Some food is very English. Pork pies, piccalilli, and panacalty are three that spring to mind. Marcus Wareing has the first two on the bar menu at The Gilbert Scott – the restaurant and bar in the heritage-listed, lavishly restored St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London’s Kings Cross.
Panacalty – a casserole from the North East of England comprising a tin of corned beef, chopped bacon, sausage, potatoes, and carrots – is nowhere to be seen, thank goodness. It would be a tough one to tart up. But Wareing pulls off the first two with traditional courtesy and contemporary aplomb. Gotta love a bloke who can pull off a poshed up, Brit-smacking pub lunch.
A wedge of pork pie (£8) – traditionally associated with the English Midlands region – had a generous layer of pork jelly between the chopped meat and the traditional hot water crust pastry – the latter was thick and moist. Served cold, as it should be, the pie was accompanied with piccalilli – a chunky pickle – that was daffodil yellow from mustard and turmeric and thick with hunks of cauliflower and other vegetables.
Sitting there with my brother, I had flashback to the family fridge when we were kids. Coffee jars filled with homemade piccalilli were always on the top shelf. Dad, a builder with a healthy appetite, used to slather it between meat and bread for his “bait” – a brickie’s packed lunch. Back then I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. In June, at Wareing’s just-opened, sassy joint, my brother and I fought over it. It’s funny how tastes change, how appreciation of simple, good food matures.
Our sneaky, early afternoon snack-attack also included potato croquettes (£5), which were heavy on spring onion, the crunch factor, and a cushion-soft interior. Trealy farm charcuterie from Monmouth in Wales (£11) – served on a fashionably simple chopping board – consisted of bresola, prosciutto, and fennel-flecked salami. A little pot of teeny pickled onion and gherkins were like the sweets we fought over as kids.
In hindsight, I’m disappointed we didn’t push the boat out further. Wareing’s choice of Stilton with Yorkshire parkin (a classic ginger cake), Devonshire goats’ cheese with Tonbridge biscuits, and Lincolnshire poacher with Welsh cakes pay tribute to British cheese making. Wareing pays a similar tribute to local seafood, featuring potted shrimp (shrimps from Morecambe Bay), Southwold fried whitebait, and Brown and Forrest salmon – from a small family-run smokery in Somerset – on the menu.
Over several glasses of La Dilettante Vouvray, 2009 (£6 each), from Breton in France’s Loire Valley, we took stock of the grandeur of our surroundings.
The bar occupies the former entrance to the Midland Grand Hotel, which – after being virtually derelict for about 70 years – has metamorphosed into the stunning St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which opened in May after an eight-year £200 million restoration. An ornately painted ceiling is the perfect canvas for fantastic, full-sized bronze bell chandeliers. It’s fitting surroundings for British pub food, with bells on.