Think of Germanic food and what comes to mind? Wurst? Sauerkraut? Schnitzel with noodles? They’re probably up there, right? And for good reason, well, ok, the last one mainly because it’s a Sound of Music lyric. But there’s a lot more to Germanic cuisine, something I learnt for the first time when I lived in Hamburg as a student. Partly as a result of Hamburg being a port city and partly due to my apartment being located in the Portuguese quarter, I ate a lot of fish while I was there and lots of tapas style dishes with Portuguese and German influences and that’s just from one area in Germany. So I was intrigued when I found out the German Gymnasium, a restaurant (not a school!) focusing on Germanic cuisine, was opening in Kings Cross. I was curious to see what they would be serving up.
I’d been following the buzz about the German Gymnasium on Twitter and when they ran a competition to win dinner there, I gave it a quick retweet, never expecting anything to come of it. So, imagine my surprise when my phone started flashing with notifications one day and I found I’d been announced as the winner and so had won dinner for two.
A few weeks ago we had tickets booked for a matinee of The Winter’s Tale at The Garrick Theatre with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench and so decided to time our visit so we could enjoy a post-theatre dinner. After enjoying the play (it’s an odd little play but Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench were great), we headed over to Kings Cross and the rather impressive German Gymnasium building. It’s situated right smack bang between St Pancras and Kings Cross stations and located in a building that was apparently built in 1865 as a purpose-built gym for the German Gymnastics Society. It’s an impressive venue.
Situated on two levels, the ground floor Grand Cafe offers brasserie style dining, fanned out around a rather impressive floral centrepiece to the room, while the first floor Restaurant serves up the same menu but in a slightly more formal setting. We got there slightly early and after our coats were taken we were escorted to the bar downstairs where we ordered cocktails with a French barman. The cocktails were good and not extortionately priced and, best of all, served with a little bowl of pretzels, totally on theme.
We were soon escorted to our little cafe style table and set about perusing the menu. It’s full of hearty-sounding Autumnal food. It was a cold day, sharp with the frost that has been noticeably absent from December so far and so my boyfriend chose the potato and leek soup, dotted with chives and croutons and warming and hearty it was indeed.
My smoked Black Forest ham with celeriac remoulade and pickles was the surprise of the night for me. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting something chunkier, less delicate. Not what I expected at all (damn preconceptions), but good.
I was impressed to see a number of fish and seafood options, including the roast cod fillet that my boyfriend chose, it came with lightly pickled vegetables, capers and lemons all in an impressively vibrant smoked fish broth. Given that every bit was mopped up, I can only assume that it was good.
I went for something slightly more obviously Germanic with the veal schnitzel which came with a lingonberry compote and a potato salad. The schnitzel was huge, it’s really hard to properly get a sense of scale from the photo below but without too much exaggeration, it was the size of my face. The potato salad was hidden under the schnitzel and came mixed with gherkin which, to my non-gherkin loving nature will always remind me somewhat of McDonalds burgers (I pick out the gherkins without fail but there’s always a hint of gherkin juice that lingers).
Dessert is when we really start to struggle for food choices. Despite having somehow managed a relationship lasting seven and a half years with barely a raised voice, my boyfriend and me have opinions on practically everything that are polar opposite to each other. It doesn’t matter whether it’s taste, films, politics, books, you name it, we don’t agree on it. Thank god we don’t have to deal with raising children, think how messed up they’d be! With mains and starters we can just pick whatever we fancy but, in the spirit of caring, we feel obliged to pick desserts that the other might at least want to try, if not share. We managed to narrow down the dessert selection to about five choices, from that narrower selection my boyfriend became unusually decisive and settled on the Apple Strudel with vanilla sauce. With a good dose of cinnamon, this was proper wintery fare and reminded me of my go-to cake to bake – an apple and cinnamon twist on a standard Victoria sponge.
I spent a long time dithering over which dessert I’d choose from our shortlist as I was torn between the Pear Belle Helene and the Sachertorte. In the end, I did what I do any time that I’m truly conflicted over food and asked the waitress serving us which she’d recommend. She told us that the Pear Belle Helene was beautifully presented but light and if I wanted something more substantial, then the Sachertorte would be the better choice. Sold. It was a good choice too.
Overall impressions? German Gymnasium is a solid choice for a meal out. The food is good, although there is nothing particularly innovative or mind-blowing about it. Service was nice but could do with tightening up in terms of things like clearing away side plates before the main dishes arrive as the tables really are tiny and so things like that become more noticeable. We did visit a few weeks after opening and so I’m sure that will come in time. The building and atmosphere wows though and it’s the perfect cosy place to hunker down on a winter’s evening.
Full and, quite honestly, happily warmed by wine jackets, we headed back out into the night. As German Gymnasium is located right by St Pancras, we decided to wander through on out way back to the tube and to get a proper look at their Christmas tree for this year. St Pancras is my station for going back up home to Nottinghamshire and so I have seen it a fair bit over the years at all times of day and it’s definitely always at its prettiest at night when it quietens down a bit and even more so at Christmas when it’s lit up by twinkly fairy lights. This year, the 14 metre high tree has a Disney theme and so is made up of hundreds of soft toys, all topped off with, of course, Mickey Mouse.
The tree will be in place until 4 January, so if you’re heading by that way, do go and check it out.