A decade ago when I lived in King’s Cross, this blighted part of central London was perpetually about to morph into a thriving neighborhood anchored around the soon-to-be Eurostar hub at St. Pancras linking up to continental Europe.
Now, five years after Eurostar’s arrival, it’s finally happening — and when I say “morph,” think sea change. The scale of the transformation is stunning: King’s Cross is now the fastest and most dramatic changing neighborhood in London, not to mention the largest redevelopment project anywhere in Europe.
In addition to the exquisite rebirth of the St. Pancras Chambers that includes the new international train station and a Renaissance Hotel, the area is taking shape with 23 new office buildings (including Google’s new one-million-square-foot headquarters), 2,000 new homes and the largest public square since Trafalgar, two centuries ago.
At the heart — or, rather, soul — of this transformation is the Great Northern Hotel, which was Britain’s first railway hotel when it originally opened in 1854. Now, after 12 years of dereliction, the landmarked property has been restored, and has just re-opened in its new incarnation right next to King’s Cross Station (with St. Pancras International right across the road).
The hotel’s 91 rooms have kept the same original footprint —which means tighter living spaces (to accommodate new en suite bathrooms), but also the same gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows, some of which look out on what will soon be the newly completed King’s Cross Square.
Inside the gently crescented property, you’ll also notice some nice details to evoke the old Victorian railway hotel, like etched mirrors, leather bound night tables and vintage train posters. But the most striking design element is extra wide hallways, apparently built to accommodate two ladies walking alongside each other in wide-hooped skirts.
Old-school motifs are also embraced in the house restaurant, Plum + Spilt Milk (named after the livery of the first ever trains that pulled out of King’s Cross), and helmed by Mark Sargeant, former head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Claridge’s. Here you can expect rich, rarely seen classics like Jacob’s Ladder (short ribs braised for 36 hours) and one of the most delicious appetizers you’ll eat anywhere in London: a twice-baked smoked haddock soufflé.
Real nostalgia-hungry guests need only venture to the end of their hallway floor, however. Here they’ll find the Great Northern Hotel’s most delightful gratis inclusion (in addition to its scarily fast wifi): a charming pantry, open 24-seven and stocked with freshly baked goodies, brimming candy jars and a self-serve station of coffees and teas.
It’s the only station in King’s Cross where you won’t have to wait.