The name ‘Queen of Cups’ originates from the art of Tarot Card reading – an homage to the mystical history of Glastonbury which still lives on in this iconic town today. The character symbolises feminine energy, emotional connection and compassion – all of which make up the ethos and heart of this award-winning restaurant

Great British Life: The Queen of Cups tarot cardThe Queen of Cups tarot card (Image: Getty)

Glastonbury is famous for many things - the Tor, the Abbey, the Holy Thorn, its quirky shops, the legend of King Arthur, not to mention the world-famous music festival that takes place just down the road. It’s not, however, generally thought of as a foodie destination - although that’s starting to change thanks to the talents of Ayesha Kalaji, Executive Chef and co-founder of the Queen of Cups on Northload Street.

In 2022 Ayesha was named as winner of the Middle Eastern Food of the Year category at the BIH Spotlight Awards which celebrates and recognises exceptional talent and achievement from Black, Asian, and ethnic minorities working within hospitality, food, and drink. The Queen of Cups went on to be awarded a Bib Gourmand in the 2023 Michelin Guide, was shortlisted for ‘best newcomer’ at the Estrella Damm Top 100 Gastropubs 2023 and at the end of last year, the 17th-century pub turned modern Middle Eastern restaurant was thrust into the spotlight when Ayesha appeared on BBC 1’s MasterChef: The Professionals where she was described as a “ray of sunshine” by judge Marcus Wareing.

Great British Life: Your sharing plates are created by the talented Executive Chef and co-founder, Ayesha Kalaji Your sharing plates are created by the talented Executive Chef and co-founder, Ayesha Kalaji (Image: Vicki Steward)

You don’t have to be in the restaurant long to see what Marcus meant. Throughout service Ayesha stands at the pass, in full view of the diners, checking each dish before it is served, praising her team as beautiful plateful after beautiful plateful is whisked away to the tables of hungry diners. She exudes a kind of positive energy, and no matter how quickly the orders come flooding in she remains calm and in control, a smile on her face, and not a sign of a smudge on her perfectly applied dramatic eyeliner. And the orders really do come thick and fast. With the dishes designed for sharing, there’s an almost constant flow of perfectly-presented plates being delivered to each table, and judging by the volume of food coming out of the kitchen it seems that everyone has had as much trouble narrowing down their choices as we did. Ayesha has created a triumphant menu of dishes inspired by her Middle Eastern roots, incorporating locally sourced produce alongside more exotic and unfamiliar spices and ingredients. There’s a selection of nibbles and dips, then a list of dishes, some of which are more of a starter size, and the final few more like a main.

We start our feast with a khobz tannour - and Iraqi pita bread, with a harissa pumpkin dip. The bread is sublime - the polar opposite to the dry, cardboard-y supermarket pitas. It’s enormous, but also light and fluffy, with lightly blistered bubbles that add a delightful smokiness. Coupled with the sweet freshness of the dip which has just enough harissa to set the tastebuds alight, it’s just perfect and I’m genuinely quite sad when it’s finished. I’m instantly cheered though when the next dishes arrive. Sahaweq spiced Jerusalem artichokes with pickled foraged mushrooms, whipped Westcombe ricotta and smoked almonds are a revelation. The artichokes are crisp on the outside, fluffy and soft inside and the spicing enhances their natural sweet nuttiness perfectly. The ricotta is cool and smooth and creamy, while the pickling on the mushrooms adds a burst of sharpness to cut through it all. It’s a masterclass in balancing flavours and the kind of dish that you just can’t quite leave alone. The seasonal merguez on the day we visited were a beef sausage, served with a horseradish tahini. Horseradish and tahini might not seem like a natural match, but Ayesha has worked her magic and the result is a something beautiful and creamy that starts with the warm toastiness of sesame and finishes with just a tickle of horseradish heat. It’s a very clever little dish and I slightly lament not saving a sliver of my pita to mop up the tahini. Grilled Nabulsi cheese with Persian black lime honey and oregano is, we are told, the most ordered dish on the menu. The cheese is similar to a halloumi and comes swimming in a pool of thick dark honey. It’s undoubtedly sweet for a savoury dish, but the hint of bitter lime and the saltiness of the cheese just pulls it back from the brink of being too sweet.

Great British Life: Ayesha Kajali's dishes are inspired by her middle Eastern roots Ayesha Kajali's dishes are inspired by her middle Eastern roots (Image: Kate Field)

Our main course is crispy hogget, kamouneh spiced heart skewer, celeriac puree, green shatta and bitter leaves. The hogget comes served as a perfect golden nugget with the soft, succulent meat encased in a wonderful crunchy coating. I can be squeamish about offal at times, but not here. The heart is cooked just right so it has an almost steak-like texture, but with a slightly game-y flavour, and the puree is silky smooth. The shatta (a sort of Middle Eastern relish made with chillies and herbs) is bright and fresh and zingy and a wonderful antidote to the richness of the rest of the dish. Of course we can’t resist ordering pudding too. Tonka and orange blossom creme mousseline is decadently creamy and more-ish. There’s texture from a sprinkle of pistachio brittle, while kumquats in syrup, and hibiscus poached quince lighten the plate with sweet juiciness. Dark chocolate and Persian lime cremeaux is rich and just the right side of bitter. It’s brought alive with a refreshing lime sorbet, while the addition of marshmallows flavoured with the warm spiciness of cardamom are little cubes of genius.

Every dish that we tried at the Queen of Cups was clever and creative, but also comforting and full of heart. It’s food that makes you smile, and really, what more could you want?

Great British Life: Creativity can be found on the walls as well as your plate. Creativity can be found on the walls as well as your plate. (Image: Kate Field)