The Gilbert Scott features a respected gastronomic chef serving nostalgic British food in a beautiful historic building at prices most people can afford.
What could go wrong? Plenty, if you pay attention to critics who have seen shortcomings in the food, the prices, the service and the design of Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at St. Pancras. It’s named after George Gilbert Scott, the Victorian architect of the Midland Grand Hotel at the London train station.
The Gilbert Scotts were talented. The man himself designed the Albert Memorial. His grandson, Giles, created the London telephone kiosk, Battersea Power Station, Bankside Power Station (now home to Tate Modern) and a gentlemen’s club in the City that houses Bloomberg’s London headquarters.
The Gothic-revival buildings at St. Pancras are dramatic and this carries through to the interior of the bar at the Gilbert Scott, with its high, ornate ceiling and large, bold light fittings in the shape of bells. The design is by David Collins, who was also responsible for the Wolseley, a restaurant Wareing cites as an inspiration. The bar manager is Oliver Blackburn, who shows a real sense of hospitality in this, his first London job after working in Nottingham.
(The Gilbert Scott is attached to the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel and has its own entrance.)
The menu is long -- about a dozen starters, 15 main courses and 10 desserts -- and is designed to appeal both to U.K. diners and to visitors in search of traditional cuisine. Many of the dishes are familiar from the school dinners of old and there’s a nod to Wareing’s northern childhood in options such as Manchester Tart, Kendal Mint Cake Choc Ice, Yorkshire Puddings and Eccles Cakes.
While the menu might be described as nostalgic, it’s more than that: I never remember British food being this good. Wareing’s head chef Oliver Wilson is talented and there’s real flavor in starters such as the Mulligatawny with quail, onion rings, curry spice; and mains such as Soles in Coffins: lemon sole, vermouth cream, Morecambe Bay shrimps and crispy potato. (The coffin is the potato skin that contains the fish.)
The mushy peas with the fish-and-chips come as a mayonnaise; as does the Sarson’s vinegar served with side orders of fries. Paxo sage-and-onion stuffing -- a real taste of childhood -- is served as a side dish as are Yorkshire puddings. These are among the most authentic I’ve tasted in London, and would be even better with gravy served in a jug, rather than under them in the bowl.
The desserts are possibly the strongest part of the menu. Mrs. Beeton’s Snow Eggs -- a variant on floating island, with Everton toffee, peanuts and burnt-honey custard -- is among the best. I’d also go back for Eccles Cakes with Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream; and Orange Marmalade Jaffa Cake with Earl Grey Ice Cream.
With such a good menu, why the complaints? Some tables are so close together you don’t have to ask: “Does my bum look big in this?” You just gauge it by how much havoc you wreak on your neighbor’s table as you squeeze out. The service can be inattentive. Some staffers adopt that fixed look of the flight attendant trying to avoid catching anyone’s eye.
I’ve had bad luck with wines: One waiter assured me I’d made a good choice when I’d picked a turkey; another could not tell me the difference between two bottles of Torrontes both priced at the same 30 pounds. I can recommend the Terrazas de Los Andes 2008 and don’t know about the Nomade, Mendoza 2009.
These are not huge problems. The bar is among the most beautiful in London and the dining room is charming. While the Gilbert Scott isn’t an instant classic, it certainly isn’t bad. It’s a decent restaurant that can become better.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? 50 pounds a head.
Sound level? Acceptably buzzy 75 decibels.
Inside tip? Try holding out for a decent table.
Special feature? St. Pancras
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Whisper sweet nothings and your neighbors will hear. Other than that, it is good.
Rating? ** 1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70- 75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at firstname.lastname@example.org.