I used to work in Camden. Well, that’s what I used to say when I was infrequently asked where my sometime office was located. The elicited response was more often than not ‘”I love Camden”. But really I knew it was telling a bit of a fib. My office lair wasn’t in the funky, rough and ready, but in parts surprisingly genteel Camden that most people know. No. I was based in a strange arse-backwards, unglamorous netherworld between St Pancras and Camden. Bordered on four sides by a former tropical disease hospital/coroners court, a Travis Perkins, a veterinary college and a strangely anonymous Ted Baker office, (save from it being somewhat bizarrely decorated by a giant red lobster). It was precisely 20 minutes walk, in any direction, from anywhere of use, and I hated it. Bitterly mourning my exile from the much more central and cool Clerkenwell site every single day.
Where am I going with this? Well. For years, on the long walk to work, I used to pass through the gigantic building site that was St Pancras, and wonder what would become of the derelict former Midland Grand Hotel. An absolutely beautiful and sprawling gothic construction designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, which in it’s heyday, during the late Victorian period was considered one of ‘the’ places to be seen. It finally closed in the 1930s, due in part to a completely Victorian lack of newly fangled central heating and plumbing, (300 fireplaces had to be constantly supplied with coal) and the rooms, which had been designed without bathrooms required a chambermaid to fill and wheel a bath into a guest’s room at the ring of a bell, while an army of servants were employed to discreetly dispose of chamberpots.
Whilst passing every day, I gazed at this boarded up relic and thought how amazing it would be to see it re-opened and how incredible it would be to have a great restaurant on the site. (One thing St Pancras/Kings Cross truly lacks is a really decent restaurant).
Well, no one was more surprised than me to hear that just a couple of years later, The Midland Grand has been completely refurbished, and has re-opened as The St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel and Marcus Wareing has opened a new restaurant on the site, named after the hotel’s architect ‘The Gilbert Scott’.
In something of a surprising move, considering Marcus Wareing’s classic French, Michelin starred restaurant background, The Gilbert Scott’s menu is resoundingly British, but with a bit of an historical slant. Unusual long forgotten British dishes feature heavily. Victorian culinary stalwarts, Mrs Beeton and Eliza Acton would no doubt approve.
I’ve been gagging to visit, and when I found I was going to be back in London earlier this week, I booked a table straight away.
Arriving for lunch, it seemed strange to be entering a building that has been off limits for so long. Following signs for the restaurant, ‘E’ and I gasped at the incredible Victorian gothic interior, rich crimsons and golds, heavy elaborately carved stone archways, beautifully tiled floors and intricately painted ceilings. As is often the case with many grand Victorian buildings, it has something of the hushed calm of a cathedral about it.
The dining room of The Gilbert Scott itself is absolutely gorgeous. Flooded with natural light from the large windows running down one side of the curved room and decorated mainly in mustard yellow, flanked by polished limestone pillars and with crimson leather banquettes, the former Midland Grand Hotel dining and coffee room has come up an absolute treat. In fact, it may quite possibly be one of the most beautiful dining rooms in London. It has the air of a grand Parisian bistro about it, but with a definite British feel.
Idly munching on some rather nice bread and butter (particularly the caraway seed), and glancing down the menu, my first thought was how well it reads in it’s simplicity and it’s seasonality. It’s without a doubt the most British menu I’ve ever seen, and somehow it makes me extremely proud to see so many cracking, but often overlooked, or in some cases, entirely forgotten, dishes on a fine dining menu. The whole thing actually hangs together surprisingly well.
Acting on a recommendation, I started off with a bowl of Quail Mulligatawny, decorated with onion rings. I’ll say this right from the start. Quail and me have never got on. In fact, it features in one of the worst dishes I’ve ever eaten. Basically, I’ve never eaten a decent quail dish ever. But this was something else. A revelation, sweet curry spice and the most delicate crunch from the onion rings, with incredibly moist and tasty pieces of quail at the bottom. It was superb. The first truly great quail dish I’ve ever eaten. The only problem I had was a brief flustered moment when deciding which cutlery to employ to eat it. (For the record; spoon, then knife and fork for the bird, and finally my fingers to pick at the bones…you cant take me anywhere).
‘E’ also having been tipped off by a friend, ordered the rather royally titled Queen Anne’s Artichoke Tart. It was a beautifully presented dish. I managed to duck in and pinch a taste, and it was bloody gorgeous. Creamy and rich, infused through with the vegetal green subtlety of globe artichoke. Chalk this up as a massive success.
