The Queens Arms: maybe new as old can work after all

The Queens Arms on Frederick Street is a cosy yet cavernous basement pub
The Queens Arms on Frederick Street is a cosy yet cavernous basement pub

I’ve never hidden the fact that I like Edinburgh’s traditional pubs – the Guildford Arms, Bennets, that kind of thing. So I find the Queens Arms on Frederick Street a funny one. Opened back in 2010, I’ve been in briefly a couple of times and I’ve never shaken that nagging doubt that it’s a new pub trying to be old and that somehow that counts against it. But then I got thinking – does that matter? Should I penalise a pub for actually trying to be what I want? It needed an in-depth investigation and a Monday night dinner with Mrs Bar Fly was the vehicle for my enquiries.

And you know, it’s actually quite nice. When I say it’s trying to be a traditional Edinburgh pub, that is only true to a certain extent. The interior has that Edinburgh basement feel about it with plenty of dark wood but with a touch of class and an infusion of quirkiness. The chandeliers made of wine glasses, the wine bottles that cover a huge part of ceiling and the bookcases with actual books (not just wallpaper to give the effect) create distinct areas of the pub and bring a certain cosiness.

The books in the Queens Arms are actually real, not just wallpaper
The books in the Queens Arms are actually real, not just wallpaper

Having booked a table, we were treated to one of the pub’s other quirks – a booth with its own doors. While it may make it tricky for staff to serve your food, they are fun and definitely give you your own personal space. Perhaps not essential on a quiet Monday night but I can see this being a boon at the weekend.

And so as we settled into our booth that had been reserved with a nice bit of chalk on slate, I pondered my impending feeding and watering. I knew for a fact that the Queens Arms did real ale as I’d been to a Battle of the Brewers there a few years ago. Four hand-pulls presented themselves on this visit, although only three were occupied. On offer were Deuchars, Independence (wonder if that is particularly popular at the moment?) and Dark Horse. Deuchars it was for me, in a dimpled glass, as we began to peruse the menu.

The menu at the Queens Arms is compact but well formed
The menu at the Queens Arms is compact but well formed

The menu is compact which made choosing relatively easy. The fish and chips (£10.50) called out to me while Mrs Bar Fly couldn’t see past the breast of chicken with haggis mash, bacon lardons and a whisky cream sauce (£11). Now, when we dine out, we often find ourselves in the likes of the Olive Branch Bistro on Broughton Street and we felt the food at the Queens Arms was to a similar standard. It’s certainly a cut above average pub fare. I mean, my half of lemon came in a small netted bag (I’m sure there’s a posh name for such a thing) so that I could avoid citrus-y fingers. Both dishes were great, although I did have to carefully manoeuvre my fish and chips around the splodge of mint pea puree that I’m not a huge fan of. Mrs Bar Fly meanwhile announced that her chicken was the best main dish she’d out for some time. High praise.

Mrs Bar Fly's chicken, my fish and chips and that amazing cheesecake (inset)
Mrs Bar Fly’s chicken, my fish and chips and that amazing cheesecake (inset)

We’re both proponents of the theory that one has a separate pudding stomach and from a limited choice, we both went for the cheesecake (£5). Described rather forwardly as “orgasmic” by the guy serving, it was indeed an exceedingly good cheesecake. Perhaps not quite as good as the epic Millionaires Cheesecake we once had in the Mash Tun on Easter Road but it was very tasty indeed. It had a fantastic base which I find often makes or breaks this kind of dessert.

Now, having waxed lyrical about the interior and the booths, a small word of warning: although you can comfortably fit four, maybe even six, round one of the booth tables, you might struggle to have more than two eating at one of them. A combination of the table being narrow and the plates being big made it a bit of chess match even with just two of us once you have to accommodate a couple of plates, drinks, water glasses and a jug.

The booths at the Queens Arms and the ceiling of bottles (inset)
The booths at the Queens Arms and the ceiling of bottles (inset)

Suitably fed and watered, I decided to pop to the gents before departure. This is perhaps more than you need to know but stay with me. Not knowing where they were, I went right. There were two doors. “Boys and girls” I thought. Door on left has nothing on it but door on right has picture of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. I love the Muppets. I know the Swedish chef is male. I promptly walked into the kitchen and realised the clues had been there all along. Let that be a lesson to you. The toilets are downstairs as I found out shortly afterwards.

The Queens Arms on Frederick Street is well worth a visit if you're in the city centre
The Queens Arms on Frederick Street is well worth a visit if you’re in the city centre

I have to say, I really liked the Queens Arms and it is winning me over despite its faux traditionalness. I often struggle in that part of town to find a decent pub if out shopping or meeting people who are staying in the centre. There are maybe one too many televisions in the place, all showing the monumentally overrated Sky coverage of transfer deadline day when we were there, which maybe spoils the atmosphere just slightly but other than that it’s a decent sized place where you’ll generally get a seat and the staff were friendly. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say I liked the Queens Arms so much, I might even begin to forgive it for the missing apostrophe . . .

The Queens Arms is at 49 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EP. Find it on Facebook here and Twitter here.

2 thoughts on “The Queens Arms: maybe new as old can work after all

  1. Maybe you need to introduce a sub-category of new-old pubs. I think you’re right; if we like traditional-style pubs, does it really matter if they’re “real”? For example, the Bow Bar’s interior only dates from the 80s, but I say if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck … then it’s a good pub.

    Obviously some do it better than others … Remember what George Costanza said: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

  2. Not a bad idea. It is easy to forget that some of our “traditional” pubs are relatively new. The Cask & Barrel Southside is another good example.

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