The Midland Grand might be one of the most useful recent restaurant openings in the entire UK. Of course, no restaurant wants to be called useful; they’d much prefer flowery prose such as “gastronomically enlightening” or “a shattering orgasm for the tastebuds” or some other stuff they’d be able to regurgitate on the promotional material.
The Midland Grand, however, is both very grand and mere metres from both King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, should you be passing through and not want to go much farther. It’s in a side wing of the reliably fabulous St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which I often tell visitors to London is the “big, gothic, Harry Potter-esque one that you really can’t help but notice because it’s so fantastic”. The Renaissance is a paean to what can happen when we treat beautiful old things such as 19th-century, neo-gothic, 300-room hotels nicely, rather than rip them down to build new retail experiences.
Until recently, the main dining room at the Renaissance was presided over by that denim-eyed hunk Marcus Wareing, in what was called The Gilbert Scott, but now the winning duo of chef Patrick Powell and property developer and restaurateur Harry Handelsman have taken over and, after blowing cash left, right and centre, turned it into a glittering, opulent, gold room that RuPaul might say gives off very Marie Antoinette’s boudoir vibes, as well as Liberace in Las Vegas and Elton John’s 50th birthday party ones (Elton’s Louis XIV wig was so big, he had to be transported in a lorry); to enter the room, you also pass the staircase where the Spice Girls filmed the Wannabe video. In fact, now that I think about it, this may well be the campest restaurant in the UK, if not the world.
Campness aside, you could meet your mother off the 12.22 train from Peterborough, collect her at platform seven at King’s Cross, take her somewhere incredibly glamorous that’s not even 0.1 miles away, have a glass of sherry in the Gothic Bar adjacent to the dining room, feed her on paté en croute and roast lamb with pommes anna in a room where she can actually hear herself speak because the acoustics are perfect, then pop her back on the 14.46 train home without her having to set foot in any meaningful way in that awful, filthy London.
A word of warning, though: this all comes at a price. Parisian architect and designer Hugo Toro doesn’t do cheap – the man has never set foot in The Range furniture store or even seen a polyester scatter cushion. And that paté en croute costs £16 and the roast lamb £38. This is fine dining, albeit a commendably hearty take on the genre. A trio of light, heavenly comte gougeres with a pickled walnut topping (think cheese profiteroles) are unmissable, and £8. Gildas made with grilled octopus, pickled chilli and a Gordal olive are delicious, and £4 a skewer. One of the more out-there dishes is snails bourguignon with ’nduja and guanciale that’s served on the world’s fanciest hash brown, aka pommes paillasson. Whether Brits will ever truly take to escargots is debatable, but there are bound to be enough French visitors from the nearby Eurostar to enjoy this rich, salty meeting of porky, umami, fatty flavours that is redolent of Lyon.
The Midland Grand is very much an occasion restaurant, with chairs so plump and sumptuous that you’ll need help to move them from the staff, of whom there are dozens, all bright, friendly, not remotely up themselves and clad in beautiful frock coats. I ate a delightful, very light salad of courgette and stracciatella with flaked almonds and a hint of lemon – it was less of a salad and more of a health-giving dessert, but lovely nevertheless. I followed that with a generous piece of perfectly poached chalk stream trout in a pool of smoked butter and vermouth beurre blanc. There is also a rather delightful potato dauphinoise on offer, either as a small side or, for the truly carefree, a large one. Mind you, if I’d been settling in for a longer, more indulgent lunch, I would definitely have ordered the john dory with vadouvan spices, mussels and fried curry leaf to share.
Dessert was a peach soufflé with ice-cream, which disappeared in a hurricane of gluttony as my friend Hugh and I warred over it. We also tried a strawberry, almond and clotted cream Paris-Brest, which was French patisserie meets Devon cream tea with definitely pleasing results.
The Midland Grand is fancy, tasty, pricey, memorable, beautiful and incredibly usefully close to transport links. It might be a bit much for some and extortionate for others, but for many it will be just the ticket.
The Midland Grand St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1, 020-7341 3000. Open lunch Weds-Sun, noon-2.45pm (4pm Sun); dinner Tues-Sat, 6-9.45pm. From about £60 a head à la carte; set lunch £36 for two courses, £42 for three, all plus drinks and service