Marcus Wareing's Modern British Cuisine at the Renaissance Hotel, Kings Cross
There are few things that have excited me more about the chronically neglected King's Cross area in the last 20 years than hearing about the renovation of King's Cross station, with the spectacularly restored St Pancras Renaissance Hotel that sits above the mainland and Eurostar platforms.
Designed by architect Gilbert Scott in 1866, the hotel is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Britain today. Originally the Midland Grand Hotel, it officially opened in 1873 at a cost of almost £500 million in today's currency. Just as at its launch, today after extensive renovation, the hotel oozes luxury. The Victorian decor is lavish with extensive decoration in gold leaf, original Victorian tile flooring, ornate stencilling and flamboyant wallpapers.
I can't think of anywhere that recalls more evocatively the time when train travel was an elegant experience. For any visitor from Europe, it is hard to think of a better arrival point in the capital.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit The Gilbert Scott Restaurant. We kicked off the evening at its sumptuous bar, located at the entrance of the restaurant, with a couple of cocktails. Dr G went for the Voiron Spring Punch @ £10.50, a refreshingly herbaceous pick-me-up made of Pisco, Yellow Chartreuse, lavender and soda. I opted for the Yupanqui @ £11, reminiscent of a Negroni, but made from Bourbon, Campari, cherries and orange, making for an admirably astringent, palate-cleansing start to the evening.
At the restaurant, the menu is, famously, English in character and the dishes that we chose reflect that. For starters, we had Dorset crab, pomelo, fennel, chilli and coriander @ £9.50. A quenelle of dressed crab with a crisp salad of fennel strips made for a simple but well-constructed dish. We took the sommelier's suggestions, and went for a glass of Domaine de l'Aumonier, a chenin blanc from Touraine. This was very good, with intense flavours of stone fruits like peach and quince, and crisp acidity to match the zingy salad.
We also had Duke of Berkshire pork belly, Yorkshire rhubarb @ £8.50. I must say I had been hoping for pork belly with crunchy crackling, and this dish had none, but the little drops of intense rhubarb puree were a pleasingly tart contrast to the unctuously soft pork. With it, we had a glass of Chateau Ste Michelle & Dr Loosen, Eroica 2010 Riesling. The Riesling (from Washington State, USA) had sufficient fruit and mineral character to stand up to the fatty pork.
For the main course, we opted to share the Lake District rib of beef for two, bone marrow, red wine sauce @ £58, served medium rare. The meat was well flavoured, although it was more medium than the medium rare we requested, and served with some whole ribs and discs of bone marrow. Frankly at £58 for a rib of beef, I expected the earth to move and it didn't, although the red wine sauce was intensely flavourful.
We chose traditional English accompaniments including George's Chips with Sarson's mayonnaise @ £4, baked beans, smoked bacon, tomato @ £3, and cauliflower pudding, baked with nutmeg and cream @ £4. All well made and seasoned.
Again, we took the sommelier's recommendations, having a glass each of 2007 Cape Mentelle, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Margaret River, Australia, and Chateau Musar's second wine, Hochar 2005 from Lebanon. I have always loved Chateau Musar, and this Hochar was no exception with a complex nose of black fruits, dried figs and spice, and well integrated tannins coming from the cinsault, cabernet and grenache blend. The Cape Mentelle was also pleasing, with the Bordeaux blend giving rise to blackcurrant and cherry characters and well integrated oak.
For dessert, we had the Mrs Beeton's snow egg, rhubarb, custard, almonds @ £7, with a glass of 2007 La Magendia de Lapeyre, Jurançon. The snow egg is an English version of îles flottante, with Everton toffee, peanuts and burnt honey custard. This was good, with a nice crunch from the crushed toffee and nuts, although the layer of custard was only millimetres thick and almost impossible to spoon up. The wine, made from 100% Petit Manseng, was a good partner, with exotic fruit flavours of pineapple and passion fruit.
We also had Banana sticky toffee pudding, spiced rum ice cream @ £8. This went very well with a glass of 2005 Castelnau de Suduiraut, Sauternes, a semillon-sauvignon blend with concentrated aromas of marmalade and dates, and an admirably long finish.
The sommelier, very kindly, agreed to show us around the kitchen and in particular the chef's table. This is nicely situated, and could make for a very interesting celebratory meal location for up to ten diners.
Dr G and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal at The Gilbert Scott and we look forward to returning one day. However, at this price range, I feel that this restaurant faces tough competition from a number of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Cost: Around £50 per person for a three-course meal, not including cocktails or wines.
Likes: The bar and restaurant are imposing and impressive in design, the location is excellent for those travelling by train or Eurostar. The cocktails are innovative and well-priced. The food is well made, the menu compact but varied, and the sommelier is happy to put together a wine-flight that is appropriate to the food choices.
Dislikes: my rib of beef was overcooked and at £58, I didn't feel it was great value for money.
Verdict: A good restaurant option for those using St Pancras station, in a stunning venue you are unlikely to forget. Fine English cooking, with a commendable wine list. Recommended.