An exhilarating plunge into a fast, frenetic and glamorous other world, a weekend in the capital is always a joy, writes Jo Davison.
Though exhausting. I usually return in need of two more days off work to recover.
But last month, we discovered a new slice of London bristling with an arts scene, music bars, restaurants and public spaces. And all just minutes from the Kings Cross platform Boudicea just might be buried beneath.
A £550 million development of the King’s Cross station area, once a notorious red-light district, has seen the old station rebuilt, 2,000 new homes going up and Google set to move into new headquarters there, along with a number of other blue chip companies, thanks to £2.2 billion of private investment being poured into what was a derelict 67 acres.
The moment you step off the East Coast train (from Doncaster it’s a mere one hour and 35 minutes), you realise how much has changed. That ugly wind tunnel of a concourse is now a destination in itself. Beneath a spectacular domed roof, an architectural and engineering feat, lie shops, stores, restaurants and bars.
From our comfortable first class carriage (upgrading can cost a nominal sum at the weekend) we stepped through the doors of one of the bars straight into our hotel for the weekend. Talk about letting the train take the strain.
The Great Northern, London’s first railway hotel built for the Victorians, re-opened in May after being mothballed for 12 years. A £42 million renovation has transformed what was latterly a tired Best Western into a privately-owned luxe boutique abode. No opportunity to pamper has been missed. The feel is quietly modern, with subtle railway references. Our Cubitt room (named after the architect who designed the station), is all fresh green, black and white with lashings of mirror.
The hotel’s glamorous restaurant Plum + Spilt Milk, presided over by Mark Sargeant, Gordon Ramsay’s former head chef at Claridge’s, treated us to simple classics done with creative twist (think Salt Marsh lamb shank hotpot and whole roast Goosnargh chicken with bread sauce) and by night, that ground floor bar, glass chandeliers glinting across a mirrored ceiling, velvet door drapes at the door, had the glamour of old Berlin. But what impressed the most about this wonderful hotel was the pantry at the end of every corridor, stocked with free cake and coffee, tea and tiffin.
King’s Cross and St Pancras make up the busiest rail transport hub in Europe. The city was at our disposal. But once we’d dipped our toe into a few must-do shopping locations, we headed back to KX to stroll its canalside, discover its newly created outdoor spaces and bubbling cultural scene. London’s newest street, King’s Boulevard, is a haunt of students from the new home of Central Saint Martins College and home to KERB, a daily lunchtime street food collective.
The historic heart of King’s Cross has a new beat. Book your train ticket now.
TRAVEL:East Coast rail Standard Advance returns between Doncaster and London, booked online at www.eastcoast.co.uk, start from £20. For times and fares call 08457 225225 or staffed rail stations and agents.
stay:Great Northern Hotel, Kings Cross (www.gnhlondon.com, Tel:0345 0254640). Friday Night Live package: from £256 for two, with a cocktail and breakfast each. Sunday Night Special: from £150 with breakfast and 25 per cent discount on dinner in Plum+Spilt Milk.
Visit:Georgian London exhibition at the British Library five minutes from Kings Cross, home of The Magna Carta. Cross the canal on the new King’s Bridge to Granary Square, one of Europe’s largest urban spaces with 1080 fountains. Stroll the towpath to see narrowboats at St Pancras Cruising Club and visit Camley Street Natural Park nature reserve.