Traditional British food with a twist in grand Victorian surroundings
Despite the ravages of both the Luftwaffe and post-war urban planners, London has a diverse and remarkable architectural heritage and there are few better ways to appreciate this then by having dinner at the newly opened Gilbert Scott.
The Gilbert Scott is housed within the imposing neo-Gothic St Pancras Renaissance Hotel which was originally built as a hotel in the 1870s. After doing time as a British Rail office building and being closed for years, the grand building has been renovated and reopened. Far from being ostentatious and over-the-top, the interior of the hotel and the restaurant itself are surprisingly tasteful. To appreciate it all, it’s best to enter and leave the Gilbert Scott via the hotel lobby, rather than its own separate entrance.
St Pancras sure does look purty at night
The doorway of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel as seen from inside the lobby
Dodgy artwork aside, it’s all quite tasteful.
There have been high hopes for the Gilbert Scott since it’s the latest creation of Marcus Wareing, the mastermind behind the two Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. In a move befitting the restored Victorian grandeur of its surroundings, the Gilbert Scott’s menu is composed of now little-known British dishes that have been revamped for modern tastes.
The Euro Hedgie and I managed to snag a table the second day after the grand opening. Although reviewing etiquette usually demands I wait a while for both the kitchen and front of house to settle in before casting a critical eye, I probably couldn’t have contained my enthusiasm and anticipation for much longer.
The selection of bread isn’t as varied and unusual as it is at L’Autre Pied or Pied a Terre, but I was pleasantly surprised by the aniseed and sourdough-flavoured slices. The Euro Hedgie is less fond of aniseed, but that loaves more for me.
Aniseed-flavoured bread should be more common.
I started with the intriguing mulligatawny, a curry-flavoured soup served here with quail, lentils and onion rings. The quail is tender and succulent, although the small, bony chunks of meat require some undignified cutlery manoeuvres to cut all the meat off the bones given the small bowl. The mildly spiced soup is reminiscent of kedgeree or chip-shop curry sauce, although far tastier than either of those two. The rather bland onion rings seem to be an afterthought in an otherwise good starter.
If I was an idiot reductionist I’d call this quail mulligatawny a quail curry. But I’m not, so I won’t.
The Euro Hedgie seemed pleased with his Harrogate loaf, a veal and bacon terrine. It wasn’t too fatty, but both the Hedgie and I generally prefer quite coarse terrines, whereas the Harrogate loaf is quite smooth.
Is Harrogate loaf actually from Harrogate?
Both the Hedgie and I were impressed with his main of Kentish pigeon with mushrooms, thyme and prunes. If you’ve never tried pigeon before then the Gilbert Scott is a good place to try it. It’s quite unlike duck, poultry or any other bird and bears more of a resemblance to red meat such as venison or veal. The softly yielding meat has been expertly cooked.
Presumably these pigeons aren’t plucked from Trafalgar Square.
Soles in Coffins was originally a much stodgier dish involving a baked potato and a much creamier sauce. Here, lemon sole is served on top a bed of crispy potato and prawns and then covered in a vermouth cream. I generally prefer firmer, meatier fishes, but was willing to give the Soles in Coffins a go since I generally like flatfish. The chunky serving of fish is certainly soft and goes well with the creamy sauce and potato which is quite fluffy and creamy rather than crispy. The prawns are an unnecessary addition to an otherwise unfussy, comforting dish that isn’t stodgy.
Why is lemon sole called lemon sole?
The Hedgie wasn’t fond of my side dish of Pease pudding, essentially coarsely mushed peas with a salty taste of bacon stock added to it, but I liked the coarsely mushed but still firm peas used here. Then again, the Hedgie doesn’t really like peas, pulses and lentils in general likening them to ‘prison food’. Odd prisons he’s been going to.
Trust me, it’s more appetising than it looks.
If the cauliflower pudding, baked with nutmeg and cream, sounds a lot like cauliflower cheese that’s because it is. This shouldn’t put you off though, the firm chunks of vegetable are well-complimented by the creamy sauce which isn’t too thick or cloying. It’s surprisingly well-done.
You don’t often find cauliflower on restaurant menus.
Somewhat surprisingly the puddings were far more intriguing the mains. The snow eggs are effectively marshmallows, but incredibly light, soft and fluffy marshmallows served with toffee, peanuts and custard. The combined effect reminded me of cornflakes, but in a good way. It’s a light, but tasty and well-executed dessert.
Mrs Beeton’s snow eggs at the Gilbert Scott.
The Euro Hedgie opted for the orange marmalade jaffa cake which was far more citrusy, zesty and sticky than the tame, boring jaffa cakes you’ll find on a supermarket shelf. The accompanying Earl Grey tea flavoured ice cream was a damp squib though, tasting remarkably unlike Earl Grey tea.
You can really taste those oranges.
Service was impeccably polite, almost creepily so. I’ve never been surrounded by so many smiles since my last sojurn to the loony bin. Unsurprisingly the crowd was rather middle-aged. The Euro Hedgie and I were only a handful of diners under the age of 35, although this does mean the atmosphere was at least quiet and subdued.
I liked the Gilbert Scott, but in an intellectual rather than an emotional way. The dishes were universally well-executed and tasty and the traditional British angle to the menu is certainly a refreshing change. There was nothing that grabbed my attention and refused to let go though, with the possible exception of the snow eggs dessert. It’ll be interesting to see how the menu changes, especially with the warmer summer months coming up. Still, the Gilbert Scott is well worth checking out.
Name: Gilbert Scott
Address: St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London, NW1 2AR
Phone: 0207 278 3888
Opening Hours: lunch 12.00-15.00, dinner 17.30-23.00 seven days a week
Total cost for one person including free tap water: £45