I have to confess my heart sank a little when I first walked into the lobby of the Great Northern Hotel at Kings Cross Station. Don’t be alarmed when I tell you it was a little on the sociable side. In fact, with me, my luggage and the four members of the lobby team grouped around the tiny reception desk, I felt we were all on the rush hour commuter special.
Fortunately, this was where you’re spared any further train analogies, as I was whisked off into a world of timeless elegance; fixtures, fittings and service befitting a bygone era, albeit with more than a few modern twists.
The Great Northern Hotel was originally conceived by Victorian architect Lewis Cubitt in 1854, who not only built Kings Cross Station but was part of a legendary family dynasty that built half of central London. For me, preserving the artistry of these master craftsmen is a trend that is sadly disappearing from London’s streets all too quickly.
Happily, this was certainly not the case here. I think Tribute Portfolio Hotels has done a masterful job ensuring much of Cubitt’s original Italianate design was everywhere I looked; the long sweeping curved corridors, the graceful staircases and the elegant yet compact guestrooms.
Speaking of guestrooms, my Cubitt room was a masterful use of space. The largest of the three room classes and named after the great man himself, everything in it was compact yet beautifully designed. The toilet, bathroom and closet/mini bar were each discreetly hidden behind glass-panelled double doors, the Hypnos king bed was swathed in high thread-count Egyptian cotton, a banquette wrapped itself around a small worktable, resting on deep pile Axminster carpet and in the bathroom, amongst all the Malin & Goetz toiletries, two ceiling showers no less. Not any old showers mind you, Lefroy Brooks vintage no less, with big clunky levers and vintage tiling to match. It was a bathroom fit for a five-star hotel – just a lot more bijou.
Exploring around the curved corridor from my room I discovered a 24-hour pantry – there is one on each floor – stocked with free tea and coffee, cakes, biscuits, jars of sweets and daily newspapers. A very nice touch that.
Back in my room, I spent the rest of the afternoon devouring the fast free wifi and amusing myself with the in-room entertainment package featuring satellite TV, a complimentary library of 70 movies, 20 audiobooks and music playlists compiled by well-known DJs.
Before I knew it, it was time for dinner and down on the first floor, I passed on the opportunity for a drink at Anthracite, GNH’s new martini lounge, and made straight for Plum+Spilt Milk. It’s a modern British style restaurant lorded over by Michelin-star chef and once Gordon Ramsey’s right-hand man, Mark Sargeant and executive chef Mike Denman.
There’s no getting away from it, this was designed to be akin to railway dining from yesteryear. A nostalgic homage to turn of the century first-class travel, even the restaurant name was taken from the dining car livery colours of the old Flying Scotsman locomotive.
It’s a very impressive room; beautiful Italian leather banquettes, chandeliers made from upside-down wine glasses and long sash windows. It was a proud moment for me too. “Hot off the press, a brand new menu started this week” whispered my waiter. There were many tempting suitors for my starter; seared Loch Fyne scallops with roasted collie (£17) Isle of Wight asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise (£12) but in the end I’m a sucker for wild garlic this time of the year, so wild garlic and pea soup with Jersey Royals and crème fraiche (£8.50) got the nod. Mrs M couldn’t resist the Devon crab, avocado, confit tomato and tomato consommé (£13)
I was told the Beef Wellington (£80 for two) wouldn’t disappoint and it didn’t. Wrapped in soft flaky pastry, the 28-day aged beef with Parma ham and mushroom duxelles was beautifully cooked and came with a supporting cast of new potatoes parsley butter and excellent spinach.
We needed something sweet to round of an excellent dinner and a vanilla buttermilk pudding with gooseberries and elderflowers (£8.50) drew admiring glances as it was brought to the table. It was, in effect, a very splendid pannacotta which went down like a dream.
Speaking of which, back in my cosseted Cubitt room, I slept soundly dreaming of steam trains and Edwardian dining cars.
The next morning I was back in Plum+Spilt Milk for an epic breakfast. Frankly anywhere that can present smashed avo and poached egg on toast gets a tick from me, but this one came with benefits; feta and dried tomatoes. It was a classy menu split into hearty, healthy and sweet. I complimented the lady, who I thought was the chef, on bringing me a perfect poached egg. “We don’t cook here sir, we just serve it.” It was only then I noticed the magic was being delivered by a dumb waiter into a small galley space. Clearly, here at the GNH, even the kitchen is boutique bijou.
As I checked out, squeezing my way past another army of lobby staff, I could see so many benefits from staying here. Trains up north and Europe via Eurostar literally on the doorstep, London’s attractions within easy reach and the Piccadilly Line direct to Heathrow.
I think Lewis Cubitt would be very pleased with how things turned out.
Tell me more about the Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross
Great Northern Hotel, Pancras Rd, Kings Cross, London N1C 4TB
T: 020 3388 0800
Stays at the Great Northern Hotel start from £189 per room per night during low season and from £249 during high season.