Set inside one of London’s most iconic red-brick buildings, The Booking Office is worlds away from the pomp and ceremony you may expect. The bar is a post-work commuter trap, and even though dining options don’t quite live up to the grandeur of the Renaissance Hotel setting, the relaxed atmosphere is rather refreshing.
You can enter The Booking Office through St Pancras International Station if you’re in a hurry off the tube or train, but arriving through the high-flying Renaissance Hotel is a worthwhile experience for fans of George Gilbert Scott’s beauty of a building. And the bar lives up to its Victorian era setting, with that eerie Hogwarts feel emanating from red-brick walls, neo-gothic window arches and cavernously tall ceilings. But this is given a lavish sheen courtesy of the finest furnishings – leather-backed armchairs and banquettes in cream and chocolate, boxed lighting above the bar hinting at Art Deco elegance, and a stand for jazz bands to set up shop.
The height of the ceiling creates a brash echo of sound that fits in with the feeling that you’re in an old public school hall, a vibe maintained by groups of predominantly male executives pulling up a pew for noisy pre-commute pints after hours. But you’ll find family gatherings and intimate dates taking place about the room too, and the loud din somehow gives you a feeling of privacy as you tuck into dinner or drinks, especially when live jazz beats are added to the equation. Staff are dressed for the occasion in smart black suits for the men and pretty purple dresses for front of house female staff. Despite The Renaissance’s rich heritage, The Booking Office feels down to earth and accessible to all.
All-day dining isn’t advertised so well at The Booking Office, perhaps since many punters coming to The Renaissance for dinner opt for Marcus Wareing’s Gilbert Scott restaurant. As a result, you may be surprised to find a menu of poshed-up pub grub available here, meaning that a relaxed dining experience in this ceremonious building is far from out of the question. The Loch Duart Salmon starter (£14) impresses, with the fish served three ways – smoked, poached and cured – and served with potato blinis. The beetroot cured salmon is particularly good, adding an earthy flavour to the fish and looking pretty in its on-trend red-pink colour clash. Smoked mackerel pate with Irish soda bread (£10) is perfectly creamy and chunky in texture and comes with cute swirls of pickled cucumber.
The black Angus beef burger (£16) is just as accomplished for main course, although many will resent the price tag. However, it does come with flavoursome, fluffy triple cooked chips and a tangy tomato relish. The same triple cooked chips are to be found with battered fish, mushy peas and tartare sauce (£17). The accompaniments are delicious – particularly the very mushy mushy peas – but the fish itself is a little watery and undercooked in the centre.
Lemon meringue tart (£7) has peaks as impressive as the tall points of the Renaissance Hotel, and is full-on in the flavour stakes thanks to a tart lemon curd. The same can’t be said of the warm apple and blackberry pie (£7), cased in a sadly over-baked pastry and containing sharp, undercooked chunks of fruit. Cover it in the accompanying brandy custard though, and you’re onto something.
Cocktails echo the Victorian setting, with punches served by the mug or bowl and absinthe drinks mixed up behind the bar too, nicely tying in with St Pancras’ Parisian connection. Although Gin Punch A La Terrington (£9.25) with lemon zest and sherbet, and the Charles Dickens Memorial (£9.25) with pineapple and cognac sound supreme, most of the metallic tankards at The Booking Office appear to be filled with beers and ciders. Meantime lagers and ales are on draught, as is Aspalls cider, all for a dear £6.50 a pint.
Wines are divided up by region – British Empire, France and rest of the world – and again suffer a fair old mark-up. But they are top quality bottles, including a zesty and springy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£40 a bottle, £10 a glass).
The Last Word
The Booking Office is open to all who are hoping to have old-fashioned cocktails and punches or relaxed all-day dining while they marvel at this majestic bit of London architecture. They should just be prepared to pay a little for the privilege.