Three years ago we began a wonderful journey with our client D&D London, their landlord Argent and their base build team Allies and Morrison. Today, we can celebrate the realisation of this truly unique dining destination as we mark our ‘100th Bar and Restaurant’ opening.
So let us raise a glass to the revival of an incredible building; German Gymnasium, King’s Cross. Sip a cocktail and marvel at the soaring timber roof structure beneath which long-forgotten sports were once practiced.
Located between King’s Cross and St Pancras railway stations, German Gymnasium was originally constructed in 1864 for the German Gymnastic Society. It was the first of its type in England and the first venue to host our National Olympic Games.
We were commissioned to create a glamorous yet democratic contemporary European Grand Café to complement the newly invigorated King’s Cross masterplan, and transform the Grade II-listed building into a unique destination. Our concept is a refined modern insertion within the existing building; a Bauhaus version of a European Grand Café.
German Gymnasium includes a ground floor Grand Café, first floor restaurant, cocktail bar, private dining area and outdoor terrace. With seating for over 400 guests, the impressive internal volume has been broken down to create several different areas for a range of gatherings, from intimate dinner parties to extravagant celebrations. Back-of-house areas have been cleverly located so as not to compromise prime dining space and to provide visual treats.
Conran and Partner’s Project Director, Tina Norden, led on all aspects of the design of German Gymnasium and drew on her own German heritage to realise D&D London’s vision of bringing a new all-day dining experience to the Capital. Inspired by the grand cafés and brasseries of Central Europe, banquette seating, timber wall panelling and opulent patterned flooring have been interpreted for the 21st Century. She says:
“Every D&D restaurant is a unique destination and treated with a particular and distinct design approach. Our brief for German Gymnasium was to create a modern interpretation of a classic brasserie, with German undertones – which led to much research, exploration and analysis.
“And, as someone with a German background myself, I was particularly conscious of our responsibility to honour and celebrate the building’s past as well as take it forward to an exciting future as a ‘destination’ restaurant and bar. I hope we have achieved this.”
The main spatial concept was to reinstate the first floor ‘viewing’ gallery (previously in filled in the 90’s for office space) to allow for impressive views of all dining areas and most importantly the breath-taking roof structure. Two new contemporary black steel staircases heroically frame the space, adding drama and elegance.
Many of the building’s unique historic details, such as the climbing hooks in the ceiling and cast steel columns, have been retained, setting the tone for the choice of materials, colours and textures for interior detailing. Warm, walnut timber panelling and black and grey distressed leather upholstery have been juxtaposed with fresh, contemporary insertions such as the occasional pink and red tone to add depth and visual interest.
We also played with references to the building’s sporting past, by designing a marble floor pattern reminiscent of gymnasium floors. Handrails and gold mesh screens inspired by Victorian fencing masks have been incorporated, and loop motifs in the timber panelling echo a recurring element of Victorian sports venues.
A tremendous bespoke timepiece, made by leaders in railway clock manufacturing, Smiths of Derby, takes pride of place on the far wall. Spanning two metres, the clock serves visiting travellers “watching the clock” before boarding their train from London’s gateway to Europe.
In the evenings, low-key lighting creates an intimate, inviting and warm atmosphere for private conversation, dining and drinking until the early hours.
The kitchen and services for the first floor restaurant sit behind the double-stacked cocktail bar, clad entirely in bronze mirror to subtlety reflect the restaurant in warm sepia tones, and to create a glamorous effect when viewed from the grand café. The patisserie, kitchen, offices and plant rooms are concealed between the ground and first floors on a ‘hidden’ mezzanine level.
The main kitchen on the ground floor, completely rendered in black, can be seen from the street behind dramatic windows, beckoning passing commuters with a view through to the grand café beyond.
Designed in collaboration with art consultants Muzéo, the washroom’s wallpaper features Victorian etched gymnastics swinging across the ceiling in a triple trapeze and performing repetitive toning exercises on elaborate wooden machinery, whilst dressed in full formal attire.