20 Dec James Elliott at Renaissance St Pancras Shares His London
James Elliott, St Pancras Renaissance RNavigator, Talks About London Away From The Crowds
Soothed talks to James Elliott at Renaissance St Pancras Hotel, holder of the Andy Pongco Award and Assistant Head Concierge at one of the most attractive hotels in London.
James Elliott at Renaissance St Pancras is a north London boy. Brought up in Islington, he used to pass the ruins of the building that were to become the Renaissance St Pancras as a child, making up stories about the iconic building as he passed it in the car. The old Kings Cross of the gas works now has changed beyond recognition and James is extremely proud to be part of that regeneration.
I caught up with James at the Renaissance St Pancras, where we drank Earl Grey and Green Tea, and chatted about the sort of places James sends his guests when they ask him for something off the usual tourist track.
James , tell us about the Keys Award you were awarded this year…
I went out to Malaysia earlier this year to compete in what is the best emerging young concierge around the world: the Andy Pongco Award. You compete in the form of essays, giving your own ideas on what you would suggest to guests and your views on the future as a concierge. It was tough but great to represent the country. It’s only the second time Britain has won the Andy Pongco Award!
Tell me something most people don’t know about London
I was fascinated to find out that many of the bollards around the city are made out of old canons that have been reconditioned. Even the newer bollards have been modelled on the cannons so that they look very similar. Even in Bloomsbury, you can sometimes see old cannons forming the base of old fashioned lamp-posts.
I also think that London focuses too much on the Underground to the detriment of its canal network. There are miles of waterways with abandoned buildings that criss-cross the city and you can get across from one side of London to the other with only the occasional lock to navigate. Hiring a Barclays’ bike and making for the canals is a safe, traffic free way to get from place to place, and there are some lovely pubs and cafes along the way. I always recommend the canals to runners who want to get away from the pollution of the city.
Where would you recommend for a lazy lunch?
I like the area of Camden passage, just outside Angel Underground station. It reminds me Victorian London or a Harry Potter set. It’s also shielded from the noise of Upper Street. One of my favourites is Fredericks which is iconic British European and very charming. Another place in Kings Place is a jazz music venue called Rotunda Bar and Grill, just underneath the Guardian offices. Here you can sit outside in deck chairs when the weather is good and have a lovely view of the barges. It’s a restaurant that focuses on sustainable food. They have a farm in Yorkshire where a lot of their produce comes from.
It’s not a lazy lunch, I know, but I’m a big fan of the old Pie and Eel shops and I believe you haven’t eaten in London until you’ve visited one of these. Visitors from outside the UK, and even outside London often, just don’t understand the tradition of these places. Still family run, and often in historic buildings, the few that are left are part of our heritage and have real character. They are also unique to London.
What do you do to relax?
I tend to head out to Broxbourne and the Lea Valley area for bike rides or camping. It’s such a lovely rural area. I’m also a big fan of picnics, I enjoy making up a hamper and heading off to places like Primrose Hill for the afternoon.
What free things to do would you recommend?
Old Mayfair is a lovely place to explore. Not to shop (although that can be good!) but for the wonderful art galleries which are all free to wander around. Everyone heads to one of the Tates so this is a little bit different. Gagosian on Britiannia Street is one of my favourites. They have unexpected artists and are always happy to chat to you.
Our Royal parks are also lovely, and each has its own identity. New York has Central Park and we have our royal parks. Regents Park with its boating lake is one of my favourites. You haven’t done London unless you’ve been to one of the parks.
If you love the thrill and excitement of markets, Spitalfields Market is always great for a browse, and each day of the week is different: one day it can be vintage and the next something else.
I also recommend the Bank of England museum, especially to families. Kids love to pick up the real gold bar and it has a huge amount of information on the history of money, including counterfeits and how to spot them. They even have an art gallery there.
Although you need to pay to go upstairs in the The Charles Dickens Museum, you can still visit the cafe downstairs and enjoy wonderful cakes in his old home.
As a child I got taken to The Geffrye Museum so many times it lost its attraction for me, but now I think the concept of showcasing rooms from different periods is fascinating. That area around the museum has been a big part of the Shoreditch movement, and now has a lot of Vietnamese restaurants based there, so I‘d definitely suggest combining the museum with a meal out in one these.
Good Places to Shop?
The Geffrye Museum has a great shop and I also love the ones at the British Library shop and London Transport Museums. You can get bags made out of the same textiles as seats on the Underground, and so many gifts are tied in with our history.
What’s Your favourite Season in London?
As a concierge it would be spring and all the anticipation of summer events that it brings: the races, Wimbledon, etc. I can also send guests outside more, which everyone appreciates.
Any advice for someone visiting London?
Use your concierge. If you’re looking for somewhere away from the tourists tell them as they won’t know. Use the map they give you alongside any Apps or websites. For me, it’s much more romantic, but I also think it gives you a better idea of the city as a whole, not just the tiny area your screen covers. The map is the tool that unites concierges around the world!
A concierge is the heartbeat of a hotel and can help with so much more than just booking dinner. We talk to other concierges too so even if it’s not our location, we can probably help, or know someone who can. It’s far better to get local knowledge from someone who knows the area than an App.
Finally, any last must-see places for visitors to London?
- The Foundling Museum http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk is a museum based at an old Orphanage
- Farmers’ markets in Marylebone High Street, Lamb and Conduit Street
- The Fitzroy Tavern Pub in Charlotte Street, one of Samuel Smith pubs, which only serve their own beers. You even can get chocolate stout!
- The St Pancras Gardens: a tranquil wildlife garden behind the station
- Old St Pancras church where you can see tombstones have surrounded one particular tree
- St Pancras New Church, where the atmospheric crypt is used an art gallery
You can find out more about the Renaissance St Pancras here