With the stampede to newer openings just north of King’s Cross terminus, and especially around Granary Square, it’s easy to forget the cluster of decent places to eat in and around St Pancras station.
The Booking Office restaurant is one. It opened exactly five years ago as part of the revamped St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, the landmark Gilbert Scott-designed building dating back to 1865, later saved by John Betjeman from demolition in the 1960s.
As its name suggests, it was actually part of the station’s ticket office – easily attested to as you enter its grand, cathedral-like interior, with vaulted ceiling. It’s strange to remember back to the days when it was just that odd, underused facility from which you might occasionally buy a cheap day return to the Midlands.
Now it’s a sophisticated late night multi-purpose venue, all red brick walls and arches, panelling and iron buttresses. The sheer space is reflected in the soaring roof and lengthy bar (which clocks in at thirty metres); and it now combines swanky cocktails with a dining experience that’s a little more relaxed than the hotel’s flagship Marcus Wareing restaurant, The Gilbert Scott, just the other side of the atrium.
On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays there’s live music as you eat. Upon arrival, our first thoughts were that powerful lungs belting out jazz covers seemed a tad superfluous; after all, the atmosphere of the historic space is palpable without the need for a sound system.
Sitting down to the left of a screen handily shielding the performer from view, tinkling pre-prandial negronis, made flawlessly with a single outsize ice cube (you can really get stuck into the list of libations if you choose), we realised the vocalist was surprisingly good. When she sang an Amy Winehouse cover I had to leap out to take a look, such was the haunting similarity of her voice.There are only a handful of starters on the menu, conceived by executive chef Adam Ashe, and very much a case of standard British fare. I wondered why: perhaps it’s the short-of-time station thing, or do they prefer punters to rattle through one dish here, with such an emphasis on that strangely unappealing concept, ‘all-day dining’?
Anyway, the two small plates we shared were pretty little affairs: ham cured at Hackney City Farm lay curled over new season asparagus, smothered in the explodingly orange yolk of a crispy poached duck egg. And salmon is here cured for 24 hours with elderflower and orange, although a trio of buttermilk pancakes actually detracted from the delicacy of the fish, and the horseradish was a tad too polite where we needed fire (‘People don’t like it strong,’ reckoned the very affable Albanian waiter).
Meanwhile, it was all going off around us: a tray was dropped in front of our table, glass everywhere, as the impressive black-bobbed performer worked her way through the greatest hits of Bob Marley, Sting and even that old Estelle song (American Boy, fact fans).
And to our left some smartly-dressed French kids were having dinner with their grandfather, and being entirely specific with the waitress as to how they wanted their rib-eyes cooked. Pourquoi pas?Speaking of which, It seemed wrong not to try some steak – it really is that kind of place – and the grill is most definitely a thing. A 14oz sirloin was blackly chargrilled on the outside and rosy within, a red wine jus adding a deeper flavour, the dinky accompanying pot of béarnaise velvety. Being greedy we plumped for a lobster mac ‘n’ cheese as a side, all unctuous creaminess with just a hint of surf. And skinny chips? Tick, tick.
The other signature dish on the menu is sea bass in a herb crust (see pic, above). Happily, it transcended any potential fears about blandness, its opaque flash perched on a carefully curated assortment of bedfellows: flaked almonds, crispy kale and purple sprouting broccoli for texture, and a sun-dried tomato aioli yielding a salty, smoky depth.
We pressed on with desserts, a light-as-air rhubarb soufflé that disappeared when plunged by a spoon; and a beautifully ornate chocolate mousse with tart seasonal blood orange sorbet.
And afterwards? Why, the hotel’s famous Gilbert Scott-designed staircase simply had to be climbed to burn off a calorie or two. To the uninitiated, it’s the one that the Spice Girls pranced around in their classic 1996 video for Wannabe – a track mercifully not being covered by the singer back downstairs.