Inside the Great Northern Hotel – a transitory art gallery with Plum + Spilt Milk to boot
You’d think that the Great Northern Hotel, a thin, towering structure residing just outside the hectic delirium of King’s Cross station, would be a transitory sort of place – the sort of environment where there’s little time to sit and take in a piece of artwork.
In part, it is. In fact, the most pronounced exhibit on display is Paul Kenton’s The Centre of Time (above) which, indeed, is all about the bustling train station outside the confines of the hotel. There’ll be people who glide in and sleep – before departing St Pancras, perhaps, for the croissants of Paris.
But the Great Northern Hotel holds a premise that’s more than simply time – or a lack of it. It’s also a charming little refuge – an escape from the melee. Not least because its walls are adorned with colour and vibrance. It’s a hotel, sure, but it’s also an ever-changing art gallery.
Earlier in the year, the hotel teamed up with the British Library to celebrate 150 years since the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On one of its modern corridors guests and visitors could see a selection of original hand-drawn prints from various editions of the book.
Although Alice has since left the Great Northern Hotel, other pieces remain. And this year a complimentary, self-guided iPod tour of the hotel’s art collection, with narration by featured artists, will be available, too.
The modern décor (a recent £40 million refurbishment, no less) of the 91-room grade II-listed Great Northern Hotel sometimes contrasts the works – but usually reflects it. Working with the hotel and the British Library is Shoreditch-based ARTIQ, which curates a common thread of things. It enhances the experience and currently the walls hang with contemporary brush strokes.
Art is integral to the identity of the hotel, which was stripped back to its brick core during a £40million refurbishment yet sensitively references its architectural heritage as the world’s first great railway hotel.
As you enter, you’re met with The Centre of Time, a travel-inspired work by the British artist Paul Kenton.
The Centre of Time mirrors both the story of the original St Pancras Station clock – which smashed into a thousand pieces on being lowered following its sale to a private collector – and the year the hotel opened, with 1854 individual panels. The outer ring rings highlight the hotel’s exceptional location. Natural materials such as wood, copper and brass reference Britain’s great industrial past, while the centre celebrates the hotel.
Much of what you’ll find at the Great Northern Hotel is contemporary. The art displayed ranges from sculptural wall pieces, exploring the relationship with have with our surroundings, to intricate portraits of flowers that consider the effects of scale and light. Each corridor offers a different artist. ARTIQ focuses on lesser-known but well recognised artists, and also tries to find those in the provincial parts of the UK, unseen by London’s heavy eyes.
And then there’s Plum + Spilt Milk restaurant
Food is a different art form entirely. Although the restaurant echoes much of the modernism around the hotel and bar – it’s a salon, deep-set with gold and dark blue, mimicking the grand trains of old. You might hear the whistle of a steam train as you admire your scallops – you might too imagine yourself immersed in some fine carriage while you sip Pinot Noir.
Mark Sargeant is at the helm. His menu fits the bill – elegant, honed, something you might find over in Mayfair. It’s not cheap. But if you fancy something lavish before heading off on an adventure, it’d be an apt beginning.
The menu based on seasonal British ingredients. Dishes include beef croquettes with horseradish mayonnaise, pan-fried fillet of pollock with smoked bacon, peas and baby gem, and creamed beetroot spelt, beetroot crisps and goat’s curd. It is, indeed, a la Flying Scotsman dining car.
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