To enter the Queen Street Cafe in The Scottish National Portrait Gallery you must walk through the impressive main hall, where you’re greeted with imposing sculptures of Burns, Sir Walter Scott and, amongst others, Carlyle. The Queen Street Cafe section of the National Portrait Gallery is tucked through the left-hand side exit of the main hall. While the cafe lacks the impressive murals and sculptures of the main hall, it’s nice enough.
The Queen Street Cafe attracts many of Edinburgh’s ‘well-to-do’ residents, with many retired or near to retirement age. Though the prices are reasonable: that is if you excuse them charging a scandalous ¬£1.70 for a small bottle of still mineral water. The cafe also gets very busy, with only a couple of tables spare when we arrived. There’s no table service here, so pick up a tray and join the queue. The menu is displayed on the chalk-board above the serving area.
The menu had a very vegetarian slant to it and I was disappointed to find no vegetable lasagna remained. A mushroom and thyme tart looked impressive, as did the croissants stuffed with goats cheese. Finally I opted for the one meat dish on the menu: butternut squash and pancetta risotto. All main dishes cost ¬£5 per serving and included is an accompaniment such as beans or couscous and salad. The broccoli and coconut soup sounded an odd concoction, but it’s colour and texture radiated what my diet sometimes lacks: healthy eating. At ¬£1.95 a serving of this, along with some crusty bread, was added to the order.
The butternut squash and pancetta was a meagre portion. After five mouthfuls it had gone. However that was the only disappointment as the dish was absolutely delicious. The couscous and fresh salad accompaniment was thankfully more substantial - without this I’d have struggled to keep on my feet during the Telford exhibition we were here to see. The broccoli and coconut soup genuinely worked, with the coconut taste offsetting the broccoli perfectly. The Queen Street Cafe can definitely rustle up a good soup and I’m sure the tomato and basil also on offer would have been equally as tasty.
Still hungry and intent on ruining the healthy standard the risotto and soup had set, I rejoined the shrinking queue. The Queen Street Cafe have an impressive array of various teas, which offer ok value. I opted for the Darjeeling, which cost ¬£1.50. The scones looked impressive but the banana bread and butter pudding (¬£2.50) and the lemon drizzle cake (¬£1.85) got the nod.
The banana bread and butter pudding was served with a dollop of fresh cream on the top. The pudding itself was cold. I’m not sure whether this was intentional (in which case I wouldn’t have ordered) or it had been left for too long (maybe days) since it came out the oven. I suspect the latter. This bread and butter dessert was dry and way too hard. I’d expected hot, moist and yummy. I got cold, stone dry and awful. Total rubbish. The lemon drizzle cake fared a lot better, although I’d have expected a little more moisture in the sponge. We arrived close to 2pm, but I suspect the desserts had been prepared at least a day earlier.
So the highlights were the tea, soup and butternut squash and pancetta risotto, although the risotto portion size should have been larger. The low-lights were a disastrous banana bread and butter pudding and charging ¬£1.70 for a small bottle of mineral water.
Overall I was impassive toward The Queen Street Cafe. If you’re visiting the National Portrait Gallery it’s a fair choice for food and definitely a good choice for a cup of tea/opportunity to charge the batteries. However, based on my experience the Queen Street Cafe does not warrant a special visit.
The Queen Street Cafe is located inside The Scottish National Portrait Gallery at 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD