Queen’s Lane Coffee House – which, despite its prime position opposite Exam Schools, is perpetually empty – declares itself (somewhat questionably) to be “the oldest continually working coffee house” in Europe. All I can assume is that in the 17th century context of the Civil War, in which the café claims to have its genesis, people developed a greater tolerance for piles of stale nachos and limp salad with their sandwiches. After two uneventful visits at an open day and interviews, where my nerves and excitement made nearly £10 for a dry panini and extremely mediocre hot chocolate seem reasonable, I returned on a dreary day in February when I found myself waiting for the Oxford Tube.
I checked the bus times and saw that the next was a little while away, so popped next door for what would transpire to be an unusually disappointing snack. I asked for a takeaway tomato and mozzarella ciabatta, toasted, and waited. Almost ten minutes later, the coach pulled up, and I realised I was still waiting, even though I was predictably the only customer. I politely said I needed to go and asked to take it now. This request was refused: “It’s still in the toaster.” insisted a member of staff. I explained I really needed to catch this bus to London so needed to have it now. “It isn’t ready. It needs longer to heat up.” replied the waitress with an indifference that seemed slightly unhelpful given my own clear panic.
Desperately, I turned to leave without my lunch as I saw the coach closing its doors, and suddenly the sandwich was thrust into my fist. Once on the bus, I bit into it and was met by the taste and texture of ice-cold rubbery cheese coupled with overripe, soggy tomato, inside an incredibly stale ciabatta (how it could not be remotely warm after a good seven minutes in a toaster I cannot fathom). Selling something so unsatisfactory for £4.95 is slightly unbelievable – especially in a student town where café prices are rightly competitive. From its flavourless, lukewarm cappuccinos to its pitiful sandwich offerings, Queen’s Lane Coffee House manages to disappoint each time – especially compared to the might of Taylor’s or the Alternative Tuck Shop.