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Food: Drowning in mustard

29 October 2011

2:00 PM

29 October 2011

2:00 PM

The St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, by Marriott, is 14 syllables long, which is too many. The best hotels have two syllables or at most three, but I can’t spend my life looking for two-syllable hotels with restaurants to review because I would go mad and so would you. Even so, the glorious red building, which looks like the backside of Christchurch after a dust storm, is at last restored and it has fine dining by Marcus Wareing in a restaurant called The Gilbert Scott.

In we go to the vast curved room, which is at the front of the hotel, with views of the Euston Road, which, as ever, looks like downtown Chernobyl hosting a Chicken Shack convention. And guess what? The walls are mustard-coloured. You know how some stylistic crimes are so complete they destroy everything? This room is perhaps 80 foot long and 30 foot high. It is a great, sexy curve, built before Disraeli put an Empress’s crown on Victoria’s small head. It should be full of reds and greens and all the pride and fury of its time. Or maybe it should be an edgy canteen with fish and chips and iPod docking stations for the backpackers in the terminal below. But it’s mustard — prim, dull, safe, despicable little mustard.


As if reading my fury, we are settled into the worst table in the restaurant, in a tiny corner next to a service station, so I can watch the staff decorating a pudding and enjoy a view of miles of uninterrupted mustard. I wouldn’t mind this, except it is almost empty at Friday lunchtime, so the staff have clearly decided they don’t like the look of us. Two women dining alone and we get a rubbish table. Coincidence? It is not the worst example of female oppression, it is true, but it is always boring.

The menu is amazing, if you are Julian Fellowes’s tongue. It features duck egg on sippets, Dorset snail and chicken pie, cucumber and mackerel soup, soles in coffins, and the late Queen Mother’s foot. (OK, I invented that.) This may explain the emptiness, as only a few middle-aged out-of-towners murmur, and don’t even have the energy to look mildly adulterous. This food is not mainstream. It is not as terrible as the time my godfather opened a restaurant inspired by a tiny Jewish community who inexplicably lived in China, and tried to push Polish/Chinese fusion cuisine to weekend tourists in Waterloo, but it is nearly there.

I cannot fault the food. London Pride Battered Cod is exquisite, with heaving, golden, boat-shaped fries. My companion has barbecue chicken to a Mrs Beeton recipe, which is tasty but smells a little of the packet, which is righteous, Mrs Beeton being the spiritual inventor of packet food, whether she likes it or not. All this is brought by a female Victorian-style waif, who is charming but seems oppressed, and not by me.

Pudding is an orange marmalade jaffa cake, with earl grey ice cream. This delights me, although it is really a £7 jaffa cake, but my objections are merely political. My friend, who has embarked on a sort of crazed homage to Mrs Beeton and cannot be stopped, has snow eggs, which are made of toffee, peanuts and burnt honey custard. They look like a single boiled egg, and almost taste like one. Some puddings try too hard; sugar, in my view, only needs to be itself.
I wish I could say the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, by Marriott, has a restaurant worthy of 14 syllables. It feels like a cross between Brief Encounter and Ikea, with no necking. It isn’t bold enough or rather, when it is, it is bold in entirely the wrong way. Time to take a train.

The Gilbert Scott, Euston Road, London NW1 2AR, tel: 020 7278 3888.


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