Afternoon tea @ St Pancras Renaissance

The last afternoon tea I had was at the Lanesborough during last July. My friends were visiting London and they wanted to have a traditional afternoon tea (who wouldn’t?), therefore, I recommended there. This time, I wanted to take my girl Bella with me, therefore, I picked St Pancras Renaissance. In London, there were more than a few dog-friendly afternoon tea venues to choose from. However, most of the places were in West London and St Pancras Renaissance was the only hotel which was close from our place and also welcomed four-legged guests open-armed.

Hurry up, you all!

Even though her legs were short, she climbed the stairs much quicker than me. Why is that? Would I run up the stairs much faster if I got down on all four?!

Behind the present building, there are platforms for Eurostar…

The Victorian style building has Grade 1 listed status and the original structure was constructed in the late 19th century.

I distinctively remember how the place used to be before all the regeneration works transformed the entire area. It was in the early 90’s and the station just looked dirty and unloved. I think I was on my way to visit Cambridge and the train route was starting from St Pancras. The journey was made on one very cold February day and in my memory, the platform was utterly devoid of human beings and as cold as a tomb.

During the 1960’s, there were serious discussions regarding the future of the station. Some wanted the station to be closed and demolished altogether for inner-city redevelopment. However, the station was spared, thanks to fierce opposition by the Victorian Society.

The fortune of the station improved further in 1996 when LCR – London and Continental Railways won a contract from the government to reconstruct St Pancras. The company was to build a 109-kilometre (68 mi) high-speed railway between London and the United Kingdom end of the Channel Tunnel as well as to refit the existing St Pancras for accommodating 300-metre+ Eurostar trains.

After eleven years, during which there were a few ups and downs and the cost of £800 million, the station was reopened on 6 November 2007 by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Before the present St Pancras Renaissance opened its doors in 2011, the site was occupied by the remain of Midland Grand Hotel. The original hotel which was in the elaborate English Gothic revival style was designed by the architect, George Gilbert Scott in 1865. In its heyday, the hotel was known for expensive fixtures and luxurious decor. The place was decked with a grand staircase and every room had a fireplace. The hotel also sported the latest innovations of the time, such as hydraulic lifts, concrete floors, revolving doors and fireproof floor constructions. However by the 1920’s, all the utilities became out of date and it was decided that the hotel was to cease trading in 1935.

After the hotel was closed down, the place was renamed as St Pancras Chambers and it was used as railway offices by British Rail until the 1980’s before the building failed fire safety regulations.

In 2004, planning permission was granted to redevelop the existing boarded-up building into a new five-star hotel complex. The specification for the new hotel, which was to contain 244 guest rooms, two restaurants, two bars, a spa and a gym with a swimming pool, required a much bigger footprint than the former structure, therefore, a new bedroom wing was created on the western side of the Barlow train shed.

Steps leading us to a beautifully decorated hotel lobby…

The afternoon tea was served in their Hansom Lounge…

It was used to be the spot where the wealthiest passengers were dropped off during the time the place was used as a train station.

Bella wanted to explore the place. ‘Let me gooooo!’

No Bay-Bay! You behave yourself!

Then she went into the sulking mode. Oh no…

I don’t care. I’m gonna make you all feel guilty. Her turned back shouted her silent protest. Oh well. Never mind.

The lounge was very Christmassy…

We ordered their classic afternoon tea. For the actual tea, I ordered Earl Grey, Hubbie opted for Rooibos tea and David went for Darjeeling.

The first plates they brought to our table were sandwiches…

There weren’t any customary cucumber sandwiches but we were given a plenty of savoury fillings filled slices and rolls, such as salt beef with mustard & pickles, salmon with dill crème fraiche, roast chicken with fennel & orange, beetroot with goat cheese and so on. They were all very delectable.

For scones, I asked them to include a few scones without raisins or sultanas…

So Bella could join in our feast.

Then for the cake selections, we were served trays of coffee & amaretto panna cotta, lemon mousse, mini chocolate eclair, pistachio Madeleine and raspberry Victoria sandwich…

They were all great. However, I much preferred to have them, the sandwiches, the scones and the cakes, served altogether rather than to be brought separately. Also the time between each plate was served was a little too long for us. Therefore, for those negative points, I had to say the experience was 7 out of 10.

By the way, their dog-friendliness was 10/10…

One of the staffs brought a bowl of water as soon as we were seated and everyone was very attentive to us and Bella.

It was around 5:30pm when we left the hotel…

That meant we spent nearly two and a half hours chatting and drinking tea?! Wow, time flies when we’re having fun, we all laughed…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

A Blog Paaardy Autumn Style!

