HISTORICALLY KINGS CROSS St Pancras was never somewhere one chose to go. It was best known for its stations and with a grim, grimy and a slightly shady reputation. Regeneration in the 1990s changed all that and, with the arrival of the Eurotunnel terminal and London College of Fashion, the area has bloomed. There is a huge range of eateries — from super-hip to traditional English — so even if you’re not en route somewhere or killing time before a train, it’s worth the trip.
You can spend an entire delicious day there — and still not cover my list of recommendations.
For breakfast or brunch, try Plum and Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel — a glamorous start.
Enjoy indulgent pastries, kippers and other cooked breakfast favourites or pace yourself with the healthy breakfast, which includes quinoa porridge with soya, milk, blueberries and almonds; buckwheat crêpe with strawberries, agave syrup and lemon balm and smoked salmon, spelt muffin, steamed spinach and poached egg.
Each dish was pretty as a picture and was perfectly cooked. The setting, overlooking the revamped Kings Cross piazza, is quintessentially London. As a hotel dining room, tables are occupied by a mixture of tourists and business people, which makes it perfect for a special breakfast — with a bit less guilt.
Another trendy brunch venue — packed at weekends — is Caravan, which sits on Granary Square — a cluster of revamped warehouses, one of which has been home to Central Saint Martins since 2011.
The square is graced with choreographed fountains — fun for little ones (and not so little ones) on hot summer days and entrancing even in winter — especially at night when they are lit up in a rainbow of colours.
Caravan, the bigger (albeit younger) sister of Caravan at Exmouth Market is an industrial-style space with
plenty to look at while you sample food from an eclectic range of cuisines.
The breakfast/brunch menu is served until 11.30am during the week and until 4pm at weekends and ranges from baked goods (muffins/ scones/buns) through cereal and fruit options (porridge or fruit-and-nut granola with berry compôte and coconut yoghurt) to things on toast (cheese and onion jam; slow-roast tomatoes; avocados with chilli, lemon and olive oil).
Then there are the bigger dishes: coconut bread, lemon curd cream cheese and rhubarb; jalapeno corn bread with eggs, black beans and guindilla pepper...
With a similarly diverse all-day menu, you may choose to graze for hours but, if you can drag yourself away, do pop over to the similarly modish Grain Store.
Part of the Zetter hotel group and with chef Bruno Loubet planning the menus, Grain Store is sold as being all about the veg. It does give them star billing on the menu — all dishes lead with the vegetable ingredients — but fish gets a hefty supporting role.
Beetroot gnocchi, broccolini, shallots and horseradish Béarnaise are complemented by silver mullet a la
plancha (griddled) and a Waldorf salad tartlet by smoked salmon.
There are many (really interesting) vegetarian options — wild mushroom and Montgomery cheddar croquettes with truffle salt or dried fava beans and kishk (dried yoghurt) soup with pomegranate molasses.
Puddings are similarly esoteric — “parsnip and white chocolate cream, puffed quinoa nougatine and matcha tea citrus gel” (one dish) reads like something you might apply to chapped hands, but it does work.
If you are more traditional, stay a little closer to the stations and drop into Granger & Co — the northernmost London outpost of the grinning Aussie chef’s mini-chain, the other two being in Notting Hill and Clerkenwell. Huge windows and lines of brass footed bar stools give a station-café-meetsbrasserie feel.
Food is healthy modern Aussie — this means dishes such as Bondi bowl — a salad of buckwheat, quinoa, golden beet, courgette, tamari pepitas (soy sauce-baked sunflower seeds), goat’s yoghurt, feta and harissa; or Fresh Aussie — a simple dish of tea-smoked salmon, poached eggs, greens, avocado and cherry tomatoes.
For an evening drink with the young folks, try Drake and Morgan’s lively bar/restaurant. The all-day menu offers salads, “small plates” — from smoked salted almonds and Italian green olives to heirloom tomatoes and
burrata (creamy mozzarella) — as well as heftier dishes such as sea bass with lemon butter, Dover sole and halloumi burger. Roman fries come with truffle oil and parmesan (moreish) while cowboy fries — with honey, chilli and garlic — are just too soggy to qualify as humble potato chips. The cocktail menu and wine list are extensive.
If you’d rather end your day with teatime treats, you can find superb cakes at Le Pain Quotidien and Patisserie Valerie. Or, for the full English experience, Fortnum and Mason’s newest offshoot — the St Pancras restaurant, is open all day and serves fullon afternoon tea.
Kings Cross has certainly become a destination in its own right.
Breakfast on coconut bread and lemon-curd cheese
Barbecued pineapple at Drake and Morgan, (page WD3)
Granger & Co features eggs, harissa and kale (top right) and raw tuna and avocado poke (right)