First things first: The Cross is a venue, rather than a straightforward restaurant. Its concept is, however, a little involved if you weren’t around ‘back in the day’. A reincarnation of the legendary 90s club of the same name, it’s rebooting in what was the long running King’s Cross pub The Driver. Confused? The explanation is simple enough: the same owners, Billy and Gemma Reilly, were behind both, so essentially they’ve revamped one with the name of another from their back catalogue.
Anyway: let’s come to this venture fresh. It has a whopping six floors, including a minimal basement club (we liked the look of that), cocktail lounge, ground-floor bar and roof terrace with exquisite urban views. In a slightly strange move, it’s 25s only after 8pm, so keep this in mind if you want to have dinner with anyone who doesn’t remember the original series of Big Brother. Salvaged items and memorabilia from the original Cross nightclub set the tone across the floors, from a vintage cigarette vending machine to a fairground Waltzer car seat – and even a Buddha in the entrance.
Sitting sedately amidst the nostalgia is the first-floor dining room. An exercise in high-end plush, it's all polished marble, brass-top tables and bare brick, as well as super comfy banquettes, velour curtains and mid-century glass chandeliers. House music pumps away, unobtrusively referencing yesteryear – except that now, of course, the crowd is here for small plates rather than – ahem – small pills.
Salvaged items and memorabilia from the original Cross nightclub set the tone
The menu is loosely Italian. Dishes cost £12.50 to £25, with the enthusiastic waiter suggesting two per person – which is sort of the same as having a starter and a main, isn’t it? Or, more precisely, two starters. This is something I tried not to overthink as we sipped note-perfect negronis, as the temptation of the bread basket proved impossible to resist.
A wee gripe: small plates arrive ‘whenever they’re ready’ – we know the drill – but personally I’d prefer raw dishes to come before hot ones that don’t really benefit from sitting about. Still, the flavours were mostly on point, especially a trio of lamb cutlets, juicily medium-rare, with a pimped-up crust of Dijon mustard and vivid green crushed pistachio. Cod with beurre blanc fared less well: just past opaque, its sauce threw a slightly puny punch. Still, an accompanying golden crispy potato pavé was delicious, crowned with salmon roe for an umami thwack. And an al-dente side of broccoli was levelled up by crispy chilli, garlic and lemon.
The two raw dishes were highlights. Sliced scallop crudo balanced the citrus tang of orange and grapefruit slivers with its sweet white flesh, pomegranate seeds scattered like little dancing jewels. Ruddy beef carpaccio was dotted with earthy Jerusalem artichoke puree and the briny hit of anchovy mayo, artichoke crisps for texture. Desserts, which started at £7, were more of a mixed bag: an inoffensive rum baba was easily outshone by the palate-pleasing sharpness of a tequila key lime pie.
The Cross opened in September, and its cooking still feels work-in-progress. Yet there’s much to like, including service that was attentive and welcoming – if a little leisurely. The food scene in King’s Cross is eye-wateringly competitive, but with its tucked-away location well away from Granary Square, it might just offer something genuinely different in this corner of the Cally Road. And you can dance it off afterwards without having to disappear into the cold winter night.
The vibe A relaxed party spot. Come here to enjoy the food, people-watching and explore its many floors.
The food Simple sharing plates with mostly European accents. Don’t skip the raw dishes.
The drink Wines are organic and from small producers – a cheeky little Austrian Zweigelt at £36 a bottle proved a good match for both fish and meat dishes.
Time Out tip Enjoy a post-prandial boogie on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays as the basement club is open till 3am.