A nice, subtle touch I though and fitting for the location - you feel as if you are going somewhere that you have to know about.

Of course, our table wasn't ready so we were sent down to the bar where we were served by a friendly barman who recommended the special ale and some lupins (supposedly the future of bar snacks) on the side. You may be wondering what lupins are - some variety of bean that tastes like halloumi cheese. Interesting, but not worth the effort of squeezing them out of their skins. Our table was ready earlier than expected we were ushered back upstairs before having a chance to adequately sup our ales.

Once seated we were presented with the menus and left alone to decide. The decor of this place is dark and one can imagine coming in for a hearty meal on a winters evening and leaving satisfied, it remains to be seen how well the concept works in the summer. The restaurant was full, but not uncomfortably so and this only added to the 'buzzy' atmosphere. Our waiter was a little officious to begin with but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was misunderstood. He did however, have a good knowledge of the dishes and made suitable recommendations. I read an interview with the head chef stating how the menu was deliberately vague to encourage a dialogue between the customer and the waiter - something I have to say I like as a concept.

As for the food, our starters were a little disappointing. I had the smoked salmon which was fairly average (although how exciting can smoked salmon be!?) the pork and game terrine was good and a very hearty portion. The main courses were excellent and amply made up for the earlier disappointment. I shared the rib of beef which was cooked to perfection and had a wonderful freshness to the flavour. The pork was also a hit and the crackling was much praised. The beef was accompanied by a bearnaise sauce which had a good flavour but had been sitting at the pass for a little too long and had split and some 'chips' which were more like skinless wedges and were undercooked and bland. I always think thinner chips work better with steak. We had greens on the side which was cabbage and horseradish which worked very well with the beef. Overall, very satisfying especially accompanied by a bottle of good red. Our puddings were decent but presentation was lacking. I suppose that is to be expected of a restaurant that focuses on simplicity and the strength of it's ingredients to carry the food. A certain confidence is required to pull this off and I think the Great Queen Street achieves this very well. The fact that a couple of the elements of my main were lacking yet I still enjoyed it on the strength of the beef speaks for this mantra.

My one beef (no pun) with the whole place was the toilets. You go through a series of doors from the dark comfort of the restaurant into a harshly lit and porta-cabin-esque room which is apparently the loos. They have a very temporary feeling about them, the complete opposite from the rest of the restaurant which you feel is a piece of local life. How such a mismatch occurred is beyond me - lets hope they are temporary!

The whole affair took over two-and-a-half hours but seemed to fly by which I suppose is a good thing. Appropriately, there was ample time between courses but not enough for us to take too much notice - the way it should be in my opinion. Overall, good honest fair and a casual atmosphere gives this one 8/10.

Great Queen Street, 32 Great Queen St, Covent Garden. 020 7242 0622


  1. I also found the staff at GQS a tad brisk, maybe it is that relaxed atmosphere!?

  2. In reply to GQS being a non-gastropub, gastropub. Why not explore this argument alittle. The GQS owners's original venture is the highly successful Anchor & Hope which was the first of the generation of pubs that serve food a cut about your average pub. People didnt want to think of it as 'just a pub' and so this new type of pub was rechristed a gastropub.

    In GQS, one will notice the painfully obvious looking bar which serves drinks like any 'normal' pub does. Yes, the tables are all arranged like a restaurant and one can argue that it's a gastropub pretending to be a restaurant... or a restaurant pretending to be a gastropub or vice versa.

    But the British gastropub arose as a sort of Brit equivalent of the French bistro, or the brasserie, so by definition a gastropub - much like a bistro - is a relaxing place to grab some grub.

    Is it a true gastropub? I should like to think so, because it's not a straight pub, but not quite a straight restaurant either; it's sort of in between and thus if we try (and sometimes, we really need to) to pigeonhole this 'new' wave of brit restaurant, I should like to hope that we can safely call them Gastropubs.