22 June 2013
So you've heard about the big name chef, who made his name working under Ramsay, opening up in the refurbished grandeur of a once iconic King's Cross hotel. The yesteryear venue name, the appropriately quixotic decor, the confidently egalitarian food and the bar, well, at least a couple of steps up from the Weatherspoons you'd normally find in a location like this. You've heard about it? Which one, because now there's two of the buggers…
Next door in the Great Northern Hotel and hot(ish) on the heels of Marcus Wareing's grand St Pancreas dining hall The Gilbert Scott comes Mark Sargeant's Plum and Spilt Milk (an indecipherably odd name unless you're a train spotter – P&SM the oddity obviously, Mark is still fairly common). The name refers to the site's railway heritage, evoked through colour and artfully referenced design rather than by slavish recreation of a buffet car thankfully.
And it is a truly, truly scrumptious design. As understatedly elegant as any of the grand dining rooms of the city. A ceiling mounted forest of light dapples elegant cream (or spilt milk) banquettes and warm golds provide a link to classily Deco black lacquered table tops. The little touches are the best. A darling milk bottle top mosaic lines the lofty period staircase up from the decadently deco bar and wall mounted sets of sockets provide handy USB and continental plug charging points over each table. Just don't leave your mobile on the handy shelf above the seating in your rush to get to the platform.
The staff handbook also looks like it's taken a leaf out of the Caprice Holdings service bible – sassy, clued up and personable, you get the feeling that they'd remind you of your departure time if you didn't manage to rouse yourself after a tussle with the carnivore's dream that is the short, sweet menu.
Starters are trad, light(ish) and often fishy. My thickly and thrillingly creamy smoked haddock soufflé glistened richly under a blanket of cheese sauce in an individual Staub pot bed, a little poached quail's egg perched on top like a candied fruit on a posh chocolate. It certainly gives the Dean Street Town House's version a run for its money. Other than that little piscine pearl, there was potted shrimp, dill cured salmon and delightfully moreish, gravy soaked lamb sweetbreads that we couldn't help but share among the table.
It's not exactly ground breaking cuisine, but I don't get the sense that this restaurant is meant to be that. It isn't a light and casual snack before travelling. This is a big meal before you hunker down into your first class seat on the way to Brussels for that meeting.
Mains are similarly (and for me agreeably) old-school macho. They've got 3 or 4 hefty meat focussed options, a ‘house’ pie, and a couple of club lounge style fish dishes as well as a ‘grill section’. For the real food nerds, the latter are cooked in (under? over??) a razzy new Inka Grill – a competitor to the Josper Grills that have been springing up in meat heavy kitchens over the last few years
Loin of pork was enormous. A genuinely shocking hunk of pig. tasty, but heavy going towards the end and being long and slow cooked to avoid the drying out that could have occurred with a piece this size it was a little bit too one dimensional and, dare I say it, a little bland. Another couple of those Staub dishes filled with fine beans, darling slivers of heritage carrot and a fair spicy apple chutney saw it through though.It was hard however to avoid the food envy watching one fellow diner demolish a soft plate of silken deboned Jacob's Ladder Ribs with accompanying turnip mash and the other plough through a peerless fish pie of buttery richness.
Puddings were in the same gentleman's club vein, though thankfully not served in the same Staub pots (they must have an amazing deal with the company that provides them). While a shared Tarte Tatin defeated two at the table, I ploughed on manfully through my chocolate fondant with malted milk creme, succumbing to the food coma only on leaving the restaurant. If you find it difficult to doze off on trains, here's your answer.
Despite costing a deal less to dine there, on this showing it's certainly no poor cousin to The Gilbert Scott next door. Sure it's simpler, but in this context that's unequivocally a ‘good thing’. So we've now got a brace of ex-Ramsay chefs cooking up a storm in newly reinvigorated N1. Come on Angela Hartnett, how's about a hat trick?