St Pancras Renaissance, London

“A fabulous Victorian flight of fancy reborn”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 8th October 2011.

If you are a lover of this fabulous flight of Victorian fantasy, or just someone curious to see its rebirth, you might possibly be tempted to part with a minimum of £650 for one of the 38 Chambers rooms in the original building as opposed to one of the Barlow rooms in the seamlessly attached new wing.

I wouldn't, if I were you. Yes, they have high ceilings, expansive, beautifully shaped windows and lavish mouldings but, except for the Gilbert Scott Suite, the ones I saw seemed bland, in the way that all Marriott hotel rooms are bland (the new St Pancras Hotel, formerly the Midland Hotel, is operated by Marriott under its Renaissance brand) and lacked the thrill that comes with sleeping in a special, historic place.

Mine was the Woolfe Suite. It was fun to be among the top-floor gargoyles, but had I been paying at least £2,000 (perk of the job: I wasn't), I don't think I would have been best pleased with the narrow, awkwardly shaped space or its contents. On top of which, traffic noise was loud, no one was on hand to explain things, and the service in the ground-floor Chambers Club, which goes with occupancy of a Chambers room, was unsolicitous and slow.

And if I was just about to hand over £2,000, I would at least have expected the internet to work, which it didn't. There were no computers for guests' use; indeed no business centre. After a while, we were all kicked out of the Chambers Club anyway, because there was a private event.

Let me get some more negatives off my chest. Marcus Wareing's Gilbert Scott brasserie is a disappointment (one or two memorable dishes, including "soles in coffins"; awful, sickly sweet puddings; other dishes that were simply dull). And the public spaces where guests sit, chat, work and so on have the transitory nature of a railway waiting room. The noisy bar felt like that; the Gilbert Scott felt like that; the huge lobby with its glass-and-girder roof felt like that. People were in either business suits or scruffy jeans; appropriate, of course, for the locomotive location, but difficult to appreciate, nonetheless, in a hotel that commands such serious prices.

So what's to love? Why do I urge you to stay (in a still anodyne but much cheaper Barlow room)? For the joy of Gilbert Scott's masterpiece, of course, and the thrill of its magnificent restoration, set in motion by John Betjeman, nearly destroyed by Sixties' city planners and finally unveiled in May this year.

What Londoner alive today would have thought that St Pancras, of all places, could ever provide a major treat? But to stay here, revelling in the magnificent grand staircase, the ornate ladies' smoking room, the gold leaf and stencilling, the tessellated floors and romantic murals, the Gothic stonework and the soaring, lofty proportions; to dine here, tucking into Victorian throwbacks such as braised beef cheeks and a mug of punch in the original booking office, now the hotel's own excellent restaurant; and to walk directly from the hotel onto the elegant St Pancras concourse under its marvellous pale-blue steel and glass roof: that's a real treat.

And if you continue along the platform and board the Eurostar for France, then you have all the ingredients for a very special occasion indeed.

  • Euston Road, NW1 2AR (020 7278 3888; www.marriot.co.uk). Doubles from £300 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities

Fiona's Choice

Take the tour

If you’re staying the night at the St Pancras Hotel, then you should take time to enjoy its beauty and all its many quirks. To find out about its colourful history – triumphant, then desolate, and now triumphant once more – take one of Roydon Stock’s 90-minute tours of the building. He is a real expert, having looked after the place since the mid-Nineties. The tour is free to guests or £20, including refreshments, for non-residents.

What to do

There’s much to keep you amused for a day without moving from St Pancras. The hotel has an atmospheric spa (also open to non-residents), once the old kitchens, which is tiled from floor to ceiling, giving a Moroccan effect to the plunge pool, sauna and steam room, the latter once home to the fireplaces.

Treatments reflect the peripatetic nature of a transport hub: you can take a “journey” with your essential oils and massage methods to different parts of the globe (Africa, India, the Silk Route) while lying on your treatment bed.

The spa also has a traditional barber’s shop, open to view on the concourse. Run by GQ “Barber of Choice”, Sicilian Carmelo Guastella, it delivers a grooming and shaving experience that men would be hard put to find anywhere else. You can even have a shaving lesson, and there are consultations for grooms wanting to look their best.

Where to eat

If you’ve already dined at Gilbert Scott (www.thegilbertscott.co.uk), you should lunch in the Booking Office, which opens onto the station concourse. Its circular bar wraps around the wooden

Grade I-listed ticket office in the centre of the hall. Great effort has been made to reproduce something of the Victorian age, with bowls of punch on the bar and a huge range of unusual cocktails, plus hearty English food – steak and ale pie, sticky toffee pudding and knickerbocker glory. Then you can wander onto the concourse, with its champagne bar and, on the lower floor, its shops and cafés. Another good place to eat is the St Pancras Grand Brasserie.

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
3 out of 5

Maximum thrill in Nos 241, 177 and 167 overlooking station. Also great, at a price, are Nos 181 and

Service
3 out of 5

Overall, lacklustre and slow on my visit

Character
5 out of 5

"Too beautiful and romantic to survive" said Betjeman – but it has

Food and drink
4 out of 5

Love the Booking Office; prefer it to Gilbert Scott

Value for money
3 out of 5

The building is fabulous but the rooms are extremely expensive

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