Meet me at St Pancras? Yes, but preferably in a few months’ time. Eurostar has done such an effective job of promoting its new London base it’s easy to forget that much of the station is still under construction.
‘The Circle’ shopping area, which will house the most attractive boutiques, will not open until 2008, ditto many of the outlets on the main concourse and the Midland Grand hotel – sure to be the main attraction of the development.
For the time being the Champagne bar – Europe’s longest – is the most compelling part of the new St Pancras. A branch of upmarket bakers Le Pain Quotidien is another plus – and certainly better than most station cafes.
For all that, on the return journey St Pancras proved a glorious station to arrive at; stepping off the train beneath the cavernous roof makes a stirring change from arriving at one of London’s grim airports.
Check-in also makes for a pleasant change from any airport. Security could have been friendlier, but otherwise things ran smoothly and we left on time.
On board things weren’t quite so slick – there was a good selection of newspapers, but we sat down to find a prominent coffee stain and crumbs on our table.
Neither the aisle nor our seating (around a four-seat table – two-seaters and ‘solo’ seats are also available) was particularly spacious, but the deep headrests were perfect for a power nap.
The food service began almost immediately after departure. Champagne was offered at breakfast and dinner, and the evening meal came with a choice of wines (two white, two red and a rosé). Cutlery was the real thing, but bubbly came in an awkwardly shaped plastic beaker.
As for the food, a pesto and mozzarella muffin was unpleasantly dry; hot smoked salmon betrayed no hint of smoke; and a ‘chocolate fondant’ was actually a brownie. The Bordeaux ran out minutes into service, leaving one of our party drinking his second choice.
Staff were attentive and polite, and offered refills of tea and coffee. Unfortunately, they knocked things over on more than one occasion.
Overall the new St Pancras has promise, but has yet to come into its own. And while Eurostar’s speed and convenience are remarkable, this time leisure select class lacked polish.
Journey details: Direct trains run seven days a week year-round (except Christmas Day), taking just under two hours.
Price: Fares lead in at £55 in standard class. Leisure select starts at £125, and business premier (with fast-track check-in and lounge access) at £185.