I had tea at the much touted Midland hotel in St Pancras, now sadly renamed as the St Pancras Renaissance. And that disregard for history seems to have percolated through the refubishment despite the close attentions of English Heritage.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a fabulous, amazing building and some of what they have done is really innovative and imaginative. For example, the Booking Office is now a bar come brasserie, and they have broken it up really well creating and not overlit it, creating an intimate atmosphere. The taxi area behind is now a lounge area, broken up with a glass partition creating another space behind where the taxis used to go down the tunnel.
But, and here’s the problem, they have overlaid the heritage stuff with the most ghastly, corporate and tacky fittings and furnishings imaginable. The taxi area, for example, has a series of goldfish size bowls with fake lilac flowers that would not look out of place in The Sopranos. Worse, oh so much worse, the back taxi area, a potentially lovely space, has a series of 25 foot high and 10 feet wide dressers along the wall built into the backs of sofas covered in cheap plasticky brown leather. They are quite the most hideous pieces of furniture imaginable.
In the hotel area, there are lots of fine features mixed, again, with ghastly corporate three star hotel design. The wallpaper for the staircase, and along the corridors, with its faded ornate design, hits just the right note, for example. But then whose idea was it to have self-standing flat TV screen stands at the entrance of each meeting room to advertise the events inside. Something far more discrete and tasteful, albeit high tech, could have been used.
Then, to cap it all, the service in the Booking Office was terrible – althought the staff were friendly and obviously trying. My companion’s toast was uncooked – clearly the bread had just been shown a bit of heat and then dumped on the toast rack. That is truly unique, toast that was underdone. There seemed to be lots of people rushing about – or actually mostly strolling – but everything took ages and the payment had to be made to someone different from the waiter who had served us. Surely, this can be dealt with and improved, and what is needed is a group of those serious professional waiters you get in France who take proud in serving you fantastically efficiently albeit with nary a smile.
And finally, though the Booking Office is a very pleasant space, look up and you will see a modern roof, with vent panels and a deep red wood stain, very much out of keeping with the rest of the architecture, and again looking rather cheap and nasty. Given that English Heritage were on the backs of the developers the whole time I’m not sure how this has gone so badly wrong. They seemed to have been obsessed with the detail, without regard for the overall look.
Don’t let me put you off, though. There are lovely features such as the grand staircase and hopefully the tacky bits will gradually be removed or hidden away. The place is a must to visit and I think the Booking Office, once the service is sorted out,will become one of London’s meeting places.