The St Pancras Grand Brasserie allows you to hark back to the glory days of train travel, when such a journey was an exciting adventure to be enjoyed, rather than a necessary evil to be endured. It swiftly makes you think of being served dinner in the dining car by elegant waiters wearing white gloves, rather than being glowered at by pinch-faced yobs gobbling burgers.
St Pancras Grand — as descriptive as it is titular — Brasserie is an elegant, lofty space in the recently rejuvenated International railway station. It is owned by Searcys — started, in 1847, by the Duke of Northumberland’s pastry chef — and is opposite Searcys Grand Champagne Bar, the longest in Europe.
On weekday evenings, the Grand Brasserie is buzzing. Although the restaurant is huge — it can seat 120 diners — with soaring ceilings and arching windows, the subdued décor and artful illumination give it an intimate feel. But the happy hum of conversation rises from the leather banquettes and comfortable chairs, as waiters weave nimbly between busy tables. It is the epitome of opulence and transports you magically back to that bygone era.
Although the St Pancras Grand Brasserie menu includes some 'old-fashioned favourites', the superbly named chef, Chris Dines, ensures there is nothing remotely antiquated about the food. Certainly, classics such as potted shrimps, fish pie and (the joy!) beef stew and dumplings appear on the menu, but are given a modern twist. And if bivalves are your thing, the Oyster Bar will have you drooling. It offers, for example, half a dozen rock oysters with a glass of Muscadet (£14) and a seafood platter bursting with aquatic goodies at £28 for one or £50 for two.
For the less well-heeled, however, the Grand Brasserie suggests a set menu at £19 for two courses or £25 for three. This might feature a bacon and onion tart as a first course, followed by slow-roasted shoulder of lamb: it is, like the main menu, seasonal. A salad of Irish black pudding with bacon and a poached egg (£8.50) is simple yet beautifully put together, the bitterness of endive offsetting the pudding, and the egg bringing it all together. It is deceptively light, to tantalise the tastebuds rather than fill the belly. So too is a Scotch egg (£7.75). An unlikely starter, you may think, but extremely tasty — rich sausagemeat around a just-set egg with a glowing golden yolk, served with a sweet and tangy curry mayonnaise.
Among the main courses are a whole seabass — it's lovely not just to get a measly fillet — which is so fresh it feels like it has swum on to the plate. It's served simply with watercress and lemon (£19), and some would argue that it needs no further adornment. Allow your arm to be twisted, though, to some crunchy beans with shallots and a glorious cauliflower cheese (£3.50 each). They also go well with the classic calves' liver and Ayrshire bacon (£17.50), which is just as it should be — cooked to your preference and served with splendidly smooth mash.
Silky perfection is also to be found in the Cambridge burnt cream (this most English of establishments would never call it crème brulee). But even this voluptuous delight is overshadowed by the chocolate fondant, whose bubbling silky centre is complemented by honeycomb ice cream. All puddings are £6.50.
One of St Pancras Grand’s almost unending charms is that if you order a G&T, your waiter will ask 'Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray'? If you fancy something a little more exotic, do try the French Martini cocktail. Why French, you may ask? Good question, but who cares? It is an intoxicating blend of vodka, raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice (£9).
The winelist is helpfully divided into types — for whites, delicate, aromatic, racy and textural; reds, subtle, robust, terroir and graceful. Put that way, they all sound enchanting, but a South African Chenin Blanc (aromatic) is good value at £19.50, while a Chilean Merlot (robust) is a bargain at £17.75. A selection is offered by the carafe as well as the glass.
The Last Word
The food is so irresistible that the only rumblings are likely to be the Eurostar arriving on the platform opposite. Oh, and they call the ladies’ rooms 'lavatories' instead of 'toilets': the St Pancras Grand Brasserie is class through and through.