The Queen’s Head and Artichoke

The Queen’s Head and Artichoke is a gastro pub off Regent Square in London. On Boat Race day, under the Times’s “dine out for £10” promotion, we headed their for lunch.

It was pleasant enough inside, and quiet too. We were seated quickly, and menus and a winelist appeared. That’s, sadly, where it went downhill. We ordered the 2005 Boland chenin blanc, from Paarl in South Africa. It arrived and was poured into our glasses without so much as a chance to check it was the correct wine or in drinkable condition! Fortunately, it was, sharp and crisp, but that’s not the point. Our waiter was rude too: once we’d consulted the abridged menu and made our choices of starter and main, he insisted we order desserts there and then…!

The food was reasonable, too: I started with the leek and potato soup before moving on to venison sausages. My companion had the goats’ cheese and pepper tart followed by salmon. I felt I’d made the poorer choices: the soup was good, but nothing to write home about, and the sausages – delicious and gamey – were let down by lack-lustre mashed potatoes. They came with red cabbage and – allegedly – gravy. The former was good, the latter was watery and red, resembling in every way the water one may have cooked the cabbage in!

Our desserts arrived without ceremony: we shared a chocolate and walnut brownie and a pear and almond tart, the latter – again my companion’s choice – being the better. This was where it went downhill further! As we finished the wine, we asked for our bill. It arrived and included at 12.5% service charge! My lawyer-companion had noticed that, at the outset, the menu said that this service charge was optional. Insulted at the cheek of having it incorporated we asked for it to be removed, receiving in reply questions of what was so poor about the service. We lied, claiming we prefered to leave our tip in cash. In reality, neither of us wanted to be forced into a tip in any case, and the service wasn’t good enough to merit it.

Our waiter returned with new bill, looking for all the world as if he was about to spit in our faces. In the end, we left without tipping: I couldn’t stand the condescending looks he gave us for the next few minutes! I know that we were eating on the cheap, but these places sign up for the Times’s scheme, are allowed to choose what limited menu items to present and on which days the deal applies. They can even set limits on how many bookings on the deal they’ll take each day. They should expect customers to use the deal; we were polite throughout and didn’t order the house wine. We didn’t deserve such rudeness, and they didn’t earn a tip.

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