British food that’s on the right track

The Gilbert Scott
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR
FOOD ***
Cost per person without wine: £35

AS locations go, you can’t really beat it. St Pancras Station is of the most iconic buildings of the Victorian industrial age, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1868 with the addition of the Midland Grand Hotel in 1873. And, after £200 million makeover this year into “The Renaissance St. Pancras Hotel”, the gothic-revival building has lost none of its grandeur.

The Gilbert Scott is the hotel’s flagship restaurant. Named after its architect, it is situated in the original entrance hall of the original hotel and is equally lavish in scale and presence: cavernous ceilings, dramatic arches and stonework galore. Walking around it you can imagine the early years of rail travel, the glamour, the steam engines and crinolines sweeping across the marble. And yet, thanks to skilful design by interiors luminary David Collins, the place still feels remarkably fresh with contemporary touches such as red booth seating and modern light metal light fittings.

The Gilbert Scott comes courtesy of Marcus Wareing under the management of his protégé Chantelle Nicholson. Its concept is “British brasserie” nodding to the old fashioned traditional British cooks such as Florence White, Isabelle Beeton, Agnes Marshall and John Nott as inspiration. As such, the entire menu reads like a tomb once found in a quintessential Victorian kitchen – all matronly cooks and servant’s bells – with Mushrooms on Sippets (bone marrow) Queens Pottage, Suffolk Stew and Eccles Cakes and Kendal mint cake coke ices for dessert.

For starter I opt for Dorset Crab with brown and white crab, pear and hazelnuts. The crab is light, delicately flaked; its sweetness highlighted by wafer thin strips of pear and earthy crunch from the hazelnuts. It’s nicely balanced, if slightly underwhelming. My guest, meanwhile, goes hell for leather with a Cornish lobster salad with rose marie sauce, fennel, baby gem and lobster oil. It’s pink, juicy, full of pep and after audible sighs my guest confirms it is a stunner.

We continue the fish theme with our mains. (The heartier meat dishes – Kentish pigeon in a pot and farm pork belly sound good but it’s too much for this muggy summer evening.) I opt for the intriguing sounding “soles in coffins”, with vermouth cream and Morecombe bay shrimps. It’s slightly textureless – fish, a tad overcooked, melds in to mash, melts in to creamy sauce – and I find myself again scalded with jealousy as my friend devours Scottish Halibut poached in Camel Valley brut with mussels, cooked perfectly with mussels scattered around.

By the time we reach desert I have a new strategy. This time, we will share deserts and she will pick (aha!). Our server tells us that the specialty is Mrs. Beeton’s snow eggs, a dish of poached floating meringues, with Everton toffee crunch and peanuts, served atop burnt honey custard. These are outstanding. The salt of the peanuts punctuated the rich warm buttery sweetness of the toffee perfectly and the snow eggs are firm but still light as air. We also try Manchester Tart, a pastry filled with cold banana, custard, raspberry jam and rum cream. This is less “wow”, but the pastry is buttery, crumbly, and addictive with perfectly ripe banana.

The Gilbert Scott is the latest step in St. Pancras’ transformation into a luxury airport-style hotspot and is already buzzing with activity (which may explain the slightly slow service). After the station’s overhaul, the hotel and restaurant, and Searcy’s spectacular champagne bar in the main station, designer fashion brands – including Prada and Mulberry – are said to be next to move in. The Gilbert Scott has been pitched as the glittering culinary addition to this line-up, a place to showcase brilliant British cuisine to incoming international visitors (notably, snobby French foodies from the Eurostar), and entertain business people in the rapidly transforming King’s Cross area. In look and setting terms it does this with bells on (it’s abundantly clear why Collins is being tapped to design just about every new bar and hotel these days.) It’s just a shame the food doesn’t quite yet have the same sparkle.