Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Major Hotel Renaissance in London

After standing empty for years, the spectacular Midland Grand Hotel, overlooking one of the world's great train stations, has been restored to its former Victorian Gothic glory. It officially reopens as the 245-room St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London on Thursday.

The dramatic red-brick building, first opened in 1873, was designed to cater to travelers coming in and out of St. Pancras, the major train hub opened five years earlier.

The new hotel—a 12 year project that cost £150 million--marks the completion of the regeneration of the St. Pancras International Station, which was completely restored and reopened in 2007. It’s now the home of Eurostar, the high-speed train connecting London to Paris, Lille and Brussels via the Channel Tunnel. (From July 9 to September 10, you can take the Eurostar direct from St. Pancras to Avignon in Provence in just under six hours. The Saturday-only service is direct and does not require a change; it leaves at 7:17 a.m. and arrives Avignon Centre at 2:08 p.m. The return train leaves Avignon Centre at 4:24 p.m., arriving St. Pancras at 9:09 p.m. Other days and times you connect in Lille or Paris. For info, click here.)

While the hotel began welcoming guests since mid March, the official grand opening will be May 5th, exactly 138 years to the day after its predecessor. Many original areas and features have been meticulously renovated and restored, by a team of hundreds of craftsmen and painters. “Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott designed every single window in the building with a different surround,” says general manager Kevin Kelly, who left the five-star Marriott Grosvenor Square (London) to run this hotel. “In our restoration, we’ve tried to do justice to this great building.”

There’s also a 120,000-square-foot extension featuring original artwork and contemporary design. 

The hotel has restored gold-leaf ceilings, ornate wall murals and a Grand Staircase that’s widely revered as the most majestic in England, with windows measuring more than 50 feet and crowned by an elaborate vaulted ceiling. It’s been featured in many films (such as Batman) and music videos such as the Spice Girls’ debut single Wannabe.

And what about the food ? Top Michelin-starred London chef Marcus Wareing (a Gordon Ramsay protégé) is in charge of the restaurant The Gilbert Scott, which offers what he calls “an original yet familiar menu of Great British inspired classics."  He continues: “Inspired by the history and architecture of the building we’ve looked at old-style cookery books of Great Britain and done a lot of research on the traceability of dishes which are no longer recognized today as their names have changed." Dishes on the opening menu include Nettle and watercress soup; Dorset Jugged Steak (braised featherblade with Port, pork dumplings and red currants ; featherblade is a braising cut from the shoulder); Tweed Kettle (sea trout with a lemon, nutmeg and an herb crust); Yorkshire fish cakes; Manchester tart (custard, bananas, puff pastry, jam); and treats such as a “sweet shop bag” and chocolate cigars. 

In the second bar/restaurant, this one called the Booking Office and located in the train station’s original ticket office, Julien Maisonneuve (formally of the Michelin-starred Tom Aikens Restaurant) is the chef. The food there is seasonal, market driven and simply prepared, with dishes such as mushroom and leek Wellington with curly kale and hollandaise and a sea bass with wild mushrooms, new potatoes and lemon butter. Maisonneuve oversees banquets and room service as well.

The hotel also has a spa with swimming pool (in what had been the hotel's old kitchen), a 500-person event hall, a “gentleman’s grooming salon” and a “Ladies Smoking Room”--a renovation of the original room, the first place in Europe where it was acceptable for women to smoke in public. Rates begin at £225 ($371, €250).

Click on each photo to enlarge. Caption Info: The Grand Staircase during, after and before renovation. The hotel exterior today and in a 1884 painting by John O'Connor. The old booking office, now the Booking Office Bar. The view from the hotel's Chambers Suite bedroom.

2 comments:

  1. ....and they wanted to tear it down for many years! Great post, how wonderful to do some old fashioned traveling, staying at St Pancras for the night, taking the train to Paris a light lunch at Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon, then down to Avignon in time for l'apero...all in a day!

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  2. A wonderful post about an amazing place. I shared it on my Facebook page AND on Twitter. Just wonderful.

    How I wish I could go...!

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