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Saturday, 14 May 2011
Gilbert Scott Restaurant
King’s Cross is still grotty in places, but the new St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is definitely a step in the right direction, and welcomes tourists off the Eurostar in true British style. The glorious neo-gothic palace that has been home to only rats and bats for the last twenty years, opens after a £150 million revamp. It is epic in size and decor, the restorers have done a spectacular job.
Inside the hotel, Marcus Wareing presents his second London restaurant, The Gilbert Scott. This is a great British brasserie, named after the original building's architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott. It is not only the name that pays homage to this great master though; the food celebrates the very best of the UK’s culinary history, adding a modern twist to some delicious traditional dishes.
The restaurant opened on May 5th, I visited several days after for lunch. I felt very special walking through the grand halls, past an exquisitely decorated bar, to a large sophisticated banqueting hall... the wonderfully high ceilings give the dining room a very fresh and airy feel.
We were brought bread (weird but wonderful fennel flavoured), though with no side plates or butter knife we had to just clumsily munch on it, sprinkling crumbs all over the table. The day prior to our meal I had been emailed with the menu, so I knew what to expect and didn’t take long to choose. The menu is well balanced with a variety that caters for all kinds of foodies – veggies, meat lovers, with fish and lean green dishes for the health freaks. And a long list of sides for those who really like to indulge!
My friend had visited Gilbert Scott with four girlfriends on opening night, so I had a brief review from her, letting me know exactly which food to order and not order. I took her advice and chose Queen Anne’s artichoke tart (globe artichokes and tarragon dressing) to start and then the Queen’s potage (chicken, pistachio, pomegranate, mushrooms) for the main event. A whopping great tart was delivered to me, warm and smelling delicious. My first impression was that it was too lemony, a citrus taste that clouded the delicate flavour of artichoke. The pastry was scrumptious and melted in the mouth, and the tarragon dressing provided a vinegary kick. I couldn’t finish it, and decided as they took my plate away that this recipe would be better as a little canapé. A mouthful would be perfect but ten mouthfuls was too samey and not exciting enough for my palate - an unfortunate example of a vegetarian dish needing to work twice as hard to satisfy. My main was cooked to perfection, tender breast of chicken coated in a wonderfully nutty breadcrumb mixture, and alongside it three very yummy chicken dumplings. The sauce was rather watery though, its opaque appearance rather unappetising. I ordered mash to accompany and this didn’t disappoint, creamy and soft it was a welcome addition.
My companion chose Mushrooms on sippets (red wine sauce, bone marrow) to start and then London Pride battered cod (with mushy pea mayonnaise and chips). He seemed to really enjoy both, and barely uttered a word while making his way through the hefty portion. I tasted the starter and was unimpressed - a very plain dish consisting of mediocre bread and an uninteresting slice of mushroom; the sauce was flavourful but it was definitely not worth £7.
Cocktails were definitely a highlight of our visit, unique concoctions with unusual flavour pairings. The menu provided much entertainment, trying to decide which of the exotic combinations to have. After much deliberation we both opted for short cocktails: 1873 – Bombay sapphire, apple, cranberry, rhubarb, charged with CO2 for me and a Favela Sour – Leblon Cachaca, Velvet Falernum, lime, demerara syrup, egg white, Peychaud for him. Both were divine, inventive and expertly mixed; they also looked beautiful. Mine tasted a little like loveheart sweets, with a fizz which I guess was from the CO2. I was pleased to see that all the cocktails use Bacardi spirits which are definitely superior in mixing.
To finish we shared a dessert, the warm chocolate in a pot with chocolate cornflakes. It arrived piping hot in a terracotta dish, and looked a bit like a helping of soil. It was luxuriously rich, a bitter dark chocolate goo with sweet crispy cornflakes and a dollop of crème fraiche to cut the flavour.
Perhaps not quite Michelin standard food but a wonderful experience nonetheless, with a setting that beats any other.