Six weeks after I first visited the newly refurbished Queen Victoria Arts Club for their exclusive launch night, I returned to try the full dining experience for myself. The restored Victorian building is now home to a restaurant and private members’ club, along with several discrete rooms for private dining and events.
I understand that over half a million has been spent bringing the building up to standard and I really love where the original features have been respected, but given a modern feel – such as the parquet floor and heritage green walls of the main dining room with pretty and contemporary light fittings and newly extended windows which give a stunning view and excellent people watching location out on the Curve and Athena.
However, in amongst the elegant and luxurious surroundings, there are just a couple of areas that stand out as incongruous to me. Perhaps it’s my pre-conceptions about a Private Member’s Club, but I’d really like all the details to be perfect. Sadly, the mismatch in the statement wall as you enter the venue grabs my attention every time I walk in the building. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a pretty big mismatch. I cannot see anything else for a while every time I come through the door. That could well be just a testament to how ridiculously attached to details I am…
And the Knightmare-style wallpaper. Oh god. Remember how angry that made me in the Head of Steam refurbishment? Yeah, I was *very* surprised to see these weird blurry/pixellated decorations showing up in such an otherwise thoughtful and graceful refurbishment. The Victorian original brickwork, the mouldings – there are so many gorgeous textures in this building that this little extra just isn’t necessary.
But, you’ll be pleased to know, that is pretty much all that ground my gears! This evening The Boy and I were very well looked after by extremely attentive staff with a fantastic attitude and great knowledge of their menu. It has clearly been quite a complex time for the team as the Chef has already been changed and so the menu is under some quite serious scrutiny and revision, even this early in the restaurant’s life.
There is an element of ‘Empire cuisine’ – taking inspiration from the building’s Victorian roots and representing the cornucopia of flavour influences that the British Empire brought to the UK. This takes the form of subtle elements neatly incorporated into the Modern British menu – a curry note here, a pickled vegetable there, a little caramelised pineapple with coconut to finish. Otherwise think traditional and satisfying food, done with a nice bit of flair.
We enjoyed some chicken crackling while we waited. It was delicious! SO NAUGHTY!! Yes, it’s fried chicken skin, but it is absolutely perfectly done and so crispy. However, it is incredibly rich because it is so high in fat and we could not finish this small bowl between us. It would be a great snack if you were just enjoying a few drinks here – or perhaps between a table of 4 just to have a couple of tastes while you waited for your starters to be served.
That said, the pacing of our meal was excellent – the sort of unhurried efficiency that you really hope for. The front of house team seem to be working well together, although I have yet to see the venue particularly full. I wonder if people think that it is only a Private Members’ Club…
The Boy enjoyed his duck liver parfait. Never let it be said that they skimp on portions here – this was a huge slab of delicious rich duck goodness, served with crisp toasts, fresh butter, roasted hazelnut and caramelised onion. Some classic flavours and all really well balanced in a delicious autumnal dish.
I opted for the smoked salmon blini, served with creme fraiche and mackerel caviar. The salmon was supposed to be gin cured, but I did not get the flavour of this at all, just a good quality smoked salmon. The presentation was extremely appealing and there was a nice mix of textures from the green leaves and a little colour on the blini giving an element of light crunch which I really enjoyed. Again, it was a very good size to the point where I think I would quite happily have this as a light lunch on its own!
Onwards and upwards with the mains and The Boy enjoyed the sirloin of beef. An absolute monster of a dish, this is a real pile of food! The sirloin is covered with a very smokey, braised bacon and mushrooms in a light mustard sauce. And all this with a mound of very nicely cooked handmade chips. Triple cooked no doubt – they had that very soft, fluffy interior and nice crisp outside. I should know. I pinched a couple.
My main was also ample. There was roast chicken with a creamy tarragon sauce filled with mushrooms. This was served with garlic mash and a pile of seasonal vegetables – including turnip, purple carrots and tenderstem broccoli. We noticed that all of the dishes tasted really quite heavily salted, which got a little much towards the end. Otherwise I have no complaints at all. My dish was made from tender, high quality chicken that was still lovely and moist. There was just the right amount of garlic in the mash – something that is a personal favourite of mine.
As you can imagine after this we were stuffed, so we adjourned from the dining room. I showed The Boy around the venue and we grabbed another drink to enjoy in the booth. There is a very extensive drinks list. Try draught beers and bottles from Adnams. Don’t miss Drappier Champagne and other sparkling along with a nicely chosen wine list with a diverse range. Not enough? How about a neat cocktail menu and range of soft drinks?
After a short pause we were able to manage a dessert between the two of us – for your benefit you understand dear reader. This was a chocolate and brandy tart. It had just the right amount of deep bitterness, but sadly not a hint of the brandy. This was served with cherries and a cherry ice cream. I think I would have preferred more cherries and not bothered with the ice cream… But it was just the right portion to satisfy the sweet craving without being overly heavy.
I will happily admit that I was more impressed by the food than I thought I would be. There were a couple of areas for improvement. A number of the dishes were over-salting. Some flavour elements of a dish named on the menu were not being present in the dish. However, the food was clearly of a high quality. Everything was cooked well and made using good quality ingredients. I liked the style of food, which was filling and homely whilst still being very thoughtfully presented.
Thank you to the Queen Victoria Arts Club for inviting us along to try the menu. I look forward to seeing the venue develop. In particular, I heard that plenty of work on the menu and the programme of private member events will take place in the New Year.