London's hottest restaurant opening of 2015: the German Gymnasium by Conran and D&D

by Kim Megson | 11 Nov 2015

Global restaurateurs D&D London have transformed London's historic German Gymnasium into one of the city's hottest new dining destinations, offering a cultural cocktail of cafes, eateries and bars.

The German Gymnasium, located in King’s Cross, will open to the public tomorrow (12 November) in a grand setting. Built in 1865 for the German Gymnastics Society, the Grade II listed building was the first purpose-built gym in England and was a host venue at the 1866 National Olympic Games.

Almost 150 years on, architecture and design studio Conran and Partners were tasked by D&D with converting the space into a “dining and drinking destination for foodies and international commuters alike”.

The two companies have strong connections, since D&D was established to acquire and run the former Conran Restaurants chain.

Conran have created a 447-cover complex evoking the spirit of the original building while offering a contemporary take on the grand cafes and brasseries of Central Europe.

In an exclusive interview with CLAD, Conran and Partners' project director, Tina Norden, revealed that the design was partly inspired by fashion designer Alexander McQueen, whose ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition of work at London Victoria and Albert Museum broke attendance records earlier this year.

“We looked at the raw grandeur of German Gymnasium and wanted to create interiors that were glamorous and contemporary, but would also celebrate beauty found in unexpected places, in the same way as McQueen’s work did,” said Norden.

Conran and Partners’ additions to the interior include two new grand black-steel staircases; a mezzanine floor accommodating a cocktail bar and semi-private dining room; a balcony overlooking the central dining space; and a main kitchen completely rendered in black.

“The building is listed, so there was a limit to how much we could, or wanted, to do with the architecture of the space itself,” said Norden. “However, we wanted to celebrate the stunning heritage features, such as the lofty, triple-height ceiling space with its magnificent timber roof and iron girders. These create a kind of industrial vibe that influenced our choice of materials, colours and textures, including distressed leather, black steel and huge brass mirrors.”

Gold mesh screens inspired by Victorian fencing masks pay tribute to the gymnasium Olympic history, while original fixtures – such as climbing hooks in the ceiling – have been retained.

Des Gunewardena, chair and CEO of D&D London, said the new dining destination would become an integral part of a resurgent King's Cross – which is also due to feature a Thomas Heatherwick-designed mixed-use complex.

“We've watched and admired King’s Cross coming to life in recent years and are so excited to finally becoming part of it," added Gunewardena.

“When I first saw the German Gymnasium building stripped out, revealing the interior with its 57ft (17m) floor-to-ceiling heights, I had a spine-tingling feeling. We love this building and its history. It deserves an exciting life in the 21st century and we are going to do our best to give it that.”

In a nod to the site’s German heritage, executive chef Bjoern Wassmuth has created a wide-ranging menu containing classic German and Mittel-European dishes. Guests will also be able to enjoy the German tradition of Kaffee and Kuchen at 4pm every day by tucking into traditional cakes and pastries such as apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

The site's dedicated drinking venue is called the Meister Bar, which will play German music until 1am. A specially-designed cocktail menu has been created for the bar, including a multi-sensory concept called Le Whaf – a special carafe that evaporates cocktails into low-calorie, inhalable clouds.

D&D London owns and operates over 30 restaurants around the world, including several in the UK and Europe. The company acquired the German Gymnasium site in January 2014.

Global restaurateurs D&D London have transformed London's historic German Gymnasium into one of the city's hottest new dining destinations, offering a cultural cocktail of cafes, eateries and bars. The German Gymnasium, located in King’s Cross, will open to the public tomorrow (12 November) in a grand setting. Built in 1865 for the German Gymnastics Society, the Grade II listed building was the first purpose-built gym in England and was a
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The Grade II listed building was a host for the 1866 Olympic Games / D&D London
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