The demise of the UK’s flagship mid-range restaurants has opened up something of a gap in the market in London’s restaurant scene. As Zizzi and Byron depart from the capital, so too does a range of opportunities for those in search of good food for families and larger groups.
Step forward Sargeant’s Mess, the cleverly named new offering from Gordon Ramsey’s former protege, the Michelin-starred chef Mark Sargeant. The first of what Sargeant hopes is a profitable franchise has something of a marquee location, situated as it is within the Tower of London’s grounds.
To take advantage of the throngs of tourists that pass through the landmark attraction each day, the restaurant's menu is heavy on traditional British fare. But traditional doesn’t necessarily mean dull, something we were reminded of when tasting the Mess’s excellent haggis scotch eggs.
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As British as the shrill shouts of "C’mon Tim" in SW19 every July, visitors would be forgiven for regarding scotch eggs as simply unimprovable. Yet, as Andy Murray would no doubt attest, sometimes a new Scottish twist on a classic can serve up more than few aces.
After a delightfully refreshing taramasalata, it was onto our mains. While tourists will no doubt flock to the restaurant in search of fish and chips, Sargeant’s aim to provide a destination for the capital’s families and a meeting place for its young adults means the menu isn’t overly crowded with traditional pub grub.
Still, my companion opted for chicken and chips, which is probably now as classic a British dish as any other, and was served with a simple gem salad covered in zingy garlic aioli. My own toad-in-the-hole exuded warmth and nourishment, perfect for the slightly wet and cold early summer we found ourselves in, just before all the glorious sunshine arrived.
As any connoisseur knows, the success of a good toad-in-the-hole is down to the quality of the Yorkshire pudding. Too stodgy and you risk being unable to leave the dining table at the end of the meal, but too light and it risks being overpowered by the sausage.
Thankfully, the Mess’s offering is just right - with a selection of seasonal greens ensuring you can wolf down the rest of the plate relatively guilt-free. But unfortunately the same cannot be said for the other side dishes, with both our buttered carrots and minted peas resembling another British tradition: the school dinner.
Putting the sides to one side, it is time for pudding, which is where the Mess really excels. My dark chocolate mousse and peanut brittle is so delicious it barely touches my spoon, due to how fast I'm shovelling it into my mouth. The chocolate meringue meanwhile, prompts both my dining partner and me to wonder aloud whether the other needs the loo, in the vain hope of finishing the pudding before the absent party returns.
It remains to be seen whether Sargeant’s Mess will fill the gap in the market for an unpretentious, good food-serving meeting place across the country. But with this initial branch in the most handsome of settings, they are off to a good start.
Sargeant’s Mess, The Wharf, St Katharine's & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB; sargeantsmess.com
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