St Pancras Renaissance blows it

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.

  • Anonymous

    Lets be honest this was always going to be the issue if a major multinational (dare I say it, American..) hotel chain was going to be involved.

    The Central in Glasgow got a similar (and much needed) revamp last year, and on the whole it has been well received – and it was done by the same independent outfit that owns the Hotel Russell and New Connaught Rooms in London. Small is always beautiful IMHO.

  • Anonymous

    Lets be honest this was always going to be the issue if a major multinational (dare I say it, American..) hotel chain was going to be involved.

    The Central in Glasgow got a similar (and much needed) revamp last year, and on the whole it has been well received – and it was done by the same independent outfit that owns the Hotel Russell and New Connaught Rooms in London. Small is always beautiful IMHO.

  • Lizzievee

    They are going to do the same to Waterloo – tacky new level being built will obscure the beautiful architecture.

  • Matt

    “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.”

    Interesting point. Did you know that burnt toast is the most common reason for station evacuations at major London termini? I wonder if there’s some rule about toasters being implemented here.

  • Simon Hickman

    English Heritage has no control over furnishings which are not fixed to the building, sadly. Or the quality of toast

    The booking hall roof was the only part of the station destroyed by enemy action in WWII, and I believe the current form dates from a 1980s BR-era rebuild. Those trusses are MDF, you know!

  • David Montrose

    In this wonderful age of internet-facilitated mass direct communication, one would expect that a representative of the hotel in question would have found this review by a well-known rail commentator and responded with something along the lines of:

    “Thanks for taking the time to write about what we’ve done here at St Pancras. We’re pleased that you liked certain things about our hotel, and sorry for the things you were less impressed by. Your comments have been passed to the relevant people and will certainly be taken into consideration as we work to improve the experience of our guests. We do hope you’ll come back soon and let us know whether you notice any improvement.”

    But they haven’t!

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