Some may know it as one of the most romantic buildings in Central London, others as an archetype of Victorian Gothic architecture, but whichever way you look at it, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – mere steps away from the historical station itself – is an awe-inspiring sight.
Home to Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott, a brasserie and bar serving traditional British fare, it’s a little-known fact that pop group The Spice Girls once filmed their debut video on the steps of its grand entrance. Indeed, for visual appeal alone, the stunning turreted red-brick hotel – reopened in 2011, 138 years after the original – scores an indisputable ten out of ten. We are already suitably impressed upon our arrival on a warm Monday night, and without a foot in the door.
Wareing’s newest dining venture, managed by his protégé Chantelle Nicholson and named after the hotel’s architect, is housed in the original entrance hall. Catering to hotel guests, as well business folk who have just stepped off the Eurostar, it also aims to attract families with the considerable lure of weekend brunches, cocktails and roasts.
With seating for 120 guests (plus 60 at the bar) it’s an expansive and grand-looking space, effectively transporting the visitor back to the 1800s and the most glamorous period of train travel.
High ceilings, ornate gold leaf, marble pillars and crisp white linen all play their role, as does an in-house pianist playing some light, non-intrusive jazz on a white piano. It’s a magnificent setting, myself and my dining partner both agree, and as we examine the very traditional menu we just pray the food can match up to our historical surroundings.
I have the Dorset crab to start: It’s a cooling and summery delight, perfect for a sweltering summer’s day, accompanied by pickled cucumber and refreshing slimy slithers of radish and nectarine. Paired with a zesty glass of Austrian Lois Grüner Veltliner by our charming young sommelier, this dish manages to hit all the right notes. My friend meanwhile opts for a heavier, more intense starter of bone marrow with snails, describing them as ‘rich and delicious’ – though perhaps not ideally suited to the oppressive weather – washed down with a glass of 2010 ‘Butchers Block’ from the Aussie Turkey Flat vineyards. No complaints here.
For mains, our accommodating sommelier helpfully pairs my £34 Lake District sirloin steak with a glass of superb and inexpensive Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuissé (for me, it’s too hot for red), while my fellow diner devours an oaky glass of Australian Cabernet Merlot alongside his juicy rump of lamb – moist and full of flavor.
The wine list – it must be noted – is genuinely outstanding, featuring only the most top-of-the-range, glittering picks, and there’s something here to suit every mood, course and occasion, with the knowledge and service to match.
As for my very traditionally prepared steak – with brandy mushroom sauce and butter braised potatoes – it’s vintage hotel dining done to perfection, with a cut as succulent and tender as one could ever hope for. Minted peas and leafy greens meanwhile make welcome side plates.
As we move languorously onto dessert, I attempt a glass of a 1985 Pedro Ximénez from Toro Albalá on the Gran Reserva label. It’s an intensely flavored, dark Spanish sherry with nutty notes, effectively complementing the salty caramel bite of my delicious praline tart. My companion meanwhile sips on a golden-hued 2011 ‘Sweet Agnes’ New Zealand Riesling: a sweet, syrupy post dinner wine with touches of buttered brioche and honeycomb that comes extremely highly recommended. As do the refreshingly juicy passionfruit and raspberry sorbets of a slight, yet irresistible, ‘Puddings’ menu selection – an apt seasonal choice.
Post meal and a very British soothing cup of Earl Grey with lemon later, we take a tour of the kitchen, which houses a table of its own for up to ten guests (typically occupied by business people on an irreverent night out, we are told). One of the general managers explains that while The Gilbert Scott is not attempting to rival Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley’s two Michelin stars, what it is seeking to do is to recreate a ‘golden era’ of hotel dining: Traditional British food of the highest quality served in a luxurious and relaxed setting, where the minutes wind into hours as you enjoy a long dinner – and perhaps a cocktail or two afterwards at the bar. In that, we agree, it has almost certainly succeeded.