MARCUS Wareing appears, sleek in dark clothes, at the building site that is soon to be the Gilbert Scott, his first restaurant since his flagship at the Berkeley.
With his silky-looking clothes, graceful step and searing blue eyes, he looks like what he is: the sort of man who understands and presides over Michelin stars (Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley has two). So it is funny to see him treading through a construction site in St Pancras, the noise of the Euston Road drowning out his first words, the British Library looming unsexily, weary tourists and students trudging by.
Yet entering the site, it’s easy to see why he is here. It’s a space of shocking beauty, a slice of pure Victorian luck. The Gilbert Scott is named after the architect who built St Pancras station in 1865. Set within the newly renovated St Pancras Renaissance hotel, it is all richly-hued mosaics, sky-high ceilings, massive windows and ornate gilding. David Collins, the designer-du-jour and the man behind the gorgeous insides of the Connaught Bar, the Wolseley and Bob Bob Ricard, is overseeing it. On my visit, craftsmen were restoring bronzework and sculpting creamy-coloured skirting. It was part construction site, part artisan workshop.
I could see why Wareing – very much a Knightsbridge man now – had plumped for a site between a massive train station and the grot of the Euston Road. “It was always about the building,” he tells me over a bad coffee in the geek-tastic British Library. “The history of it. I’ve always valued history – and hotel restaurants are a bastion of the past. Take the Savoy,” he says, where he used to preside with Gordon Ramsay before their epic bust-up.
Maybe it’s the enormous glass case of ancient tomes behind us, but Wareing does seem to want to talk about history. “How would I have lived in the 1800s? What would it have been like? How would I have fit in?” He has made some attempt to answer with the polished heritage menu at the Gilbert Scott. Think Liverpool tart (lemon tart made with rind and cooked lemon) Manchester tart (short-crust with raspberry jam and custard) and big pies for two. Pastry is a big deal here: there will be a dedicated patisserie bar.
Wareing considered the location of the building and the sorts of food that arrived on the track at King’s Cross. He looked at old cookery books and at how our tastes have evolved. “The old recipes were incredibly simple,” he says. “Of course we have to modernise them into tastes that people like now. But even with a pie, a simple pie, it’s about how we make it. The pastry, the type of leek, the way we cut it into a cake wedge.”
For a Michelin-starred master of gourmet finery, isn’t a bit odd for him to be trading in pie slices and tarts? “We all love fine dining but it’s hard to do well and you wouldn’t want it every day. This is about comfort. But yes, I have to reign myself back with simple food. I always want to add to it. The focus here though is design, location, the quality of the raw ingredients.”
Wareing does not intend to spend much time here. His name is over the door at the Berkeley and that’s the kitchen you’ll find him in. “It’s not about me – it’s not a Marcus Wareing restaurant,” he says with trademark frankness. Suddenly he warms to his theme,
apparently fed up of self-adulation, draining the last of his watery latte. “I’m sick of talking about how great I am. It’s just passé to talk about it, do you know what I mean?” He gestures at the books behind us as a
contrast to the vanity fair of celebrity chefdom: “Wow, I mean, that is real history. That’s real.”
Wareing may have a backseat in the running of the Gilbert Scott, but it was he that swooped on the location’s breathtaking potential. And we have him to thank for that, passé a sentiment as that may be.
The Gilbert Scott opens on 4 April. St Pancras Renassiance Hotel, Euston Road NW1 2AR. www.thegilbertscott.co.uk
GILBERT SCOTT: A MASTER OF VICTORIAN ARCHITECTURE
GILBERT Scott (1811-1878), the son of a Buckinghamshire clergyman, was one of the most prolific architects Britain has ever produced, altering or building over 800 buildings. Many of these were workhouses, but he also built the main building of Glasgow University, the Great Hall of Bombay University and the extension of Lincoln’s Inn library.
That his work at St Pancras – the construction of the station’s former Midland Grand Hotel in 1865 – would one day become a super-chic bar, restaurant and hotel is a pleasing twist of fate given the long period of neglect in which the once-glamorous hotel languished.
St Pancras has never been a desirable area, but it has always enthralled architecturally. The station was known as the “cathedral of the railways”, not least for possessing two of the most celebrated structures built in Britain in the Victorian era. There is the hotel (now the Renaissance, a Marriott Hotel, in which Wareing’s restaurant sits), with its phenomenal spiral staircase, and the main train shed, completed in 1868 by the engineer William Henry Barlow: the largest single-span structure built at the time.