Since I always steer for the high road, I'll be a little circumspect here in relating the first thing that came to mind when entering the Queen Victoria Pub at the Riviera, and that was the Steak House at Circus Circus, just across the street.
No, the restaurants don't have the same mission, they're not decorated in the same way and they don't have similar menus. But they both represent oases in their respective properties; I'll leave it at that.
Queen Victoria, which bills itself as the only British-owned British pub in Las Vegas, is as much an island as its owners' mother country. The Vegas cliches are left behind at the door, exchanged for tons of red brick covering just about every surface and numerous British-themed decorative elements, like the fleet of flags of the colonies suspended from the ceiling in the main room. The menus also reflect the theme, printed on newsprint with old-timey ads.
And so, of course, does the food on those menus. I remember, growing up, hearing all the stuff about English food being an oxymoron, and then I went there and discovered the pubs, urged on by those in the know who insisted, and rightfully so, that the pubs served the best food in town. While the Queen Victoria doesn't stick exclusively to pub food (especially since it has sections headed Yankee Doodle Dandies and Colonial Specials), it was there in abundance.
To start, a true classic, the British Sampler Platter ($11.75), a Scotch Egg and sausage roll that were plenty for two or more. A Scotch Egg, if you've never had the pleasure, is a quintessential pub snack, a hard-cooked egg encased in sausage, breaded and fried. The sausage roll, on the other hand, is an English sausage encased in puff pastry. Both had been cut into quarters - making them easier to share - and served with a cup of curry sauce and a cup of Colman's mustard, which our server took pains to point out could cause great pain.
And both were about as off-the-boat as it gets, the egg's exterior appropriately crusty and yielding to the moist middle layer and firm, rich center. The sausage roll was likewise authentic, the thickish, juicy link encased in the flaky pastry. Both had enough flavor that they were fine on their own or when touched with just a tiny bit of the potent mustard, but there's something about curry sauce that makes it tantamount to crack, and that was definitely the case here.
A steak and mushroom pie ($13.95) was also the queen's English, that old-familiar shape with the nearly straight sides and flat top with a carefully located steam vent. The pastry was reasonably flaky, the fries crisp (mashed was the other option). And the vegetables were depressingly classic English - peas that were mushy but not mushy peas, accompanied by a few lathe-turned carrots. I'm thinking this was one area where they could've diverted from authenticity.
And Shepherd's Pie ($11.25, plus $1.25 if you want melted cheddar on top), which, like any country dish in any culture can take whatever form was determined generations ago by the eater's ancestors. This one was just seasoned ground beef and mashed potatoes, the mash swirled artfully, the cheese making it look downright decorative. The same sad vegetables were on the side, along with more mash, which we thought was a little odd - a mash overload.
Service throughout was friendly and efficient, the noise level decent and mostly limited to an odd assortment of videos being played on a couple of flatscreens over the bar. We think it might be considerably noisier during soccer games.
There are definitely similarities between the north Strip and the North Sea. One is bleak and generally chilly, the other warmer but equally bleak with the stalling of Echelon Place, the closure of the Sahara and a few other delayed projects, the status of which I can't even identify. But there are a couple of islands of conviviality there, and the Queen Victoria Pub is one of them.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.