“ Address: Blackpool Road / Lytham St Annes / FY8 3RU / Tel: 01253723240 „
* said with suitable northern accent
Growing up in St Annes, the Queensway was a fixture of many birthdays and other special occasions. At the time it was a Beefeater, but it was the combination of bread basket and ice cream sundaes that won the primary school me over. That and the fact that their Father Christmas gave me a rather nifty Mr Happy toy one December. When we made a model version of the town in class 2 (now Year 1), this was the 'landmark' I got assigned to make out of some cornflake boxes, and I kept it for years.
Though it looks the same from the outside, and bears the same name, it's now in the Harvester chain. I'd been wanting to try a Harvester for a while on the back of various positive reviews, so when our foreign guests insisted on taking us out for a meal, we thought it could be a good place to go since the menu has some good, traditional British options on, as well as the perhaps more Mediterranean Vegetarian choices we would ourselves be going for.
The Queensway is on the edge of St Annes, just before you hit the 'Welcome to Blackpool' sign. It screams traditional pub from the moment it comes into view and is a low, sprawling building with windows on three sides. There is a small car park at the front, and a larger one at the back though it was alarmingly crowded when we arrived. So was the bar and, so was the restaurant. This being a seaside town, going out on a bank holiday weekend is not the best idea, but the timing could not be helped. We got our names on the list, were told to expect a half hour wait, and shuffled to the bar. Our guests wanted sherry of which there was no choice, just a take it or leave it. Some might say they should have offered more types - I was just pleased they had one since I've never seen it ordered or drunk in public, EVER. Even in St Annes. I wanted diet Coke and was impressed that the guy gave me one I could refill. I knew this happened in the restaurant but as the bar is a bit separate, I thought they might make me buy two. Not that I am the type of person to socialise in Harvesters, but the fact the bar includes the free refills would make for a rather cheap night out for me if I ever was dragged out drinking in one. The 'drinks station' is in the restaurant and has help-yourself Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Diet Pepsi and Lemonade on tap, and you can refill your glass with any or all of them, and use the ice machine though the drinks were cold enough out of the fountain for me.
We sat in the bar for the indicated half an hour and then our name was called to move through. the Queensway was always traditional but used to be a bit more northern-pub looking back in the day - birthday pictures from circa 1986 confirm this. 25 years later I (a) feel old and (b) can confirm it's had a facelift. It's still all wooden inside but instead of a dark mahogany, the beams now have a beige finish. There is new lighting too, despite the full windows, and the shades are rather nifty in a look-like-Habitat-but-no-doubt-IKEA kind of way. Gone are the cork-backed red and green table mats and in their place are plain tables albeit ones loaded with massive condiments - we had 4 full size sauce bottles (ketchup, BBQ etc) as well as not small salt and pepper shakers. Luckily our table was still big enough for 4 despite this. The Queensway is a bit jumble sale with its tables - some square, some round, some with booths, just whatever they could find. You can move around but only just as they are quite tightly packed, and when the place is crowded this makes sense - every table was filled.
We were given the menus and then asked barely 3 minutes later if we were ready to order. Since we were in the throes of translating both the words and the concepts, we weren't quite which was fine. Our second refusal was less well received and then we had to wait a while and finally flag down someone to take the order, as she'd got the hint and was now keeping her distance. The easiest part of the menu is the oddly named 'Early Bird' so let's start there. It's odd because there are no time restrictions, it's an all day thing. These are complete meals where the choosing is done for you (in a moment you'll see how that differs to other things) and had 3 vegetarian options of pasta, mushrooms and a rice/veg dish, as well as things like fish and chips, sausage and mash and scampi. See, nice proper English grub.
The rest of the menu is their 'grills'. Split into chicken, steaks, fish, burgers and combos, you first choose your meat (or one of two veggie options: a sweat potato burger or soya sausages) and then you customise it with a sauce of your choice and a side dish. The sauces are put into groups for those which work well with burgers, with grills, with fish etc and though you can technically mix and match, our order of a weird combo was met with a polite suggestion that actually BBQ glaze meant for ribs wouldn't go that well with Sea Bass, and wouldn't we prefer the parsley sauce instead? The sides include rice, and 4 types of potatoes and this time, though the order was unorthodox, it passed without comment. Everything on the menu comes with a calorie count which I'm used to from certain states in the US, but which still makes others do a double take. Personally I think it is helpful, but until it becomes the norm in all restaurants I can't help but think the Harvester will remain 'that nasty place where the food has thousands of calories'.
All meals, grill or early bird come with unlimited salad from the help yourself salad bar, and this was in part one of the reasons I fancied visiting. They do starters too, but I'm not sure why you'd bother with so much salad on offer. I was a little disappointed with both the selection and the presentation which evidenced the business of the restaurant on a Saturday night and had a bit of a look of a food fight about it. To be fair, staff regularly went round trying to neaten it up a bit, but it was like a band aid on a bullet hole, it was never going to stay on top of the mess for long. The salad wasn't labelled which I found a bit annoying as some things like lettuce and tomatoes were obvious, but others like the various creamy / pasta things weren't and I steered clear, lest they contain chicken or tuna. I also love sweetcorn so was a bit sad there wasn't any on offer when we went. There are lots of dressings on offer (labelled with both name and calorie count) but none of them were anything I would dream of putting on a salad and the low fat vinaigrette looked disturbing full of sugar and other dubious things, so I left my salad undressed. I know it would be more expensive, but it's a shame they don't have basic oil and vinegar on offer. The salad bar also housed rolls (white and brown), butter and margarine. The rolls were delicious and clearly freshly baked (or at least very well re-warmed from frozen) and though they ran out several times, the staff were quick to replenish them. The salad wasn't the best quality - the Kidney beans for example were a bit slimy, and the tomatoes reminded me why I tend only to buy on-the-vine ones myself - but being able to choose your own was novel, and I had a big bowl though I couldn't help but think that with all the mayonaise covered stuff, the potatoes and pasta salads and so on, this was really salad for people who don't like salad.
