Station break

HOME COMFORTS: The bar at the Great Northern Hotel in London.
HOME COMFORTS: The bar at the Great Northern Hotel in London.

What initially seemed a quite nice idea is now elevated to a stroke of genius.

The pantry at the end of the corridor - a little hang-out room with a Nespresso machine, newspapers and jelly sweets in jars - comes into its own when I totter in at 11pm, generously lubricated from a tour of London's hostelries.

Sat on the side is a marvellously gooey cake with strawberry icing, ripe for frenzied wolfing. Little treats, it seems, make appearances in the pantry a few times a day.

It's an extension of the making-a-hotel-feel-like-home concept that many hotels bleat about but few actually manage to pull off. The idea is that you wouldn't think twice about raiding the kitchen for a snack at home, so why should you here?

It's a different way of doing things, and that's a phrase that repeatedly comes to mind at the Great Northern Hotel. Sixty million dollars has been spent on renovating the oldest of London's great railway hotels.

Right next to Kings Cross station, it opened in 1854 as steam trains revolutionised travel and accommodation. Before railways, visitors to London would stay in private houses or coaching inns. The hotel was a new concept.

Over the years, however, the Great Northern declined and when it closed in 2001 it was a forlorn, grotty embarrassment that mirrored the area. Kings Cross was a seedy place to be passed through quickly.

Things started to change with the spectacular redevelopment of nearby St Pancras station, the British terminus for the Eurostar trains coming across the English Channel from France and Belgium.

Then in 2011, the audacious St Pancras Renaissance hotel opened at the front of the station. The area was a destination again.

This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff, however. A massive urban development plan is effectively turning Kings Cross into a new miniature city - 50 new buildings, 2000 new homes, 20 new streets and 10 new public squares are coming to the area.

The new-look Great Northern clearly wants to be a part of this, taking a very different tack from the St Pancras Renaissance. The latter is an exercise in cloistered grandeur, throwing old-school opulence at the guests and letting the magnificence of the architecture do the talking.

The Great Northern elects to embrace its surroundings rather than offer a refuge from them.

The bar opens into the concourse of the Kings Cross railway station, and the soups, muffins and roasted-meat sandwiches of the ground-level Kiosk food outlet are aimed far more at the passing passenger trade than hotel guests.

There's no yearning for fictional golden ages, either. There are plenty of little nods to railway heritage - French train posters outside the lifts, chevron patterns in the wooden floors, and smaller ''Couchette'' rooms that are designed to affectionately mimic Continental sleeper carriages - but the hotel belongs in the present day, rather than the era of top hats and steam trains.

The broad, gently curving corridors are an exception. They were designed so Victorian ladies could pass each other without their massive dresses brushing against each other.

And there are only so many changes you can make to a grade II heritage-listed building.

There are no such spatial extravagances with the rooms.

Those in the Couchette category are, frankly, small. The bed is built-in, up against the window, meaning one person has to climb over another to get out. Realistically, these rooms are better suited to solo travellers.

But while cat-swinging may be out, there is still a marvellous attention to detail. One reason the revamp cost so much is that every piece of furniture has been designed to fit the space it's in.

With the Couchette rooms, that means a cushioned bench is built into the wall with an ellipse-shaped table in front. It's neither a work desk nor a coffee table, but it can double as both. In the larger rooms, curvy top-grade couches stand alone as sexy set pieces.

A little exploration unveils a blizzard of thoughtfulness. The bedside cabinets have leather-padded drawers designed to close almost silently.

The wall by the bed has a USB socket built into it for charging all manner of electronic devices without the need for a plug. The wall-mounted flatscreen TV comes with a selection of movies for free. Again, the hotel-as-home principle comes into play. You wouldn't dream of paying per film at home, so why here?

More intriguingly, the TV brings up a series of music playlists. These have been put together by a local DJ, and when played they suddenly click - it's the music being played in the bar, restaurant and public areas. It always has the feel of a lovingly sweated-over mix tape rather than a bland list.

That considered, a curational touch shines through time and time again. Mirrors - whether behind the bed or on the bar's ceiling - have a distinctive embossed pattern.

The cocktail list is light on the classics and heavy on in-house inventions. And after a few of those inventions, the saunter upstairs to bed is inevitably via the pantry.

On Thursday night, a lemon drizzle cake broadcasts its tempting siren call. Don't mind if I do ...

The writer was a guest of the Great Northern Hotel.



WHAT Great Northern Hotel.

WHERE Kings Cross, London. +44 20 3388 0800,

HOW MUCH The Couchette rooms start at £130 ($250) a night, excluding breakfast. Larger rooms start at £170 ($326.6) a night.

TOP MARKS Wi-Fi is not only free, it's 500Mb a second bandwidth.

BLACK MARK The restaurant - Plum + Spilt Milk - looks great  but the food, though very reasonably priced, is not as stellar as the setting.

DON'T MISS There's a cleverly disguised mezzanine level to the bar - go upstairs to a hidey-hole surrounded by old pictures of nudes.

Sydney Morning Herald