Michelle Harbi checks out the ambitious new redevelopment of King’s Cross
1 KING’S BOULEVARD
Once one of inner London’s grittiest areas, King’s Cross is undergoing huge transformation. Some 27 hectares of former railway land are being turned into a mixed-use district with its own postcode, N1C. Heritage buildings are being repurposed, shiny new structures are rising fast, ten parks and squares are being laid out, and close to 2,000 homes are being added. While still a work in progress – it’s all due to be finished by 2020 – most public areas are now complete and ripe for exploring.
Start at Battle Bridge Place, between King’s Cross and St Pancras International stations. On one side is the new German Gymnasium grand café and bar, housed in a 1860s building that was once England’s first purpose-built gym. Head up King’s Boulevard – in the future, it will be open to traffic but for now is pedestrianised. Its hoardings tell stories of the area’s past and present. On your left is Pancras Square (pictured above), a landscaped space of water features and lawns surrounded by offices and eateries. To your right will be Google’s new London HQ, plans for which are being finalised. At the top, a 6.5 metre-high platform offers elevated views.
2 GRANARY SQUARE
Project developer Argent created a curve at the top of King’s Boulevard so that the heart of the development, Granary Square, unveils itself only at the last moment. Completed in 2012, it has at its centre more than 1,000 choreographed fountains that are illuminated at night. Straight ahead is the Granary Building, a former wheat storehouse that is now home to Central Saint Martins art school and restaurants Grain Store and Caravan. The Lighterman, a dining room and bar overlooking Regent’s Canal, opens this month, while Jamie Oliver is launching a“concept”restaurant and pub later this year. The steps down to the canal are a popular basking spot when the sun’s out.
3 THE HOUSE OF ILLUSTRATION
To the right of the Granary Building is the House of Illustration, the UK’s only gallery dedicated to the artform. Founded in 2014 by Roald Dahl collaborator Sir Quentin Blake, it showcases everything from political cartoons and scientific drawings to adverts and animation.
Starting this month is the country’s first major exhibition of Japanese shojo manga (girls’ comics), while April will see the launch of the permanent Quentin Blake Gallery, which is opening with a look at the artist’s approach to magic and surrealism. Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; entry £7.
Cut through the central concourse of the Granary Building, pausing to look at the art students’ work in the windows – there are also free ping-pong tables if you want to challenge someone to a game – and exit on to Stable Street. To your right is Dishoom. Inspired by the Irani cafes of old Bombay, this branch of the small chain offers breakfast and all-day menus. Set across three levels, it’s a fabulous space with whirring ceiling fans, vintage artefacts and a list of house rules on the wall (no soliciting, no making mischief, and no sleeping in the water closet). Take a seat at the bar, order up a glass of hot, sweet chai or the house IPA, and choose from the list of small plates,“ruby murrays” and grill dishes. Open 8am-11pm (12am ThursSat, from 9am Sat-Sun). dishoom.com
5 KING’S CROSS POND CLUB
Continue right, past the Lewis Cubitt Square and Park. At the far end is King’s Cross Pond Club – an “art installation you can swim in”, and not for the faint-hearted in inclement weather. The UK’s first manmade freshwater public bathing pond, it will be in place until at least May 2017. There are showers, changing rooms and lockers, plus sun loungers for warmer months, when booking is advised. Until the end of this month there’s even a wood-fired barrel sauna. See kingscrosspond.club for opening times and prices.
Next to the pond is another viewing platform and the Skip Garden community project. Fruit and veg grown in the skips are used in its Kitchen, which serves cakes and lunch daily, and it has a chicken coop, a beehive and a yurt with a wood-burning stove.
To finish, cut down to the canal via Gasholder Park, a green space set inside one of King’s Cross’s distinctive huge cast-iron gasholders. Walk left past St Pancras Lock and you will find yourself back at the steps up to Granary Square. If you’ve still got time, retrace your steps towards the stations and grab a “Gym and Tonic”in the German Gymnasium.