It’s impossible not to be awestruck by this ridiculously dramatic building. Its elegantly curved red brick facade takes up almost a block of Euston Road and is topped by more towers, spires and other architectural flourishes than Hogwarts – and indeed was used as a filming location for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Inside is just as stunning with feasts for the eyes every which way you look, from ornate carved pillars and neo-classical murals to intricately painted ceilings and decorative tiled floors. One of the most spectacular features is the three-storey cantilevered staircase with its vaulted, painted ceiling and wrought-iron balustrades.
Even the reception area is jaw-dropping. A huge space with exposed brickwork, metal girders and glass ceiling, it was once the hotel’s main forecourt. Cabs used to drive right up into this covered hall to drop off their passengers, hence its current name – the Hansom Lounge. Next door is the station’s former ticket office, now transformed into the Booking Office bar and restaurant. All dark wood, comfy sofas, ornate brickwork and arched windows, it feels simultaneously traditional and modern.
Designed by Gothic revival architect George Gilbert Scott, the Midland Grand – as it was first known – opened in 1873 to huge fanfare. London had never seen the likes of this luxurious and ostentatious hotel before, with its mod cons including revolving doors, lifts and flushing toilets – a major innovation at the time.
Unfortunately, only a few years after its opening, en-suite bathrooms had become the norm and as the Midland Grand had only five bathrooms to its 300 bedrooms, it wasn’t long before guests began favouring newer hotels with more modern facilities. This, combined with increasingly unmanageable running costs, saw the hotel close down just 62 years after its grand opening.
A sorry few decades followed. The hotel was used as British Rail offices, bombed three times during WWII, had much of its ornate decoration painted over or boarded up and finally, was scheduled for demolition in the 1960s. It was only the intervention of Sir John Betjemen that saved it from the wrecking ball – and there’s a wonderful statue honouring him on the station concourse.
It languished unused for a couple more decades but when St Pancras station became a new international hub, the hotel’s renaissance began. In 2005, a project started to restore the hotel to its former glory, update its facilities and add new rooms along one side along with modern apartments on the upper floors.
£100 million and six years later, the St Pancras Renaissance re-opened as a 5-star luxury hotel, complete with two restaurants, a spa and a gym.
Of the 244 rooms, only 38 (the Chambers Suites) are in the old part of the hotel. The others (the Barlow rooms) are modern additions along the platform side. All are tastefully and eclectically designed and decorated – ultra-modern art and sculpture sits side by side with period furniture with restrained, contemporary flourishes and just the right amount of bling.
Beds are huge and super-comfy and facilities are first class – large-screen TV, Nespresso machine, full-sized bottles of toiletries, style magazines and books about the hotel’s history, slippers and the most cosy dressing gown I’ve ever had the pleasure of wrapping myself in!
And, if that wasn’t enough, a plate of beautifully presented handmade chocolates appear every afternoon along with complimentary bottles of still and sparkling water.
Food and drink
There’s a good choice of places to eat and drink at the St Pancras Renaissance. At the high end is Marcus Wareing’s destination restaurant the Gilbert Scott, housed in the ‘Coffee Room’ of the former Midland Grand. It’s a grand space with a private room and a 10-person ‘kitchen table’ as well as the main dining room. The menu’s a pleasing mix of modern and traditional British food, with nods to the hotel’s history with dishes such as Omelette Arnold Bennett, cauliflower pudding and Mrs Beeton’s snow egg.
Wareing’s team are also in charge of the Booking Office Bar and Restaurant which serves breakfast, afternoon tea and a full menu as well as bar snacks, again on a traditional British theme. The big draw though is the cocktails. Try one of the many unusual Victorian-era punches – served in mugs or bowls (for 12) – or choose from the absinthe or apple cup menus. There are also a whole range of other unusual and more classic cocktails.
Afternoon tea is also available in the Hansom Lounge, the beautiful cakes, meringues, sandwiches and chocolates artfully arranged on a display stand in the middle of the room tempting everyone who passes.
Best of all though is the Chambers Club, an exclusive lounge available to those lucky enough to be staying in the Chambers Suites. Breakfast, afternoon tea, pre-dinner canapes and wine, spirits and soft drinks are available at various points throughout the day, all inclusive.
Wherever you choose to eat and drink, you’ll encounter impeccable service, with a warmth not always seen in high-class establishments.
If you’re travelling by train, the St Pancras Renaissance could hardly be more convenient. Walk through the Booking Office bar and you’re in St Pancras station. Walk for another minute and you’re in King’s Cross. If you’re travelling on Eurostar, the porter will even take your luggage to the train for you!
Barlow rooms start from around £208; Chambers Suites from £450; Royal Suite from £10,000. All prices per night.
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