Next time you’re waiting for a train heading north out of London, or for a place to meet with mates after stepping off the train, check out The Parcel Yard in King’s Cross railway station.
It is the biggest station pub in the country and occupies the site once used as the Great Northern Railway’s parcel office. The airy mail rooms opened for business in 1852 as part of Lewis Cubitt’s station design. The location was developed into a pub during recent renovations of King’s Cross, utilising wood and other features from the original building.
Revamping King’s Cross station
Just a few years ago, waiting for a train at King’s Cross was significantly less pleasant than it is today. A handful of fast food outlets and shops opened onto a coldly lit concourse with insufficient seating. Every now and again druggies and drunks would circulate between travellers asking for spare change.
King’s Cross station has long had a pub but the current incarnation is a far more pleasant place to sit and sup a pint than its predecessor. Also, being in The Parcel Yard means waiting away from the draft that can chillily sweep along the concourse, beneath the elegant arch of the criss-cross roof designed by John McAslan.
Thankfully, spending time in the pub also means being well away from the projection of a smiling woman in a collared blue shirt a few paces away from the concourse seating. She stands between a photo booth and escalator running up towards the station’s first floor restaurants.
“Please do not take luggage onto the escalator. Please use the elevators available,” she says between waving, nodding and smiling. She can be irritatingly cheery after you hear her hollow request for the 53rd time; something that takes a mere matter of minutes. Why use a simple, silent sign for that message when you can make things gratingly complex?
Inside The Parcel Yard
The Parcel Yard, meanwhile, has a laid-back vibe. Varnished wood floorboards have a deliberately scuffed appearance, adding to the character of the rooms. Natural light once flooded through the parcel yard’s glass ceiling so that workers below could sort packages. The two upper floors were suspended so that horse-drawn carts could pass through on the ground level unimpeded by columns.
Today the pub has white walls and framed window panes, meaning natural light can still flow into the corridors and rooms. Old-fashioned leather suitcases and travel trunks are a reminder that The Parcel Yard stands in one of the country’s great travel hubs. Look out for framed tickets on the walls, sorting boxes and old railway signage.
Meeting rooms in the pub
The pub is divided into several rooms. They include the Games Room, whose decoration includes a typewriter. Board games and a pinball machine provide ways to while away time prior to a departure.
The Board Room, which is a boardroom style meeting room, has a grand, polished wood table and framed photos capturing moments from lifetimes decades ago. The pictures include an elephant being shoved into a railway carriage.
The Station Master’s Office is a Grade I listed room overlooking platforms 0 to 8 with railway-related artefacts.
Beneath the wooden shelves of the Loft Bar, on the upper level, you can sit at one of the comfy leather sofas. Wood benches run along chunky tables that sometimes see use as informal meeting spaces.
A pub with table service
Waiters take orders and serve food and drink. For single travellers this is a god-send. In so many British pubs bagging a seat at a numbered table is a necessary precursor to placing a food order. Without a companion to watch over baggage while you nip to the bar, you run the risk of losing your table or your belongings. The table service alleviates that concern.
The most expensive dish on the food menu is the eight ounce rib-eye steak served with roasted mushrooms, watercress, chips and a peppercorn sauce (£24.95).
Anyone returning to the United Kingdom after a long trip abroad might be tempted by the fish and chips. The cod is served in batter made with London Pride ale alongside mushy peas and tartare sauce. For people departing the country by train from St Pancras International, this is the last chance to tuck into Britain’s most telling contribution to the world’s fast food culture.
Quality British pub grub
The venison pie is served with rich gravy, chunks of roasted swede, mashed potato and Savoy cabbage. It’s tasty and there’s plenty of meat within the pastry.
The desserts include sticky toffee pudding served with vanilla ice cream. The popular British pud is made with vintage ale and deliciously moist. Pleasingly, The Parcel Yard’s take on sticky toffee pudding steers clear of being overly sweet.
The pub’s pear, apple and cinnamon crumble is also worth dipping your spoon in if you enjoy a sweet finish to your meal. It’s served in an antique-style, flat-bottomed iron pan and comes with a jug of custard on the side.
Normally a cup of tea or coffee would be the ideal end to a British meal. The Parcel Yard has both. But with a decent selection of lagers, hand-pulled ales and draft ciders, it takes willpower as robust as the iron pan in which the crumble is served to resist ordering a pint to finish.
The Parcel Yard (Tel. 020 7713 7258; ) is within London’s King’s Cross Station. It is located beyond the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9¾.
Find out more about things to do and see in the British capital via the Visit London website.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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