Jimi Famurewa reviews the Midland Grand Dining Room: Decadence done right is a welcome addition to King’s Cross revival

Dwarfing grandeur: the aptly-named restaurant  (Matt Writtle)
Dwarfing grandeur: the aptly-named restaurant (Matt Writtle)

I am just about old enough to remember when King’s Cross was a byword for sleaze and danger; when its name conjured a nightmarish netherworld of Seventies Scorsese-level depravity, boarded-up buildings, and lurching, pre-dawn rave casualties. To suggest that all of this has now been gentrified out of existence would be naive. But these days, north London’s erstwhile Sodom and Gomorrah is better associated with the kind of sanitised, culturally savvy glitz exemplified by Coal Drops Yard, immersive Hockney at The Lightroom, and The Standard rooftop. If anything is going to offend local notions of taste and propriety in 2023, then it is probably that hot pink McLaren permanently parked around the corner from St Pancras station.

It’s a story of steroidal redevelopment so well established that it feels almost quaint to mention it. But I thought of it again as I arrived at Midland Grand Dining Room, an all-new flagship restaurant within the neo-Gothic bulk of the Renaissance Hotel. True, from a certain angle, this replacement for Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott is merely a figurative rearranging of the luxe-brasserie furniture. Yet there is something in the filigreed detail of this venture — not just the French-inflected butter transfusions on Patrick Powell’s menu but the unabashed grandness of it — that feels like a marker in the context of this ongoing transformation.

That it is occurring in a living symbol of local renewal and mad opulence feels fitting. Conceived by architect George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1873, the Midland Grand Hotel was — before its famous staircase turned it into the site of countless Spice Girls tribute photoshoots — a needlessly luxurious Victorian railway hotel that had been allowed to drift into disrepair. It was 2011 when Chiltern Firehouse hotelier Harry Handelsman spearheaded its reopening. Thankfully, the intervening 12 years have not dulled its expensively restored, red-bricked sparkle.

Arriving for a solo Friday lunch, I tumbled into a double-height main room of gilded cornicework, marble columns, softening bursts of foliage, vast textured mirrors and, lamentably, the drifting strains of bland spa music. A slight stiltedness of atmosphere — a few polite business lunchers and a morose tableful of rich kids supping tea when I was in — is probably one of the downsides of the space’s dwarfing grandeur. Happily, the enlivening play and mischief of the food (two words: octopus Gilda) more than makes up for it.

Buttery moat: the veal sweetbread vol-au-vent (Matt Writtle)
Buttery moat: the veal sweetbread vol-au-vent (Matt Writtle)

Parmesan fritter was far muckier than that name suggests: a breadcrumbed ball of cheese croquette, crowned by folds of shaved coppa, and with a gushing detonation of molten cheese at its centre. Duck fat Parker House rolls had a mirrored glaze and a transfixing surge of oven-warm, brioche sweetness. Their accompanying puck of bubbled liver parfait with truffle and madeira jelly was easy on the eye but thrillingly impolite on the palate. A starter of giant asparagus and veal sweetbread vol-au-vent, meanwhile, was characterised by a foamed moat of cep mushroom sauce and absurdly butter-forward puff pastry.

Light kitsch, impeccable details, intricate presentation that looks like the work of someone squinting through a jeweller’s loupe; these are the hallmarks that make Powell such a respected but slightly underrated figure. I suppose, on balance, I found my main — nicely cooked hake, richly reduced ratatouille and a salsa verde-dribbled soft polenta — a bit soft and texturally homogenous. And, naturally, undergirding this are prices that can take you whistling past the £100 a head mark without even really trying.

Madeleine moment: the £4 final snacks (Matt Writtle)
Madeleine moment: the £4 final snacks (Matt Writtle)

We are still at the point where the mere idea of such ruinousness is a massive hard pass for many people. And that is understandable. But one of the other great things about the new and varied King’s Cross — a place with a restaurant culture defined by the highly reasonable Dim Sum & Duck as much as the eye-watering Decimo — is that this is just one option of many. Blowouts still exist and this is a better place to have one than most.

I finished with a warm £4 Epping honey madeleine and a final reminder that this Grand does not come for free. But as decadence done right, and a transformative dining story 150 years in the making, it might just be worth it.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, N1 2XD. Meal for two plus drinks, about £220. Open Tuesday 6pm-9.45pm, Wednesday to Saturday from noon-9.45pm (kitchen closed 2.45pm-6pm) and Sunday noon-4pm; midlandgranddiningroom.com