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On Location: The Gilbert Scott Bar

I’ve been incredibly busy at work recently, and I’ve come to appreciate the pleasures of a drink at the end of the day. We’re not talking the usual way that Brits seem to unwind together “down the pub” over multiple rounds of beer. No, I lived in Brussels for too long to pick up that habit. But a chance to unwind with a colleague in a classy bar, now that is appealing.

I happen to work near to fairytale-like St Pancras station in London, and so it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the Gilbert Scott bar.

I love it. I actually love it. It was a touch too busy when it first opened, but these days, it’s still buzzy but you can usually wander in and get a table.

A big part of the attraction is the decor – it’s all quite elegant as far as seating arrangements go, then it goes crazy – lots of carved stone, gilt and an elaborate painted ceiling in gold, rich reds, deep blues and luxurious greens. I always think that the ceiling has a rather glamorous “Arts and Crafts” feeling to it. It also has that sort of subtle lighting that makes you want to huddle round the table and share stories – whispered, and not shouted. All very Victorian and discreet.

The drinks menu is great – interesting cocktails, which change by the month (juleps in January, flips and fizzes in February, mojitos in March…get it? On tenderhooks to see what April will offer – advocaat or apero?) and the classics are pretty darn good (my drink of choice is a Negroni for the time being). For those that love a touch of fizz, the award-winning English sparkling wine is also worth checking out.

Now…let’s talk damage – it’s not cheap, but this is quite a classy place with a classy crowd. I love that it still has the feeling of a grand station café, where people next to you could be about to travel up to the wilds of Yorkshire, dash to the Eurostar to travel to Paris, or are waiting for the Caledonian Sleeper to take them up to the Scottish Highlands.

This is the sort of atmosphere that lends itself to ordering something sophisticated and then having a good old catch-up with friends. If you’re not quite taken with the cocktail list in any given month, they also seem to be willing to go off piste – the staff are friendly and know their stuff, and when I was there, my friend spent most of the evening raving about a rather interesting creation that included red wine and cocoa nibs.

In addition to a decent cocktail selection, there is a nice line in bar snacks, including fat chips with Sarson’s mayo, and my favourite – Countess Morphy’s potato croquettes.

Countess Morphy? You don’t know her? Well, neither did I, but it turns out she is the author of “Recipes of All Nations”, a tome from the 1930s that brought glimpses of exotic lands to the British kitchen. She sounds like a foodie aristo that could have some straight out of Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, but it is rumoured that the Countess did not actually enjoy a title, and may in fact have been Marcelle Azra Hincks, a native of New Orleans. Whatever her story, I had an admiration for a lady who clearly understood the value of branding and turned that to her advantage. I want this book, and I will be keeping an eye out for it when I pass vintage bookshops. And she has a darned good recipe for croquettes too.

And if you’re hungry but not quite ready for the ware of Countess Morphy, I love these little silver containers with salt-and-pepper popcorn. An interesting touch instead of plain old nuts or crisps.

So…would I go back? Well, I tend to end up here at least once every couple of weeks, so I hardly count as an objective source. But I think this is once of the nicest bars in the area, and a really special place to enjoy a drink while you want for that someone special to arrive on the last train from Paris. They’re about to launch afternoon tea too, so I get the feeling I’ll be back just a little more often too.

The Gilbert Scott Bar, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1 2AR. Tel: 0207 278 3888. King’s Cross St Pancras Tube.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: The Fellow (King’s Cross, London)

King’s Cross is up and coming. But ask most Londoners and they roll their eyes, and then make a comment about “that old chestnut” or scoff that it’s been on the cards for years, but really

Well, actually, things are changing. In the time I’ve lived here, we’ve seen the revamp of St Pancras station into probably one of the most glorious rail termini in the world, which has brought with it a clutch of rather chic places for a drink and a bite to eat. It’s also going to be from here that people will board those nifty “javelin” trains that will whisk them out to the shiny new Olympic park. So, in short: it is indeed up and coming.

Clearly there are all manner of grand projects, but there are also a nice range of bars, cafes, brassieres and the like springing up. And that’s how I found myself in The Fellow on York Way.

Now, the bad news first – there is not a lot of veggie stuff on the menu. If you’re looking for the sort of place that will spoil you with choice, it’s not here…

…but the good news is that what they do offer is innovative, beautifully presented and very, very tasty. I also has the sheer joy of some of the best service I may ever have had in London. A waitress who was friendly, attentive but not hovering, and who could actually express an opinion about the menu. She knew her stuff, which I love. My friend Sunshine taught me to ask questions, and I think it’s always a good sign if the people who are working there know their dishes. It’s also got a rather nice vibe too – good decor, trendy but not too fancy, and feels very relaxed. It isn’t trying too hard, and is all the more pleasant for it. You could come here with friends for a relaxed dinner, or equally come here for a slightly more intimate dinner à deux.

So what did I have? Well, as I said, it was limited choice.  I started with the unappetisingly-named “cow curd” on toast with truffle honey. What it turned out to be was something akin to the most pillowy-soft mozzarella you could imagine. Not stringy, not rubbery, just perfect. It just held together and then collapsed when you ate it. Worked beautifully with the honey (just a fleeting hint of truffle, no more) and some baby basil leaves. The fact is was a small starter was also really quite a nice touch. Starters don’t need to be the size of mains, in my view. Clean, simple, fresh and tasty. Big tick!

Now, the main. It could so easily have been the dreaded mushroom risotto. And I am sure that if the chef in The Fellow made a mushroom risotto, it would be delicious. But not tonight. Instead, there was a barely pilaf with pecorino cheese and wafer-thin strips of fresh yellow squash, and a splash of good olive oil and fresh black pepper. I can honestly say it was one of the tastiest things that I’ve had for a while. It was a great contrast of textures too.

As we had not filled up on bread or other nibbles before the meal, when the waitress wandered over and asked if we wanted to look at the dessert menu, not much persuasion was needed. Nice, seasonal desserts (a greengage fool or a selection of British cheeses being some of the highlights), but there was one thing that really stood out for me – deep-fried choux buns, served with a dusting of cinnamon sugar and blueberry compote. Sublime. I wish I had a picture, but it was just a great big fried-sugary-jammy mess which tasted super. Like a luxury take on churros.

Would I go back? Definitely. And that is saying a lot for a place that usually only has one veggie option. So it’s great that it’s not much more than a hop, skip and a jump from where I work. And if you happen to find yourself seeing someone off on the train to Paris, you might be tempted to skip some of the chains and try somewhere a little different too.

The Fellow, 24 York Way, London N1 9AA, Tel: 0207 833 4395. Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras.

LondonEats locations map here.

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