News - 5 Jewels of King’s Cross
Once upon a time a train journey was an elegant, romantic form of travel whisking you to cities far afield. Journeys always began, appropriately enough, at the beautiful gateway of a train station. Nowadays trains have become very functional, daily forms of transport that get us from A to B.
However the beautiful structures of bygone eras remain and are now enjoyable artefacts of that romantic time. They are the beautiful Grande Dames of the industrial age that remind us that travel is more than hurtling through the air at thousands of miles an hour in a glorified tin can, clutching plastic bags filled with 100ml bottles of toiletries.
There are only a handful of great train stations that evoke this great era of travel and consequently possess enough collateral interest to pull tourists, revellers and discerning locals into their orbit. Even if you aren’t travelling, a great train station and its surrounds should offer enough amusement to entertain an individual waiting for a loved one’s return. When considering the few great stations left across the globe one’s mind is immediately drawn to New York’s Grand Central Station with its 44 platforms, countless film appearances and finely detailed early 20th century architecture. Alternatively for nature-lovers Madrid’s Estacion de Madrid Atocha will delight with its cavernous atrium filled with an oasis of plants, tropical flowers and turtles!
Photo from Michael Voelker
Here in London we are treated to the union of two of the most historic train stations in the world, on one single site. To the west you have the gothic masterpiece, St Pancras International, completed in 1868, bearing an impressive façade which found widespread fame in the Harry Potter films as the home of platform 9 ¾ and the Hogwarts Express. To the East lies Kings Cross Station, a busy, workhorse of a station that opened in 1852 and stands on the site that served as a battle ground for the Romans and the British Iceni lead by the legendary Boudicca. It has even been suggested that Boudicca is buried under one of platforms. The two stations exist in harmony, despite their vast aesthetic differences.
These two stations have a magnetic pull that draws over 130,000 people to the greater Kings Cross area every day. Argent’s forward thinking master plan for the area is a masterstroke of urban regeneration. A formerly seedy, downtrodden area of prime London real estate, Kings Cross has become a curated, well developed environment, offering a variety of amusements, culinary delights and leisure pursuits in one inner city package.
Here is your ‘finger on the pulse’ guide to Kings Cross and all it has to offer:
Quite literally one of the best London restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of sampling in a long time, Shrimpy’s unique appeal is threefold; fabulous location and atmosphere, slick execution and the tastiest creole fusion food I’ve ever had outside of the southern USA. Located within the Filling Station building on the Regent’s Canal, Shrimpy’s is a uniquely Londonesque experience offering canal side dining in a structure designed Carmody Groake Architects. The food is hearty and guilt-laden and the soft shell crab burger was actually so good I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness when I finished it! Make sure you book in advance, as it is always filled to the brim.
Known globally as one of the best arts universities, St Martins has produced such famous alumni as Alexander McQueen and successor Sarah Burton, Roksanda Ilincic, Jonathan Saunders, Mary Katrantzou, Terence Conran, James Dyson, Lucian Freud, John Galliano, Katharine Hamnett, Phoebe Philo, Jarvis Cocker, PJ Harvey and Mick Jones just to name a few. Having relocated to Kings Cross in 2011 to the refurbished Granary storehouse on Granary Square, Central St Martins became the cornerstone of the Kings Cross regeneration plan. Strolling through the building you can view student’s work and on-going exhibitions or partake in a game of table tennis – the tables are available for public use at all times – but the event not to be missed is the amazing Degree Shows every year in June.
An attraction that is closer to the railway theme of this article than any other, the Great Northern Hotel is the lovingly restored railway hotel that has accompanied Kings Cross Station since 1854. Upon its original opening the hotel was a glamorous destination and ‘the’ place to be seen when beginning your journey. The curve of the building follows the curve of the railways tracks making this grand dame of the 19th century an inextricable part of the station’s structure. Newly reopened, the hotel’s Grade II listed façade remains the same, however the exquisite interiors – reimagined by Archer Humphryes Architects – bring together a heady fusion of old-world glamour and modern style. Try a King’s Garden cocktail in the GNH bar or the Salt Marsh lamb shank hot pot at Plum + Spilt Milk, the stylish dining establishment on the 1st floor. Should your sojourn in the area extend beyond the fleeting, then the Great Northern Hotel’s accommodation comes highly recommended with rooms equipped with the most indulgent bath tubs and an extremely comprehensive entertainment system.
Nestled beneath the bustling hive of Central St Martins, sitting at a table on reclaimed seating one can literally feel the creativity pervading the atmosphere at Caravan via osmosis. Sit still for too long and you might feel the need to do something distinctly designerly, but not until you’ve consumed the 10’s of delicious small plates, that you undoubtedly HAD to order. Breakfast and Brunch are serious business here and if you want to avoid the ever-present line make sure you book in advance. Enjoy a glass of wine from a varied and delicious selection and don’t be too shy to ask your very well informed waiter to recommend something. If you swing by unannounced and balk at the idea of standing in line for half an hour, grab a take away coffee and some pastries and pull up a pew in the sun on Granary Square, and enjoy the ambiance.