Kings Cross / St Pancras: our most infamous den of iniquity, a vice-ridden and pimp-pocked pimple, home to The Big Chill and the illicit thrill, a land of all-night raves, warehouse gatherings, depressing liaisons and any number of Whistle Stop type sandwich bars.
Kings Cross St Pancras Station: the doorway to London, the city’s messy porch, end of the line for Eurostar, stop off point for terrorists and tourists and anyone wanting a puff of the Big Smoke.
The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel: an imposing 138 year old, 245 room landmark, famed for its gilded extravagance and fireplace in every room, renovated at a cost of £150m that aimed to modernise while retaining original features.
Marcus Wareing: GQ’s Chef Of The Year 2009, a five Michelin-starred (count em: two at Pétrus, one for Savoy Grill, two at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley) genius with the Midas touch.
Gilbert Scott: the restaurant’s namesake, a Victorian artist with some 800 buildings to his name, from schools and workhouses to the FCO and lunatic asylums (these last two were different places, apparently).
A vibrant combo, for any capital. So what’s with the headline? What went wrong?
Let us introduce one more player: Marriott Renaissance, branch of the humongous Marriott International conglomerate (which, in an interesting but completely irrelevant aside, donated the maximum possible contribution to George W’s second presidential bid). Added to this never-too-promising management structure, the fact that Wareing is only “executive chef” here, which seems to mean totally absent. We certainly didn’t see him wandering around, pressing the flesh as both Heston and Jason did for the year’s other two big openings.
The result – the biggest disappointment of the year. And it could have been so perfect. The interiors are certainly awe-inspiring, particularly if you come from the Kings Cross side and walk through the other restaurant and lobby on the way there. The ceilings are high, the artworks of stormy seas semi-epic, the yellow walls, golden columns and leather booths imposing, almost regal, and reassuringly British in that traditional, ceremonious sort of way. The lobby looks promising, an oasis of padded chairs and ten quid cocktails in a desert of steak slices and condom wrappers. Tim Hayward celebrated the “dining room built like a battleship on cast iron ribs but decorated with restrained Victorian elegance” and it is indeed a sight to behold. But that’s about where it ends.
There’s no vibe. The atmosphere was non-existent, halfway between stilted and stunted when it existed at all. The customers were grey-haired and ashen faced and deathly quiet – seemingly on their way to a funeral, possibly their own. One guy in the bar looked like he’d been drawn by H K Browne. Staff teetered between frantic and indifferent, no mean balancing act, bringing out dish after dish of epically average proportions.
The whole evening was a massive meh, a complete shrugworthy OK. The place conjured as big a frisson of excitement as an evening with Chris Huhne. Wareing himself was blown away by the venue and its possibilities, telling journalists at the preview that “this place is bigger than any chef”. Sadly, he seems to think that means the chef doesn’t need to make an effort. The food, while an admirable attempt to offer 2011’s take on some old English favourites was banal and run-of-the-mill and didn’t deserve or inspire photography, nor much in the way of words, so here’s five on each dish.
Harrogate loaf (terrine of veal and bacon, parsley salad) – knotty, fleshy tray of OK
Baked onions (nutmeg, thyme, almond stuffing) – what were these like again?
Bacon Olives (pork and herbs, endive and shallot salad) – interesting concept executed with indifference
English asparagus (with poached egg, almonds, tarragon) – best starter albeit unjustified @ £10.50
Rabbit and prawn pie – off the menu damn shame
Kentish pigeon in a pot (pigeon, mushrooms, thyme, prunes) – not as good as Heston’s
Pease pudding (split peas, parsley, smoked bacon stock) – Sahara dry but relatively affable
Dorset jugged steak (braised featherblade, pork dumplings, port, redcurrant jelly) – steak same texture as dumplings
Mrs Beeton’s Snow eggs (Everton toffee, peanuts, burnt honey custard) – ethereal nothingness disguised as indulgence
Warm chocolate in a pot (chocolate cornflakes) – too little too late sadly
Arriving on time please remember your belongings at St Pancras from Leeds, Paris, Brussels, or Zurich? Please follow signs for London Underground and continue your onward journey; there’s still nothing to see round here.
Price per head: £55
Clientele: No-one I’d start a conversation with in a queue