Eating in the Tower
Set within the Tower of London surroundings, Sargeant’s Mess is looking to create a modern British restaurant
Review by Martin Stickley
As someone who works in London’s Square Mile I am ashamed to say that I often steer clear of the City’s more notorious tourist haunts over the weekends. It’s a shame; catching them on the right day means there is less likelihood of a crowd and even local residents should go out and appreciate a bit of history and culture every once in a while. One of my oft-avoided locations (especially during summer) is the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. At this time of year, it’s more often than not a seething wave of tourists and I can’t quite bring myself to try and wade through the crowds. Could my opinion be swayed now with the opening of Sargeant’s Mess, the new all-day restaurant, bar and deli from renowned chef Mark Sargeant?
Set within the Tower of London surroundings, Sargeant’s Mess is looking to create a modern British diner with typically British dishes in a historic setting.
For those not familiar with his name, Mark began his culinary career at Boodles, the gentleman’s club in St James’s Street, before working in multiple restaurants across Kent and London, including Oliver Peyton’s Coast Restaurant, where he won the Young Chef of the Year Award. In the late 1990s he became part of the team to open the soon triple Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. He was later appointed Head Chef of Gordon Ramsay at Claridges in 2001 before moving on to open several restaurants and pubs of his own including Rocksalt in Folkestone and Plum and Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel in King’s Cross station. Sargeant’s Mess is headed up by chef Simon Oakley who brings corresponding culinary pedigree having worked in the kitchens of the capital’s leading hotels, including Firmdale’s Covent Garden Hotel and the Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. The key thing here is their shared passion for seasonal British food and British ingredients; and that is the aim of Sargeant’s Mess; to serve a menu of seasonal modern British dishes that reflect the heritage of this historic London landmark.
Despite the combined resume of these undoubtedly talented chefs, have they bitten off more than they can chew by trying to realise this vision? Well in my opinion both yes and no.
First let’s talk about the food. Sargeant’s Mess offers brunch, lunch and dinner options, most of which have a traditionally British air about them. For starter I tried the haggis Scotch Egg with tomato chutney and gem lettuce whilst my partner went for the smoked mackerel pate with pickled cucumber. The Scotch egg was rather good although didn’t lend enough to the haggis flavour as I had hoped. The pate was also tasty although it came with such a small portion of toast that my partner was forced to spoon the remains into her mouth. For the main I decided to steer clear of the suet pudding or fish and chips and instead chose the pressed shoulder of lamb from the “dish of the day” menu. Although it would have been interesting to see what Mark and Simon managed to do with these quintessentially English dishes; I spend a lot of time on the North East Coast and flat out refuse to eat fish and chips when I am more than ten miles from the sea. The lamb came with minted potatoes and mushy peas and I also requested and extra side of buttered carrots. I am glad that I did; the carrots were a dream, gloriously crunchy and sweet. Just when I thought it was impossible to create something special with mashed potatoes, Sargeant’s Mess proved me wrong. The mash was also superb in both texture and flavour, riding the fine line between buttery richness and creamy sweet. You’ll note that so far, I’ve focused on the sides, well that’s because I couldn’t quite make my mind up where I stood with the lamb. It was a little dry (even with the full use of the accompanying gravy) and somewhat reminded me of a corn-beef hash I once had at Scout camp. That’s not to say it wasn’t pleasant, it was just that it had quite a basic flavour and the texture was too chewy. Thankfully my partner’s grilled Cornish Plaice was much better; the fish was cooked perfectly leaving the flesh succulent and soft.
To round things off we shared the lemon posset with shortbread. Gratefully the dessert menu offers more than sherry trifle and spotted dick; the posset was a definite hit, delightfully light with a bright citrus flash with the shortbread crunchy and rich.
So why do I think that Sargeant’s Mess is a bit hit and miss? Well, whilst the service was great and the food was, for the most part good, it failed to leap out and grab my attention. I also think that the location could either be something you love or hate. Dining within the boundaries of one of London’s most historic landmarks is undoubtedly special and the view of the Thames from the terrace equally striking but I fear that the restaurant will either be swarmed with tourists or like the Marie Celeste. Whilst the latter of these two could be right up your street if you’re looking for somewhere less crowded, the Tower rules also mean that the restaurant is forced to close at 9pm which might restrict potential non-tourist visitors.
Sargeant’s Mess Cafe-Deli is open Monday to Sunday: 9am – 4pm and the restaurant Monday – Friday: 11am – 9pm, Saturday: 10am – 9pm and Sunday: 10am – 5pm.
Enquiries: Sargent’s Mess, Tower of London, The Wharf, St Katherine’s & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB / 0203 1666949 / www.sargeantsmess.com/