Our time in Islington ended last week, so before Christmas Mike and I went for dinner at The Booking Office at the recently renovated St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel at King’s Cross. (Yes, I know it’s technically Camden, but it’s only a mile from our old flat.) When it opened, my old boss took his then-girlfriend (now wife) there for a bit of director-grade slap and tickle, and said it was incredible. I’ve always wanted to go, but who can justify a £200+/night hotel when you’re already paying extortionate rent to live half a mile up the road?
Not I. But while it’s unlikely I’ll ever get to stay in the hotel, I can skulk in its shallows by dint of dinner at one of its many restaurants. And they’re worth visiting, just to experience a thin slice of this extraordinary building, which was originally built in 1873 by the architect George Gilbert Scott, who later declared it his masterpiece.
Primarily, The Booking Office is a bar. It is the kind of place that blows away even Londoners, who are used to grand old buildings being repurposed for merry-making. The focal point is a 30m bar wrapped around the original, Grade 1 listed ticket booth, and the rest of the room is divvied up into tables and private areas.
Maybe it was because it was December, or even just a Friday night, but it has a strange atmosphere for a Proper Restaurant. Trapped in a strange limbo, weighed down with the responsibility of doing this great building justice and simultaneously wanting to attract affluent commuters en route home, the designers have created a space where the braying laughter of the young and obnoxious bounces around soaring vaulted ceilings like pinballs. Think Hogwarts’ Great Hall when the Slytherins are abroad – apt, considering Platform 9 3/4 is just around the corner – and you’re nearly there.
We perused the menu over glasses of not quite cold enough Reisling, which had taken about 20 minutes to order as a) the wine list was packing the same kind of bulk as a tax ledger and b) some fool had organised the wine list by tasting notes, even though 99.9% of people – me included – have some sort of maximum budget in mind when picking their poison.
But my wine-grump passed once the food started arriving; first, springy scallops in mustard cream with julienned slices of brisk green apple, and a sweetbread that resembled a more genteel chicken nugget (£13.00). It was very rich for a scallop dish – I usually pick them when I’m priming myself for a monster main – but heavy, opulent food turned out to be The Booking Office’s specialty.
There’s marrow served on the bone for those feeling particularly primal, with buttery toast and a token salad. Messy but satisfying, if you’re the type to get a kick out of its Neanderthal appeal.
A vast portion of duck that was verging on the dry side, and served with a crust that was a little too peppery. It did come with a little duck sausage roll though, and a smooth, sticky cherry compote. Overall, 7/10, though I’d been spoiled by the exemplary duck I’d had at Clos Maggiore a few days previously for our anniversary dinner.
I ordered the roast cauliflower with stilton expecting a mostly healthful dish, scattered with some naughty little crumbs of blue cheese, but what arrived was a soup of warm, smooth blue cheese sauce with little pieces of cauliflower bobbing like apples. Naughty indeed.
Mike’s pork belly (£19.00) – honestly, the man is obsessed with pork belly, I shall have to put him on some sort of belly ban – was fabulous, dressed with an incredible acid green burnt apple puree, black pudding and hispi cabbage (buttered, naturally). The side order of mash, fortified with bone marrow gravy and an even more butter, was practically a meal unto itself.
By this point we were Uncomfortably Full, though I suppose we didn’t help ourselves by choosing such heavy meats. I had every intention of having the lemon sole, but a winter’s walk through King’s Cross, windows festooned with Christmas trees and twinkling lights…well, it brings on some powerful urges.
But how could we resist this?
The Ladies Smoking Room pudding (£10.00 – it’s a sharer!), which I imagine accounts for 95% of the restaurant’s dessert sales, arrives in a Heston-style cloche and presented with a jasmine-scented flourish, looking all the world like a piece of weird modern art.
We tapped the pink chocolate orb tentatively with our forks, expecting it to be one of those sugar bubbles that, having served their purpose as Instagram fodder, collapse into a syrupy goo, but it shattered into thick shards of milk chocolate. Beneath was a pedestal of dense, fudgey mousse, laced liberally with smokey Ardbeg whisky.
I’m not a pudding person, but this was one of the most coolest and creative desserts I’ve seen. Chocaholics, save room.
Although the people behind The Booking Office can’t decide whether to make a kick-ass cocktail bar or a luxury restaurant, there’s no doubt the venue is one of London’s most beautiful. It gets loud in there, so I wouldn’t recommend it for bigger groups of diners, but for a pre-Eurostar tipple or a quirky dinner à deux? Get yourself booked in.
The Booking Office, St Pancras International, Euston Road, London, NW1 2AR
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.