Josiah Mortimer: Not breaking the bank at the Old Queen Street Café

Josiah Mortimer: Not breaking the bank at the Old Queen Street Café

At first glance you’d think the Old Queen Street cafe was a private members’ joint that had been in Westminster for a century. Yet it only launched last December, as a culinary companion of the Unherd Club, new premises of the online media title that hosts pretty much everyone with something controversial to say. From “gender critical” figures like Kathleen Stock and Julie Bindel to, umm, Marxist theorist Terry Eagleton and priest Giles Fraser, it’s got something to annoy everyone.

Do not, however, let Fraser’s latest Unherd piece – “What’s wrong with cannibalism?” – give you any ideas about the cafe’s menu. (Sorry, Greg Wallace, you’ll have to look elsewhere.).

For somewhere so central – about three minutes from Parliament – it is neatly tucked away. Getting off at St James’s Park station, my Dining Partner and I walked past politicos’ beloved Two Chairmen pub, jostling with civil servants on a half-rainy, half-sunny Thursday evening. I was nearly late because, thankfully, even during a parliamentary recess, there’s often a contact keen to spill some beans to a passing hack.

We found our dinner venue after initially walking past it, a sort-of-clubhouse bedecked in mid-century timber, and wandered in past signs for the Unherd Club and into the brasserie room.  There, we were guided to the plushest, deepest seats you’ll sit in outside the House of Lords. I was sure I saw some low-ranking politician sitting next to us. It may well have been a peer, comparing the chairs.

Renovating the place, located just off Storey’s Gate, cost several million pounds, Westminster gossip rag Guido Fawkes reported after its launch. But it wears it well, with a relaxed vibe, like The Ivy taking a night off. The open dining room looks out onto the quiet street, and you feel a bit protected from the carnage of current affairs, until you hear what the people next to you are talking about.

Drinks, then. A fresh daiquiri, with punchy citrus and ginger flavours. The hibiscus martini was as salty as they come, but my Dining Partner had no complaints. If only I’d ordered my starter as a main course. The grilled goat’s cheese salad (a reasonable £9) was creamy and light, paired perfectly with soft pear and well-dressed leaves. For my meat-eating other half, the prawns on toast (£12) hit the spot – buttery, simple, well-executed.

Cocktails done and dusted, the Riesling (around £34) was not the one to go for – a little flavour-free for my liking, though maybe because I’d just blown out my taste buds with half a kilo of ginger in the cocktail.

Why can’t restaurants coordinate their menus to avoid duplication? The Vegan Society apparently needs to send a memo round explaining that roasted cauliflower (£14) is not the only food veggies can eat. I chose it, and it was an anaemic affair – the veg had barely seen an oven. But the salsa verde offered some much-needed flavour where the ostensible hero of the dish was lacking.

The pork chop (£20) received rave reviews. There was plenty of it, for a start, and the celeriac and apple slaw accompanying it worked well. And we ended on a high. The bakewell French toast dessert, while small, was a winner. Think “almondy jam crepe” and you get the picture.

Stumbling out onto Old Queen Street, I put aside my cauliflower complaints. This is a decent spot for an informal dinner in Westminster without hefty central London prices – a slick yet affordable bistro slap bang in the heart of it.

What I want to know is: who is subsidising it? Unherd backer Paul Marshall? I don’t mind – if he can afford it and you can too, few will be complaining. The staff are sweet and Ella Fitzgerald tunes filled the room, over the gossip of special advisers. Grab a pint at the Two Chairmen afterwards and you’ll be on top of the world.

Josiah Mortimer is chief reporter for Byline Times and writes occasional food and drink reviews for On London on the side. Follow Josiah on Twitter and feel free to get in touch with him too. If you value On London and its writers, become a supporter or a paid subscriber to editor and publisher Dave Hill’s Substack. Thanks.

Categories: Culture

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