Dorset Jugged Steak followed. Consisting of braised featherblade, pork dumplings, port and redcurrant jelly it was presented as a massive lump of meat, topped with more meat in the shape of the pork dumplings, surrounded by a glistening slick of port and redcurrant gravy. I heartily endorse meat on meat action and was actually grinning like a madman as I took my first bite. Bloody hell. Imagine the richest stickiest, tastiest beef stew you’ve ever tasted. That’s the closest comparison I can think of. I absolutely loved it. Combined with a side dish of colcannon made with a possible nod to the Joel Robuchon School of creamy spuddage. I was transfixed.
Meanwhile, ‘E’ was admiring the incredibly even and neat herb, lemon and nutmeg crust on her dish of seatrout, another blast from this nations forgotten culinary past, Tweed Kettle. A strikingly beautiful looking plate of food. It was an extremely well cooked and executed dish with top-drawer ingredients but perhaps lacked something of the expected eccentricity that such an unusually named dish conjures up.
My pudding of an incredibly moist and sticky Eccles cake paired with Cheddar cheese ice-cream was exceptional. The puff pastry exterior was syrupy sweet, almost in a baklava style and the fruit filling was rich and heavily spiced. I was intrigued by how the ice-cream would taste, It seemed to be more like a honey flavoured ice-cream topped with cheddar cheese shards rather than tasting of cheese throughout. In any case, the whole thing was frigging awesome.
‘E’ had gone down the less traditional route and ordered warm chocolate in a pot, with cornflakes, topped with a dollop of mascarpone. She thought it incredibly rich, almost like the gooey interior of a chocolate fondant, but combined with the crunch of the cornflake topping and the sweetness balanced by the tartness of the mascarpone. Her opinion, delicious.
Perhaps cheekily, as it was right in the middle of the lunch service, we asked for, and were happily given, a kitchen tour. We were led downstairs to the surprisingly spacious, immaculately brand new kitchen and spied Marcus Wareing himself working on the pass. It’s incredibly interesting to watch a respected chef at full tilt and it was immediately obvious how entirely focused he was on the job in hand. A couple of things struck me. The first was how incredibly quiet and calm the kitchen was. No shouting at all. Secondly, and perhaps more oddly, Marcus Wareing looked like he was wearing some rather expensive grey trousers, the sort that might partner a suit and not the kind you’d cook in.
Tour over, we headed upstairs to settle the bill, but at the suggestion of our host decided instead to order coffee and drink it in the bar.
The Bar is beautiful. Full Stop. It’s an almost cathedral like space, with large windows at each end allowing the light to slowly play across the daytime shadow of the room. The ceiling is painted, huge gilded archways lead back to the restaurant. It’s a fantastic space, which somehow puts me in mind of an Italian or perhaps Turkish palace.
Our coffee was served from a rather nice proper set, which led us to think ‘Hello, how much is this going to cost then?’
I had three cups, and upon checking the bill, it was £3. That’s right…an almost laughable three pounds! So, hanging out in St Pancras? Heading to Paris on the Eurostar? Laugh in the face of the coffee chains and their stupid paper cups, head here and act like you’re a Victorian Lady or Gentleman. Read your broadsheet, drink coffee served to you by smartly clad waiters from a proper service in an absolutely gorgeous room. What a frigging bargain. I really can’t think of anywhere nicer to hang out if you’ve got time to kill.
So, in conclusion I liked The Gilbert Scott a hell of a lot. The menu is endlessly fascinating to me. There are British dishes here no one has seen on a menu for probably a hundred years. It seems, at least from what we ate, that Marcus Wareing has refrained from tarting them up too much, and they are, more or less, the original honest dishes, just made with exceptional ingredients and skill. The restaurant itself is absolutely gorgeous, and housed in the most incredible building. The superb bar is the icing on a cake. I’m so excited to see a fine dining British restaurant with a big name chef, attached to a railway station. The last time we had anything remotely like this in Britain, was probably when Queen Victoria was on the throne.
Price wise, lunch for two came to £106, that includes a glass of wine each, coffees and a tip. Which all things considered, isn’t bad at all. Although £4 of the total was a cover charge, which on top of the 12.5% service is kind of taking the piss.
Nevertheless, The Gilbert Scott is cracking, and certainly lives up to the weight of expectation from being housed in such a grand setting. I’ll certainly be eating there again.
The Gilbert Scott
Telephone: 020 7278 3888