German Gymnasium

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This huge freestanding building across the street from the renewed St. Pancras station and in the heart of what was the King’s Cross Red Light District, is an architectural oddity. It was London’ s first purpose-built gym and hosted many competitions in the 19th Century. It is now a reworked restaurant of brick and wood situated in the heart of the much gentrified, less raffish St. Pancras Station area. Its tall vaulted dark wood ceiling, long marble stair wells, and bright metallic finishes are all symptomatic of the rehabilitation of the area and of the current restaurant styles today in London.

Architecturally if you are into that kind of thinking before you choose a restaurant, it is quite spectacular, replete with London’s youngest denizens looking for food and drinks. We saw several young people quite worse for wear with the latter. We saw a lot of young women dining with each other at long tables, as they do these days, sans males. There is a vast impersonality to the space, though the design is good enough and intriguing enough to keep one’s eyes moving around. The food and drink were another matter.

We met our friends who were already at table, and he had ordered a bottle of Shiraz. He asked us to taste it. The words “yuck,” “gross” and “unportable” immediately came to mind, and we summoned the sommelier to the table with haste. He was fattish, youngish, baldish and questioned our judgment. In an entirely benign way we offered him a taste himself after which he scurried away with the offending decanter. If I were describing it myself I would say it had the taste of Dettol, a local brew for killing kitchen germs mixed with a smidgen of syrup for a bronchial disorder. Charles suggested that he contact the supplier immediately and send the entire shipment back.

He then ordered a nice wine from the Languedoc. We proceeded to drink two entirely satisfactory bottles and get rather tiddly, which was a good thing because the food was okay, but did not require sober discerning assessment. We divided our attention between fish and steak, with some rather nice fat “chips” as we call freedom fries here, and managed to eat everything without a whimper. German? Nein. It would be unfair to say that the food was not good. Simply that the whole purpose of a German themed restaurant would seem to be well, duh, German food. A food critic of the Guardian has described a roast butternut squash dish as an “overworked purée with the consistency of wallpaper paste but none of the utility.” He also used the words “cack-handed” to describe the thinking behind the menu, to use an English-ism.

On the taxi ride home we looked out into the surrounding buildings and there were hordes of women and some of their consorts queuing up to get into a reggae club. The music à la Bob Marley was blaring into the road and the ladies were dressed for bear.

A night out in St. Pancras…It could be a movie. It could be an adventure in architectural urban renewal. Forget the food.

Kaaren Hale

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