I am participating in this virtual party event organised by the one & only Madam Bentley today.
My party is held in a secret garden with a charming little pond which basks in a soft golden veil of the autumn sunshine. My guests are not the raucous gatecrashing kind. They are philosophical and good listeners. While we sample our delightful picnic feast, we also savour each other’s amusing anecdote…

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There is a shooting alley at the bottom of the garden and we all have a go at it, aiming at the trinkets along the wall encrusted with Virginia Creeper…

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Later on, we venture out to a waterfront and inspect magnificent ships afloat. The wind is a little chilly but lots of laughing keeps us warm and jolly…

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Then, on our way back, we warm ourselves at the circus. From our box by the ringside, we admire the toned bodies of performers and their daring act…

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Once at home in a sumptuous Victorian mansion, we wander around endless rooms adorned with treasures and curios collected from all over the world…

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By the way, this is Madam Bentley, joining the party with her mesmerising attire…

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So much merriment and stimulation. I am giggling and gasping all the way…

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One certain downside of having too much fun is my customary headache after one such party.
However, I have a whole next week to recover from it…

Kaori @ Kaori Okumura

Victoriana @ Guildhall Art Gallery

Do you like the Victorian?
The Victorian era started as Queen Victoria ascended to the throne on 20th June 1837 and came to close on 22nd January 1901 with her death.
It may sound pathetically shallow but the era had been my least favourite period of the British history solely because of its distinctive aesthetic. For example, the architecture in the Victorian era looked like a mimic of its medieval counterpart. The excessive amount of motifs related to gothic artefacts employed in & around the buildings which emerged during the Victorian time connoted the general mood of the era – “Piety”.
They were crammed in with such vigour, like Norma Kamali in the ’90s did with her power shoulders.

Another image sprang up in my head when I thought about the Victorian was the interior of  the gothic mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. In my memory (therefore, it could be wrong), everywhere was covered with a decaying pattern of mediocre quality which added power to the already claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.
I thought everything to do with the Victorian was a bad taste and kitsch.

Then, one programme I came across by chance on BBC4 made me reconsider about my prejudice against the era.
“Pugin: God’s Own Architect” featured a long misunderstood and less appreciated Victorian architect, Augustus Northmore Welby Pugin. He was a dynamo behind designing the iconic clock tower of Big Ben as well as the Palace of Westminster. The programme recounted how he came to shape the Gothic Revival style and his tragically early demise – he was only 40 years old.
The programme also shone a light on the Victorian psyche – the undercurrent of the ordinary people who were deeply indignant about the Georgian era which was rampant with debauchery and blasphemy. The growing concern of the bourgeois class, including Pugin, regarding social & moral degeneration,was a catalyst of the change which propelled them to lead a polar opposite lifestyle. In the Victorian society, social unrest such as the French Revolution was far from being a distant memory. The people’s desire for living in a romanticised medieval Christian civic order was reflected on the surge of demand for Gothic inspired style and fashion.

The general trend which defines the era tends to oscillate between two extremes. The Georgian vs the Victorian was a classic example. Then, how about Modernism vs Postmodern?
Futuristically svelte buildings of the pre & post WW II were replaced with counterparts heavily encrusted with classical motifs. Like history repeating itself, the excessive ’80s was followed up by the pared-down ’90s which celebrated the aesthetic of John Pawson & Calvin Klein.

When I was flicking through nearly a month old copy of Time Out during my nightly soak in an Epsom salt bath, I came across this exhibition “Victoriana” at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City.
Hmmm.., sounds interesting.
Since the Guildhall was just a short bus ride away from me, I decided to pay a visit.

The Guildhall with its marbled forecourt…

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“Victoriana: The Art of Revival” was curated by Sonia Solicari, head of Guildhall Art Gallery. The exhibits comprised with the works by contemporary artists who were inspired by the Victorian era…

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As I descended the stairs. I was greeted with… insects!
My apology to all nature loving bloggers & readers but I am not very comfortable with any creatures with legs more than four…

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It was a part of the installation by Tessa Farmer, titled ” THE MINION AMBUSHED BY A MOB OF FAIRIES”.
She utilised an existing marble statue owned by the Guildhall and combined it with her signature touch of presenting exquisitely preserved insects which were implied to be the fairies in this exhibit.

The show at the lower ground floor gallery was an intimate affair…

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The works were displayed like curios in any Victorian parlour which added an air of authenticity to the exhibits.

At “Reimagined Parlour”, I was confronted by “TROPHY CHAIR” by Miss Pokeno…

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Since blood sports had become almost a bygone activity of the past, for modern urban dwellers like us, coming face to face with stuffed animals which were displayed as trophies of game, not as precious specimens in the museum, would be an unsettling experience.
Then I thought, what about our present society?
How would the Victorians react to ultra violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto? Wouldn’t they recoil in horror and disgust with the sight of unflinching violence unfolding on the screen?

In here, Rob Ryan, famous for his intricate paper art had fun with traditional Staffordshire ceramics…

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“I REMEMBER, NOBODY REMEMBERS” showed his interest in the nature of mass production which started in the 19th century.

We do have a lot in common with the Victorians. Probably, much more than we ever imagine.
After all, love it or hate it, the Victorian style was the very first cultural trend created by the public, not by any privileged ruling class.

Hubbie & I came across this building while we were sauntering around Brick Lane yesterday…

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The window detail was unmistakably Victorian…

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The stone on the wall by the entrance indicated that the building was opened on April the 20th 1887…

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The presence of the Victorians is still all around us, If only we care to look more attentively…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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