Restaurant Review: Great Queen Street

Monday, February 18, 2013
I like fine dining, I really do. Unlike several of my friends and family I actively enjoy a formal dress code, a quiet setting, starched linen, flawlessly courteous service and, of course, excellent food. (Without excellent food, the other items just serve to disguise mediocrity and should be shunned, which is perhaps part of the reason people can be cynical about such restaurants.)

Nevertheless, part of the joy of living in London and dining out once or twice a week is in exploring the more casual options which, often, serve equally good food. These are the sort of places that you can drop into with friends for a quick bottle of wine and a steak, or for a three-course meal finishing with brandy, and still spend under £100 a head and not be hurried off your table at the end. For some reason, three of my new favourite restaurants in this sort of category are clustered around the Covent Garden area; a nice enough part of London but generally one I associate more with crowded and overpriced tourist traps than particularly enjoyable dinners. These, which all sit somewhere between the bistro/gastropub and the brasserie category are exceptions, and ones well worth a visit. The first, and the subject of today's post, is Great Queen Street; located (perhaps unsurprisingly) on Great Queen Street, opposite Freemason's Hall and roughly equidistant between Covent Garden and Holborn.

Image property of Ewan Munro. Distributed under Creative Commons license.

Very much in the gastropub mold, Great Queen Street has no website, an unassuming and easily missable frontage, and a self-consciously laid-back aesthetic with bare wooden tables, a long bar with spaces for those dining solo or in small groups and all drinks from cocktails to claret served in an range of chunky tumblers. Actually, they do dish out proper wine glasses if you ask or if, it seems, you've ordered something that they think justifies it. I still haven't quite figured that one out - perhaps it just depends on the waiter at the time.

Anyway, the important thing is that the food is largely excellent. The menu varies daily, and veers towards the traditionally British, with an emphasis on large grilled or roast meat dishes, seasonal game, and various forms of potatoes. One occasionally fun but occasionally annoying quirk is that the really appealing dishes are often only available 'for two' or even 'for four'. That may require a certain amount of negotiation with your dining companions and it can lead to frustration if you have your heart set on the slow-roast lamb with dauphinoise potatoes, but your companion is more interested in a fish dish. On the other hand when everyone can come to terms this style of eating is both sociable and cost-efficient even if, as has once happened to me, an odd number of diners means that you end up having to order enough veal for six, for five...

Service is always excellent; knowledgeable bar staff make a range of well priced cocktails with skill and care while the waiting staff are polite, friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the food. Despite the restaurant being relatively small and pubby, it never seems to get excessively noisy and there is enough space between tables to be able to converse comfortably and with a degree of privacy.

Prices are variable, with enough main courses in the £15-£20 range although the best stuff can be closer to £30 per person, particularly once you've added a couple of side-dishes, since potatoes and vegetables are often not included.

It's become a regular haunt for a reason. Give it a try.