Great Northern Hotel, London
It may just be steps away from its kissing cousin, the St Pancras Renaissance, but the newly refurbished Great Northern Hotel is some distance away in terms of service and experience.
It tries hard, with sharp-eyed design flourishes, a snazzy cocktail bar serving decent, affordable food, in-room entertainment and free cake, but it felt to us to be more style over substance. There’s little that really sets it apart from any other contemporary design hotel, apart from the subtle nods to its railway heritage.
It doesn’t help that first impressions are underwhelming: it lacks the grand entrance of the Renaissance, with a doorway that’s a little hidden away (we circled the building before we figured out how to get in). The reception (up a small flight of stairs) is surprisingly tiny, and there’s no real public space to lounge in, giving the place an empty feel.
When the Great Northern opened its doors in 1854, the hordes of London’s rail passengers descended en masse. The hotel stood then at the centre of London’s new age of steam. Lewis Cubitt, Victorian London’s great architect, crafted this hotel to catch the eye amid the hubbub of the King’s Cross St Pancras basin. Slender curves of robust brick still make a bold impression on the busy landscape today.
Rooms & Decor
Rooms vary in size and decor, but we enjoyed our Wainscott room 504 on the top floor. Admittedly it was not the biggest or brightest we’ve occupied, but it was certainly cosy and beautifully rendered in plum purple paint, with dark walnut panelling surrounds, redolent of a classy and cosy Pullman sleeper car.
There were plenty of gorgeous and unusual design touches around the room, from the inlaid, super-shiny glass mirrors to the American retro-flavoured leather trimmed chairs and bedside cabinet.
Whether you’re a serious train geek or a devout interiors fetishist, you’ll find plenty of pleasing details here, right down to the rail docket ‘do not disturb’ sign and sleeper cabin-style flick light switches.
Chrome abounds and every surface in sight is varnished to a shine as bright as a brand new train guard’s whistle, so much so that we did wonder just how well the hotel would age gracefully over time.
Rooms come with some pretty interesting features too, such as inclusive access to a menu of over 100 in-room movies and a Nespresso coffee machine.
Perhaps best of all is the shared, end-of-corridor pantry, stocked up daily with freshly baked goods for you to help yourself to – biscuits and brownies in the morning, and a whole cake in the afternoon (Victoria sponge for our visit). There’s also jars of jellybeans, boiled sweets and Wagon Wheels (for extra rail geek points!), an industrial-sized Nespresso machine, Teapigs tea, a fridge, and a shelf packed with cool reading matter, mostly books left behind by previous guests.
One thing we felt the room strangely lacked was any literature about the hotel and its history, which seems like a missed opportunity. When we asked at reception we were (rather brusquely) told to check the website.
Their other rooms include the larger, airy and contemporary Cubitt rooms and cute Couchette ones, which start from around £224 per night.
All come with comfy queen size beds and fair-sized bathrooms, many with novel cabin swing doors.
Food & Drink
The stylish first floor restaurant, Plum & Spilt Milk, serves up classic contemporary British fare at reasonable hotel prices. We didn’t dine there ourselves, but did get to sample some of the bar food and signature cocktails.
The tapas style bar menu heaves with post-Olympic British pride, including delicious black pudding Scotch quails eggs, crisp Yorkshire pudd with roast garlic puree and perfectly caramelised honey and mustard chipolatas. Most range in price from £3 to £7. We found 5 between us to be ample.
The GNH makes a special effort with its signature cocktails. Try chugging down the Oriental Express, with vodka, lychee, apple juice and red chilli – but make sure you order it ‘mild’! If you have a sweeter tooth, you might prefer the Victorian Rouge, an almost bubblegum-like concoction of fresh raspberry puree, Chambord, Amaretto and ginger beer, topped off with dragon fruit.
And if you’re rushing for your train, you might want gulp down the Last Call, which they promise is swift to mix and even swifter down the gullet!
Service was mostly polite, if a shade perfunctory, on reception, and generally good in the buzzy bar too, although when the place finally began to empty out after 10pm on a Monday night, we did at times feel a little like we were crashing the staff’s private party. Overall we felt it could be a little more attentive, especially for such a prestigious address in the luxury hotel bracket.
If you’re travelling to or from Kings Cross then it really could not be better. Step outside the bar or reception and you’re literally just metres away from the main concourse. Of course St Pancras and the doors to Europe are right across the road too.
There’s no doubt that this is a stylish hotel with sharp looks, all chandeliers, super-shiny glass and Farrow & Ball walls, and there are some nice touches, such as the pantries on each floor providing help-yourself home-baked goods and hot drinks, and the films, audio books and music available on demand in the room. But that wasn’t quite enough to justify the premium room rates in our book.
This historic railway hotel was approved by Railway Stays, with a few reservations.
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NB: The editors paid for their own stay and food.