The Gilbert Scott – St Pancras Hotel ‘s Under-appreciated Restaurant
A (Gothic) revival of decadence in the St Pancras Hotel bar.
The Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station, masterpiece of the great Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott, was a national embarrassment for decades. The magnificent brick-gothic hotel, described by John Betjeman as “too beautiful and too romantic to survive”, had fallen into British Rail-supervised desuetude. Plans to turn it back into a hotel hit a very British snag: because it was listed, they couldn’t put in en-suite toilets. No loos, no hotel: a perfect standoff between customers and jobsworths.
Now, finally, the building has reopened as the hotel it was meant to be – part of the Marriott chain, alas, but that’s better than nothing. The great sweeping frontage on Euston Road looks gleamingly fresh, and, just as Gilbert Scott imagined, there is direct access from the hotel to the station concourse. The glamour of rail travel can be hard to discern in normal conditions, with iPods tinnily blaring all around and a commuter’s sweaty armpit two inches from your nose; here, though, you can catch a glimpse of it. Benjeman was right: “romantic” is the word.
A venue such as this deserves a restaurant to match. And it has one. The man in charge of the Gilbert Scott St Pancras(I’m glad they called it that) is Marcus Wareing, one of the best British chefs of his generation; or maybe even the best. A protege of Gordon Ramsay until the inevitable falling out, Wareing has until now concentrated his efforts on his eponymous restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel. His second restaurant would be big news wherever it was, but the location in the reborn St Pancras hotel makes it even more of an occasion. Wareing gets points for not saying the restaurant is “by” him (I’m told he wouldn’t do that because he isn’t cooking there).
The first thing that hits you is the Victorian drama of the room. It’s on a curve, like York station, with huge windows offering a view of both street and sky, and the highest restaurant ceiling I can remember. This adds a sense of space and scale to a room that isn’t actually that big, and helps to damp down the noise.
The Gilbert Scott St Pancras Hotel restaurant menu is a thing of beauty: it is full-on retro English. It draws heavily on the food writers of previous centuries – John Nott, Isabella Beeton – and makes a statement about the strength of this grievously underexploited culinary heritage. It does it in the best way: by turning that heritage into things you can eat, such as Suffolk mutton balls with lentils, Dorset jugged steak or (my starter) bacon and pork “olives”, a delicious forcemeat served with a salad of thinly sliced onions, little gem lettuce and mustard dressing. Mulligatawny is usually a soup, but here it was an amazing, only partly liquid sort-of-stew of quail with lentils, and a superbly judged sauce that has lots of spicing but no chilli. Genius.
I made a grievous mistake with the mains and ordered a vegetarian Glamorgan sausage made with leeks and caerphilly cheese. It was fine, but it was a croquette – and a croquette is a croquette is a croquette. The other main, “Kentish pigeon in a pot”, was gamey and faintly liverish, and came with mushrooms, prunes and a thrillingly deep-flavoured sauce. Cauliflower pudding, from the accompaniments, was a nutmeg-oriented version of cauliflower cheese, minus the cheese.
The only problem with the very tempting list of historic puddings is that you might be too full for one. If you aren’t, check out Mrs Beeton’s snow eggs, an English version of îles flottantes with egg white, uncloying “burnt honey” custard, peanuts (inside the egg) and fragments of toffee. It was ridiculously good.
The Gilbert Scott bar is the fourth important London opening this year, after Dinner, St John Hotel, and Pollen Street Social. It takes a long time to get a restaurant open, and this exciting moment reflects a time about two years ago when landlords were worried and rents were low. Chefs could afford to do interesting things. But landlords became less worried, which meant the window for excitement didn’t last long. Ignore every other St Pancras restaurant. Eaters of the UK: make the most of it.
The Gilbert Scott restaurant King’s Cross may be found inside the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London, NW1 2AR
Scotts restaurant London is open daily from 12pm-11pm