The food arrived, or should I say half the food did. The two vegetarian options came out but we were left waiting for the fish. And waiting. And waiting. Luckily our plates had been pre-warmed but it was getting to the point where we wondered whether we should, however rude, start, when the others finally came out. My food was described as "Roasted peppers and rice, layered with roasted aubergine, topped with goat's cheese. Served with a rich tomato sauce and rocket and garlic bread on the side". I got a big dish with a tall stack, though this was more rice than anything, and the roasted peppers were cubed which I had not expected. The aubergine was nice but I initially thought it was mouldy as there was a 2p sized white spot on the top. But no, this was the goat's cheese. It was barely worth having, and I couldn't help but think they should just lob another £1 on the price and give a decent serving, since the vegetarian options are the cheapest things on the menu anyway. The sauce was plopped on one half of the plate and didn't swim round much, and the garlic bread looked like half a slice of toastie loaf, and was served in a cereal bowl. Let's just say that on Come Dine With Me there would have been serious marks deducted for presentation. The other vegetarian option of stuffed mushrooms at least looked nice on the plate, with the mushrooms containing a lot of topping and having a nice finish. The two fish dishes were also fine if a little basic, and the sauces came in jugs so you could drip them on where you needed them.
I had really been looking forward to my Jambalaya stack so dug in but was rather underwhelmed by the stack which was mainly sticky rice though the aubergine was nice and the skin not tough the way it can be. It was the sauce that really threw me, though as it had a strong spicy kick to it that had been gulping down my thankfully refill-able drink. It was also sweet - again, more sugar than anything - and tasted almost like BBQ sauce rather than the herby tomato I was expecting. I would definitely have liked more cheese on top to balance out the flavours, but at least it was only 380 calories though :)
The 510 calorie stuffed mushrooms my lardy mother went for came filled with mascarpone and slow
roasted tomato and chilli risotto, and were served with buttered baby potatoes, garden peas and half a tomato. The thing about Harvester is they tell you every last bit of garnish that's going to come on your plate. Her verdict? The filling was 'tasteless rice' rather than the fancy moniker they were going for, and the peas tasted cheap.
The fish (360 calories, plus a further 380 cals for sauce and sides), and the seafood combo (a little over 800 calories all in) were both eaten up though some of the seafood was a little dry and definitely needed the sauce. The portions were passive which seemed a bit silly - with people filling up on cheap salad first, they could have shaved a little off and still no one would have been left hungry. But, because it was there, it was eaten, so though manners dictate it is impolite to interrogate foreign guests about the quality of their food merely for review purposes, the conclusion must be that it was edible if nothing else. And it didn't smell, which is always something I dread when fish is concerned (various carnivorous ex-boyfriends having been instructed that they can have all the steak they want, but stinky fish is very much off the menu if they expect to come with 10 feet of me).
The restaurant was still busy as we finished eating, and our plates sat in front of us for some time. They have two types of puddings, bog standard pub grub (as in chocolate fudge cake and so on) and ice cream sundaes, which sit on different menus with only the sundaes available on the table. So, it was those we looked at, and even though we were full, it was decided that they looked too good to pass up. Gone are the days of a simple soft ice cream with raspberry or chocolate sauce - though when I was 6 those were supremely covetable, right down to the tall glasses and long handled spoons. Now the concoctions are complicated to say the least, with fruit and brownies and even bits of Wispa. The inviters went for the Knickerbocker Glory while the invitees shared the Lemon one which was the perfect mix of tart and sweet, with lots of lovely meringue and cream alongside the soft vanilla. It was definitely the best food of the night. The dishes they come in are now shorter than before, but compensate by being much fatter, and the long handled spoons still come as standard despite their newfound redundancy. The ice creams are big, and the calorie counts listed attest to this, which surprised me a little: we ordered two between four of us and could never have managed a whole one each, even if we'd forgone the salad, but had they been smaller we might have stretched to 3 for the group, or even a complete set of 4, which you'd think would be more profitable.
For a restaurant of its size, there aren't many toilets at the Queensway and they haven't moved since we used to go there in the 80s and early 90s. The ladies is boxy with two cubicles and an odd layout, but the addition of a full length mirror pleased me.
So how much did we pay for our feast? The first round of drinks at the bar (two soft, plus two sherrys) came in at a few pennies over £10. The restaurant bill was for 4 main courses (one being a seafood combo which was large and priced to match), 2 ice creams and a wine and a beer, and totalled £48. In some ways that is decent value for money simply because you can have as much salad and bread as you want. Individually, for example, the vegetarian options were under £7 each and I was stuffed after mine. Even with a drink, you'd have change from a tenner which is rare these days. But, the quality wasn't wonderful, and the addition of unpalatable sugar in far too many of their items was off putting. The setting is definitely more pub that fine dining, and when it's packed to the rafters it's quite an experience. I can't say whether it is massively worse than when I was a kid, or whether I just have a much greater frame of reference now, but it's not somewhere I'll be rushing back to.
That's their spelling, not mine. It's not in Lytham and it's certainly not in 'Lyntham'. It is Blackpool-adjacent (just as I say in Manchester my house is Didsbury-adjacent) but for all intents and purposes it is in St Annes.
Food is served Mon - Sat 12 noon to 10pm and Sun 11am to 10pm