BACKGROUND Mark Sargeant has returned to London from his self-imposed Kentish exile with Plum and Spilt Milk, the new restaurant at the Great Northern Hotel at London's King's Cross. The unusual name stems from the rail heritage of the building, mirroring the colour scheme of the old London and North Western Railway dining carriages. Clearly maroon and off-cream wasn't as snappy.
Sargeant is a Gordon Ramsey disciple, formerly heading up the now defunct Claridges dining room before opening Rocksalt, a harbour front restaurant in Folkestone, Kent in 2011, and the neighbouring The Smokehouse fish and chip shop.
The influence of Ramsey remains though, with classic British dishes dotting the all-day menu. The dessert menu is an antiquity in itself, including baked Alaska with macerated cherries for two, gooseberry pie and lemon posset.
The menu reads very similar to the neighbouring Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel, headed up by another Ramsay protégé Marcus Wareing. It's rooted in British classics, such as fish and chips, Salt Marsh lamb shank hot pot and a classic selection of British sourced meat and fish.
THE RESTAURANT The decor is an intriguing mix between modern and historic. The building naturally oozes history and looks fantastic following over a dozen years of dereliction, but the interior is self-consciously modern. The building is incongruously narrow, opening onto the new King's Cross forecourt and overlooking St Pancras. The dining room has the modern favourite design tropes of exposed light bulbs, floor to ceiling windows and white leather booths.
I normally dislike hotel dining rooms but this one feels fresh and welcoming. Set on the first floor, up a wooden staircase from the cosy bar, you never feel like you have entered a hotel, without a reception desk in sight. The makeup of the staff is textbook - celebrity chef, French waiting staff, a blonde hostess and a British maitre d', in a casual jeans and blazer combination.
THE FOOD We had a cocktail down in the bar first. I opted for the 1854, a combination of smoked pineapple syrup, crushed cardamom, Woodford Reserve bourbon and Noilly Prat, topped with a flamed pineapple piece. It was a like a smoky, pineapple infused Old Fashioned, definitely my kind of cocktail.
Once upstairs the two of us were sat at a large booth, which was slightly awkward, and the restaurant began to fill around 8pm. Generally, there were older groups or pairs of women. The French male waiter introduced himself and we were given menus and the highly accessible international wine list, with a price range from £19 to a £300 bottle of 1998 Chateau Conseillant Bordeaux red.
We struggled with the whites and the waiter helped point us towards Herdade do Esporão Reserva, Alentejo, 2011 from Portugal, which was a bit oaky for my taste but grew on me. We ordered some snacks first, with a pot of taramasalata and some broad beans with sea salt for dipping, along with some warm bread, all of which were delicious.
To start, I had the fish soup (£7.50), which came with the traditional accompaniments, except for the fact that the rouille was replaced by a kind of béarnaise, which seemed an unnecessary update on a classic. The croutons were ultra thin, meaning they didn't float particularly well and the soup itself was quite salty, with an overpowering tomato flavour drowning out the scallop pieces inside. It wasn't a disaster, but not a touch on anything you could get at a decent pavement restaurant in France.
The friendly maître d' told us there would be a ten-minute delay to our main and that he would bring us a middle course, which was nice but probably unnecessary - I wouldn't have even noticed the delay. The dish was the pressed chicken terrine with herb mayo starter, and after one bite I was glad they brought it out. Dressed wth salad leaves, sliced radishes and shallots the terrine packed the roast chicken punch you would want and the rich herby mayonnaise meant I couldn't leave it alone.
For main, we ordered the beef Wellington off of the specials, which was enough to share and was quite simply an absolute triumph; not only the best beef Wellington I have ever eaten (don't tell my grandad) but one of the best restaurant dishes I have had in a long time. Hearty, generous, perfectly cooked and with beautiful accompaniments, you couldn't ask for a better main. The Wellington was presented to the table before going away to be carved, revealing four perfect medallions of crisp brown glazed pastry, a thin but rich pate layer and a deep red, rare beef centre.
You could cut the beef with a fork and it was melt in the mouth delicious. I coated mine in the gravy and some English mustard. This was accompanied by seriously crispy new potatoes, roasted artichoke with whole bulbs of garlic and small pewter pots of creamed spinach, and roasted heirloom carrots, beetroot and parsnip. We had red wine with the beef, going for the Fleurie, Domaine de Gry Sablon, 2011 (£37).
For dessert, I was set on the gooseberry pie (£7.25), as you don't see enough gooseberries on menus for my liking. My friend went with the Eton mess, which is a classic but can't really be ruined, it was rich, fresh and delicious. My pie came out as a whole, with a warm pot of vanilla custard. The filling was a warm, soft and sharp gooseberry compote, but the pastry-to-filling ratio tilted heavily towards pastry, so I worked my way from inside out.
THE BAR The GNH bar downstairs is cosy, with plenty of seating around the central, marble topped bar and was buzzing on a Thursday evening. The barmen are knowledgeable and snappily dressed, with a great deal of care put into the cocktails.
VERDICT A really enjoyable dinner in a relaxed, generous restaurant. The starters and dessert aren't going to win any prizes but the beef Wellington was worth the trip alone. Another great addition to the redeveloping King’s Cross area.
OPENING HOURS Monday - Friday: 7am - 11pm
Saturday: 8am - 11pm
Sunday: 8am - 10pm