“ Address: 126 High Street / Oxford „
Oxford's Queen's Lane Coffee House claims to be the longest established coffee house in Europe, dating as it does from 1654. Visiting the city for the day, I wanted to avoid the usual chain coffee shops and try out an independent one for a change. Walking back to the High Street from Radcliffe Square and turning left, Queen's Lane was the first place I came to. I'm always a little hesitant about trying a new place when I'm on my own, but I convinced myself to go in. There is a dining room to the left and another smaller seating area to the right alongside the counter. I didn't know whether there was waiter service or if I had to order at the counter, but when I enquired I was told I should take a seat and a waiter would come over. I decided to sit in the area near the counter.
I chose a table for two right in one corner; there was a large mirror on the wall through which I could watch people coming in and ordering from the counter. Some were just ordering sandwiches and drinks to take away. I had the impression that some of them were regular customers, and the staff were always very friendly. The table I had chosen was very small; it would have been big enough for two people just having a drink, but two eating would have been a squeeze. I had hardly had time to put my things down and take my coat off before a waiter approached me. I ordered a cappuccino and asked him to let me have time to look at the menu.
The menu begins with breakfasts, where there are fifteen choices ranging from Greek yoghurt with fresh berries, oats and honey (£2.95) to full English or jumbo (£7.45). Then come the pastries; these are mostly Danish varieties (all £1.50) but croissants and pain au chocolat are also in the list. Twenty different types of hot sandwich are on offer, including a mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil panini (£4.35), a bacon, cheese and pesto panini (£4.95) and the Fisherman's with tuna mayonnaise, prawns and cucumber (£5.95). The American Corner features four more sandwiches, such as turkey, lettuce and tomato with mayonnaise (£6.45).
Mains from the grill are next, where among others you can have a beef burger, grilled fish or chicken brochetta for £8.95. Other hot meals include meat or vegetarian nachos (£6.95), Turkish pizza (£7.95) and fish and chips (£8.95). Platters are all £8.50 and feature meat, cheese, falafel or dolmas with accompaniments. There are eight kinds of salads, ranging from the Med with grilled vegetables and stuffed peppers (£4.95) to Nicoise or hot chicken breast and crispy bacon (both £7.45). The organic cakes and sweets are not fully listed on the menu, but there is a display of them at the counter.
I decided to go for the vegetarian breakfast (£5.95) which has scrambled egg on toast, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of bacon or sausages and scrambled is my favourite kind of egg, so the choice suited me down to the ground. I didn't have to wait too long for it to be served, and it came on a huge oval plate with generous portions of everything. There were two halves of tomato which had been grilled and kept their shape well. The scrambled egg was cooked to perfection, and I am not easy to please where that is concerned. The mushrooms were button ones and were also well cooked. My one criticism is that I wasn't given a choice of white or wholemeal bread for the toast; I always have wholemeal, but white was served. Apart from that one niggle, I did enjoy the breakfast and couldn't quite finish it. The cappuccino wasn't the best I've ever had, but it was more than acceptable.
Most of the customers seemed to be paying at the counter, but when the waiter came to clear away my plate he said he would bring my bill to the table. Card payments couldn't be accepted that day because of some malfunction, but I had in any case intended to pay by cash. My bill came to £8.50 to which I was happy to add a tip. I visited the ladies' toilet just before leaving. To get to it I had to walk through the main dining area which was certainly busy. There was just one cubicle; I wouldn't make any serious complaints about it, but it wasn't the most ultra modern or sparkling clean place I have ever seen.
One thing I would say is that I don't always feel confident about going into eateries on my own to have a meal, but I felt perfectly comfortable in that respect at Queen's Lane Coffee House. There was another woman on her own at a small table next to me, and I enjoyed sitting facing the mirror and watching people come and go. It is a welcoming place with good service, reasonable prices and quite an interesting menu. I am glad I chose it rather than sticking to the usual Starbucks or Costa Coffee shops that are the same everywhere you go. It is situated between the city centre and Oxford's Botanic Gardens and is within easy walking distance of both. It could do with a bit of a facelift, although it has of course been redecorated since 1654! I would nevertheless recommend a visit.
Queen's Lane Coffee House
40 High Street
Tel. 01865 240082