It’s no cliffhanger what a place like “German Gymnasium” is going to be — or is it? We certainly haven’t spotted any lycra-clad gymnasts swinging from bars and balancing on beams at this Kings Cross venue. No, this German Gymnasium is perhaps coyly titled to indeed throw you off guard when instead you are presented with a stunning, grand café housed within a converted Grade II listed building.
Gymnasium isn’t an afterthought though —originally London’s first purpose-built gym (built for the German Gymnastics Society in 1864), there are still relics of its facilities with original iron hooks used by budding Olympians. And it’s not small either — the ceilings soar up to an epic height (hold on to your helium balloons) and there’s enough seating for over 400 patrons.
The entire building is spread across two floors, comprised of the Grand Café on the ground floor, an outdoor terrace, restaurants, bars and private dining areas. It’s a fabulous one-of-a-kind venue. Even the staff are fabulous — attentive, genuine and well-dressed. We suspect perhaps they are the embodiment of the former gymnasts here —what with all that shaking and stirring of cocktails, balancing trays of wine and weighty schnitzels…must be good for the trapeze, right?
German Gymnasium has gotten a lot of worthy attention for proving there’s more to German food than just big boulders of roast meats, sauerkraut and roast potatoes. Moreover, with the launch of their afternoon tea menu, they’ve taken the traditional British version to new heights giving the elegant meal a Germanic twist.
Their German tradition of “Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake) is served from 4pm, and they’ve made it even more established by marking this special patisserie occasion with the chimes of a stunning custom-made two-metre wide clock.
Given even the clock is grand, we’re thinking they need to retitle the place “The Grand German Gymnasium” because even the afternoon tea gets a bigger boost than just coffee and cake.
And let’s be honest —this it totally fine with us. Available in two varieties, The German or The Austrian, we opted for one of each — just because you know, playing swapsies with mini Sachertorte and Bienenstich is fun. Moreover, it’s even more outrageously fun if you start yourself off with a glass of Schloss Vaux Sext sparkling wine — as did we — before endeavouring the round tower of mini rolls, cakes and pastries.
It’s all so good-looking we’re surprised all the treats even make it out to the table before being pinched by seated diners at neighbouring tables. The mini brioche rolls were shiny and buxomly filled; and the tortes, strudels and cakes looked as though they’ve all been colour-graded and polished to movielike perfection.
As for the stunning delivery of said treats, it’s a shame that not all resonate with matching expectations. Savoury-wise, our pick of the stands was certainly the German —the Black Forest ham, North Sea brown shrimp, and Egg Mayonnaise all impressively satisfying.
When it came time to tackle the sweet shelves, we were hard pressed to choose a favourite stand as our table was silenced bar the exception of “yums” and “oohs”. Standouts being the Linzer Torte and the Apple Strudel (with that vanilla sauce….dribble, dribble).
However, lest we forget about ye old retro Black Forest cake — and might we add, it’s never actually gone out of fashion in its homeland. Perhaps because they’re doing it right, as they are here at German Gymnasium. It didn’t even make it to the sharing stage — one bite and it got the get-go to be devoured immediately, due to its unashamedly ability to harmonise a light yet creamy texture, and burst with sour cherries and booze.
Coffee and tea is inclusive of the afternoon delights, and we suggest you reserve this to the end — a shot of espresso saved us from taking a siesta on the curved lounged booths.
In fact, it’s a shame that the gym is now out of action, because after all those bubbles and cakes, the bellies are a little rounder upon exiting the building. But totally worth it.
Afternoon Tea is available in the Grand Café & Terrace every Thursday to Friday, from 3pm – 5.30pm and Saturday to Sunday, from 4pm – 5.30pm.
German Gymnasium, 1 King’s Boulevard, London, N1C 4BU