I recognise not everyone’s charmed by King’s Cross since its rebirth. Parts of St Pancras terminal are sterile, while upstairs the Betjeman is joyless and haunted in the way only station pubs can be. But head to the end where The Grand brasserie reigns, and the place gains a very different complexion. The architectural aping of a bygone era really starts to work. Hop off train; sail through cavernous concourse; arrive at Renaissance’s jaw-dropping approach. Viewed in this light, the Gilbert Scott should have the classic Brief Encounter down pat.
Amid echoes of the ‘age of steam’ at each turn, there’s a lightness of touch to this restaurant’s interior that we didn’t expect. The room appears almost luminous in contrast to the sultry shadows of the bar next door, and the atmosphere on a Saturday lunchtime was surprisingly relaxed. How refreshing that a place so firmly steeped in heritage isn’t drunk on self-importance.
We found the service to be professional and eager. The sommelier masterfully steered us away from a rough English red by urging us to taste before buying. We did, hence swiftly scrapped the order and move on to a full and spicy Lebanese red. It’s was a welcome intervention; discreet, helpful and ultimately geared towards our pleasure (rather than an upsale).
The menu reads like a who’s who of British culinary tradition. Weekend roasts offer decent value but we were lured to a la carte, largely because my fave – sprouting broccoli – was a seasonal starter. It arrived with a good few indigo drops welling beneath its florets, having steamed a fraction too long between kitchen and table. Bit of a howler in truth, but the hollandaise was the best I’ve ever had. I’d happily slather all foods in that rich, nutty emulsion. My date’s starter of crumbed pig’s head went on to soothe my offal phobia, delivering the flavour of a satisfying hash with the delicacy of dill and cockles.
Mains weren’t knock out dishes; we were pretty indifferent about the retro barbecue chicken served on little gem leave, in a course straight out of my Mum’s post-war cookbook. My mushroom cobbler was frighteningly meaty, putting the ‘pork’ in ‘porcini’ (and arguably the ‘ill’ in ‘filling’. It proved a cue for a power nap, so avoid on a date). Finally, pud delivered some unexpected Heston-esque trickery in the form of a mercurial ‘snow egg’: a marshmallowy pillow with marmalade ‘yolk’, in a sea of glorious custard. Tricksy to achieve I’m sure, but such fun.
More impressive still was the bar; a lavish space that’s definitely worth a gander. It’s cleverly decked out, but this time the elaborate finery stands shoulder to shoulder with sharp, utilitarian styling. Oddball features include a bar created from exposed industrial girders and spectacular bells dangling from the lofty ceiling. Pop in after lunch (like us) and you’ll be treated to table service and heady cocktails at a devilishly early hour. Perhaps unsurprising, given the flamboyant interior.
After patchy reports of quality and service (plus valid concerns about value), the Gilbert Scott pleasantly surprised us. Perhaps we lucked out with a late lunch sitting that didn’t over-burden staff, but the food was good overall and we felt very welcome throughout. Both bar and restaurant are magnificent spaces befitting special occasions, without the stuffiness of more established institutions. And while the bill was on the portly side, an amuse bouche and a well-turned petit four will always lessen the blow in my mind.
I’d be reluctant to fork out for dinner again until the inconsistencies are ironed out. Judging by that textbook hollandaise and the glorious dessert, one or two chefs might be flirting with brilliance. So, a happy medium; an unintimidating afternoon tea in the bar with the rellies, if only to bask in the surroundings.