Across the pond, on H Street
Note: Ian Reeves left the Queen Vic in January 2013.
By Alex Baldinger
Friday, April 20, 2012
Ian Reeves didn't leave his position as chef of a trendy London gastropub to serve burgers more than 3,600 miles away.
So when the 29-year-old Englishman took over the reins at H Street's year-old Queen Vic in September, he made a statement - at least in this burger-happy town - by 86ing the item from the pub's menu.
"There's enough burger joints in the city," says Reeves. "Like, really, if you want a burger, there's enough places that specialize in it that you can go to."
If that sounds like a kiss-off to meat-eaters, it's not. Far from it, in fact: Reeves might hold the title of head chef, but he approaches the job with a butcher's sensibility, sourcing the restaurant's beef and pork from local farms and dressing them - which is to say, taking a cleaver to them - on the premises. "Every animal's constructed the same way, a lamb, a pig, a cow, as soon as you understand the construction," Reeves said, and with his lumberjack stature, earlobe-length sideburns and wide moustache, it's not hard to picture him wielding a cleaver, either.
Reeves's handiwork is most visible in the traditional Sunday roast ($18.18): a 12-ounce slab of roast beef, rare as you like, surrounded by duck-fat-roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and a helping of green beans and carrots.
The roast, a staple of middle-class family life throughout England - is served from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and speaks to Reeves's Gloucestershire upbringing, but it was on a family holiday to France's Brittany region that he was awakened to the more daring pleasures of seafood, sweetbreads and offal, all of which appear in his cooking today. He can still remember his first oyster, at age 13.
"Liver and kidneys sell really well. . . . We did a lamb heart recently that honestly just flew out," Reeves said. "I know my guys are behind the food, front of house, so I know they're always trying to persuade people, suggest new things. I'm also really lucky [that] it's a very neighborhood spot. I see the same faces three or more times a week."
Many of the Vic's regulars are wearing European soccer jerseys as they sip a pint. The bar serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, though they'll open earlier if staff-favorite Liverpool FC is playing.
The Full Monty ($12.73) has all the trimmings of an English breakfast - eggs, bacon, beans, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding and the like. Other options include cornmeal pancakes ($10.91), porridge ($8.18) and a three-oysters-and-bloody-mary combo ($10.91). And after all that meat, vegetarians will be shocked to see the vegan daal ($12.73) and veggie hash ($11.82) as options.
Evenings bring a rotating menu of chalkboard dinner entrees paired with a pint for $15, while the softball-size Cornish pasties, which make their appearance only after the kitchen closes, manage to be delicate and formidable. They're worth staying up late for, especially if you're spending an evening outdoors on the bar's second-floor patio, a quiet nook with a backyard feel made all the more appealing with the recent addition of dart boards and movie screens.
The Queen Vic's extensive beer list makes it an easy place to spend a few hours. The list of bottles includes nearly 25 selections from England and Scotland. Harviestoun's cask-conditioned Old Engine Oil porter, Marston's crisp oyster stout and Coniston's low-ABV Bluebird Bitter are can't-miss pours, but if you're having only one drink, try one of the bar's Ribena cocktails: the Cider and Black blends a black currant beverage with hard cider, while the Cardiff Bluebird adds blueberry vodka and Sprite to the mix. It's not the type of cocktail you'll see often on a bar menu, but it fits with the adventurous spirit of both the establishment and the H Street corridor itself.
"We've just got an attitude of, 'This is what we do,' " Reeves said. "We want people to come in and have a good time."