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Station To Station: The Booking Office, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

July 20, 2011 5 comments

If you ever go to New York I recommend having a Prohibition Punch (as modelled by Kate, below) at The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. The apartment, previously the luxurious private office of John Campbell, a jazz age financier and railway tycoon, was reopened as a bar in 1999 with a suitable cocktail menu.

Our previous trip to the Campbell Apartment was one of the reasons I wanted to visit the new Booking Office bar at St Pancras. The recently-opened Renaissance St Pancras Hotel occupies part of the huge and ornate Midland Grand Hotel (1873-1935) as designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, after whom the new fine dining restaurant headed by Marcus Wareing is named.  A lot of thought has gone into recreating the glamorous history of the building, from the décor to the historic recipes in the restaurant.

The Booking Office bar, which was the old ticket office, stands between the hotel lobby and the first floor platforms from which the Eurostars run to Paris, beside Carluccio’s and The Betjeman Arms. The room itself has a hugely high ceiling. On what was a very warm summer’s day it was a nice, cool place to relax before the train back to Leeds.

We ordered a couple of cold beers to start with and had a good light lunch: a chicken and avocado sandwich for myself and salmon fishcakes for Kate. They had a number of Meantime beers on keg including their very pleasant London Pale Ale. The beer came in pewter tankards, which was a first for me. I’m not entirely sure if it added or detracted from the beer, but it definitely looked good and kept the lovely crisp pale ale cold and refreshing. 

In common with the recipes used in The Gilbert Scott, the drinks menu in The Booking Office is intended to hark back to the era of the original Midland Grand. The beers may ruin this theme slightly by being on keg rather than cask, but they are of good quality (Meantime, Harviestoun). Meantime attempts to replicate old beer styles so the method of dispense perhaps shouldn’t matter quite so much.

However where the focus lies is the cocktail and punch menu. I had a Billy Dawson Punch Rocks, a nicely boozy punch which came in a small copper mug with fruit floating in it. Kate had a nice lemony concoction made with egg white, the name of which escapes me.

Of course the bill was a bit steep, but The Booking Office is a very special place to sit for a while, soaking up a little bit of glamour and a nice punch. As railway waiting rooms go, it definitely beats the first class lounge in Kings Cross.

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Nose To Tail Drinking: St John Bar & Restaurant, Smithfield, City of London

April 14, 2011 5 comments

Some time ago there was a debate on the blogs about restaurants and beer. I was generally in agreement with James from BrewDog and Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating that it was odd that otherwise excellent restaurants, who take such care over their menus and wine lists, seem to regard beer as an afterthought at best and at worst an annoyance.

Whereas I would accept that most restaurants might face difficulties getting through a cask of real ale in a reasonable time, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a good stock of bottled beers and perhaps replace the dull macrolager they have on keg with a more interesting craft equivalent.

I was very pleased to note that on a recent visit to St John Bar & Restaurant at Smithfield that there were some great beers on offer. I’d previously been to St John Bread & Wine at Spitalfields and the only beer available was Meantime Pilsner.

However I had been impressed that, even though the selection was limited, they’d gone for a local beer from an interesting brewery rather than the Peroni that almost every restaurant seems to think is the best they can do these days.  The Pilsner also went very nicely with the simple quail and quince starter and truly wonderful chicken and ham pie I enjoyed that Friday evening.

The beers available at St John Smithfield on this occasion included a few Meantime ones on keg: London Pale Ale; Wheat Beer; Helles and Union. There were also cask beers available: Black Sheep and Hyde’s (although which Hyde’s beer wasn’t clear from the blackboard pumpclip). I had a refreshing London Pale Ale followed by the Union, which was a nice, slightly smoky version of a Vienna-style lager. The bar staff also seemed to know what they were talking about, which was good.

Sitting in the bar rather than the restaurant we were able to enjoy Michelin-starred food to go with the beers. I should perhaps explain that St John’s founder Fergus Henderson is famously the leading light of “nose to tail eating” (also the name of his book), encouraging the creative use of offal/”fifth quarter” cuts that have passed out of use in these squeamish times.  I had the signature bone marrow salad (which came in the bone with a silver pokey-scoopy device with a kind of forked-tongue shaped end) followed by a snail, spicy sausage and chickpea stew and then some madelines.

The bone marrow was a little bit disappointing: a little bit oily and fatty in texture (in a not unpleasant way) but quite bland in taste.  It was an experience nonetheless.  The snail and sausage stew, however, was really very nice and I’ve been a fan of their madelines since going to their restaurant in Spitalfields.

I would definitely recommend a trip to St John, especially because the bar menu is very reasonably priced, as you can see from the sample menu.  Six dishes and five or six very good pints of beer came to £64.  However, I would recommend you take a friend or partner with a sense of adventure regarding food (as well as good taste in beer and/or wine) to make the most of it.

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