A revolution in British cooking happened in 1991 with the first gastropub in London and ever since then, more and more pubs have closed up shop temporarily for a few months only to reopen, rebranded as a gastropub. No wonder too, as they’re making money hand over fist with more diners demanding higher quality food. Even Gordon Ramsay’s getting into it when he opened The Narrow but that’s not today’s topic; no today, we talk about Great Queen Street.
Sister restaurant to award winning gastropub Anchor & Hope in Waterloo (I forgot which award, but I know they won something), Great Queen Street can be found in a more central Holborn area opposite the Freemason’s Hall, so finding a parking spot can be slightly tricky. We made a reservation for 8pm and despite turning up 30 minutes late (I hate the game of Finding Parking in London), they still kept our table on a busy Saturday night (it was a full house).
After being seated, a waiter gave us each a menu, printed on seemingly disposable A4 paper as the menu changes too regularly to use a proper fixed menu. There is still a specials board though, which we made all our choices from. The regular menu had a selection of standard British cuisine, but in true gastropub sense, refined slightly using quality ingredients.
To be completely honest though, the menu doesn’t explain a whole lot about the dish, more a list of the major ingredients than the elaborate descriptive prose so loved by Michelin starred restaurants. This (somewhat excessive some might feel) simplicity is a byproduct from Fergus Henderson, founder of St John’s restaurant in London. This “simplicity” theme is recurrent not only in the cooking style, but also in the décor; the furniture and cutlery is more utilitarian than designer beauty.
One of the two starters chosen was risotto with English truffles, try finding that in your local boozer. The risotto was perfectly cooked al dente with generous portions of cheese. The truffles added a touch of luxury to the dish, but to be honest it didn’t make a large impression to an already very good dish.
The other starter we had was a rillette of pork, which the waiter explained as being similar to a coarse pate. To my disappointment, the rillette didn’t have any liver in it, but it was nevertheless still filled to the brim with pork essence and was set brilliantly with either the gherkins or piccalilli. I felt that the toasted bread given was sliced too thickly and toasted too much and became too hard, but it was a minor complaint.
We were famished at the time of ordering, so we actually ordered more than the amount recommended, despite the gentle admonishments by the waiter. Between the three of us, we had a wild seabass which could feed two or three people according to the waiter, depending on how hungry we were, as well as a venison pot which could also feed two people. So technically, we ordered for five, setting up a quite enjoyable task to finish all the food.
Starting with the wild seabass, it satisfied the most important criterion of seafood, that being its freshness. With such quality seafood, nothing too extravagant needs to be done, just a generous sprinkling of salt on the skin and a stuffing of lemon and fennel provided some aroma. A drizzling of extra virgin olive oil on the rocket salad, artichokes and skinned plum tomatoes on the side was sufficient. All in all, a simple dish but well executed.
A pot of venison and mushrooms was stewed until the meat was so tender a geriatrician who lost her dentures could still enjoy this dish. Although this dish was not to my liking as I prefer my stews heartier with more substance to the sauce, the two ladies accompanying me absolutely loved it.
Even after the two monster sized mains, the PigPig was determined to prove that women has a separate stomach for desserts. I chose a Pimms and lemon sorbet float, which proved quite a good one on a humid summer’s day. Additions of diced strawberries and cucumber added an interesting texture to the float, which weren’t out of place either.
The choice of Muscat caramel cream was an inspired one by my wife and I would have been willing to finish it promptly if not for my stomach reaching nearly maximum capacity. Ridiculously rich and creamy, the caramel provided a nice smoky foil to the sweetness of the cream.
All good restaurants try to use seasonal ingredients and an example of this is the custard tart with gooseberries. The custard tart was milky rich and the gooseberries were sweetened slightly to help its natural tartness.
The winelist was influenced heavily by the French, with about half the reds coming from them. To compromise between the venison and fish, a choice of a Bergerac rose at £29 was quite good, with the rose being quite light and refreshing with just enough body to satisfy me.
Altogether, the bill came to £45 per person including service charge which wasn’t included in the bill and left to the discretion of the diner.
The food in general was brilliant with very little to complain about. Shying away from French elaboration and sticking to simple dishes done properly while tossing out plate presentation out the window, this restaurant has found a gameplan, stuck to it and excelled. My only complaint is that some of the more interesting mains require two or more people to share, all well and good for the restaurant, but difficult for diners in small-ish groups.
Would I eat here again? The next time I need to entertain friends from outside the island to show them how good British cuisine can be.
Great Queen Street
32 Great Queen St
Covent Garden, WC2B 5AA
Tel: +44(0)20 7242 0622