Sargeant’s Mess, the new all-day restaurant, bar and deli from renowned chef Mark Sargeant (Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, Plum and Split Milk), recently opened by the Thames. Sated’s Adam Barnes went on down to see what the new spot had to offer.
They call them ‘classics’ for a reason, right? Whether it’s served at the pub down the road or cooked at home by your mum, there’s a familiar taste of British cuisine that we all love and, while the idea of ‘British cuisine’ might get scoffed at outside of the UK, it’s true that we each have our favourite dish that only a Brit could think of.
It was with a hope to taste some of the classics that we stepped into Sargeant’s Mess, and you can’t really ask for a better location to do so. Tower Bridge is in clear view from practically any seat in the premises, there’s spacious outdoor seating under the shadow of the Tower of London, and the Thames is only a few steps away: if you’re going to taste something British, this ought to be the place to do it.
The simple elegance of the venue is immediately noticeable. Soft, plain walls help the warmth of wooden tables and chairs stand out, some arranged in rows resembling banqueting tables – although admittedly the limited number of people here makes such a function space sorely lacking. It might be a basic-looking venue inside, but it’s a smart design for the exterior. The real winner is the large wall-length windows that allow for maximum exposure to the spectacular view; there are few restaurants in London that can tout as prime a location as this one.
We pick a table by the windows, able to watch passers-by trundle along the cobblestones outside, timing our visit perfectly to enjoy the colours of the sky filter through from blue to yellow, orange and red as the sun sets somewhere behind nearby leafy trees and the walls of the Tower of London. We’re thankful of those strolling by, however; as other than self-confessed people-watchers, there’s not much else to latch onto within the restaurant itself. This is a Friday night and it’s practically empty: that’s a little strange, we thought.
Unsurprisingly it wasn’t long until we were presented the classics that we’d been hoping for. It’s an eclectic menu and offers a good deal of choice regardless of taste preferences, covering everything from steaks and salmon to lamb curry and prawn cocktail. Our choice of starter is a clear one, though: the Haggis Scotch Egg. Bit arrives promptly and is presented well; the crisp white plate with a bright blue trim add to the subtle, casual classiness that Sargeant’s Mess seems to be going for. The depth of flavour from in the scotch egg is a pleasant surprise and the yolks are perfectly prepared, with the crispness of the fresh gem lettuce complementing the crunchy outer layer of the scotch egg.
For the main course, we choose the Cumberland Sausage Toad-In-The-Hole, Greens, Onion (£12.50), a truly British dish that isn’t actually all that common whether at home or at a restaurant. On the other side of the table our guest had hoped for the Lamb Curry, Rice Pilaf, Paratha (£19.75), but it’s only after ordering that we told that this isn’t available. Instead it’s the Atlantic Cod, Dripping Chips, Mushy Peas, Tartare (£17.50): it seems that we’re both looking about as British as we can be at this point.
The toad in the hole came with a clever twist, a Yorkshire pudding style bowl sitting atop the curled sausage that just manages to hold its stability while oozing with thick gravy. The problem is that the gravy is just a little too much, swamping everything with its meaty flavour and not letting the rest of the ingredients stand out. The quality sausage itself could have gone either way but sadly it, too, is overpowered by the viscous liquid it’s swimming in. The other main doesn’t come out much better. Even from our side of the table, it is clear that the chips aren’t up to scratch. Battered fish was never going to offer the most complex of flavours, but the entire plate is dry from the fish and chips to the mushy peens and even the lemon wedge. It’s perhaps the most disappointing dish of all, especially considering that just around the corner and opposite the entrance to the Tower of London are two places you’ll get ‘proper’ fish and chips.
When it comes to dessert, we’re hoping for a little more, but are unable to make a direct decision. Aiding us is our friendly waitress, who playfully teases us by saying that strawberry cheesecake is perfect for our photography. In the end we settle with a Lemon Posset with Shortbread (£5.50), the Treacle Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream (£5.50) and the Strawberry Cheesecake (£6.50) that our waitress insists we try.
Where to start? It’s hard to deny the sweet-tooth in us at the best of times but having these three plates placed in front of us proves to be a challenge. The lemon posset has an initial great texture and a strength of flavour, but it is dangerously sweet and while the single, thin wedge of shortbread did admittedly seem a little sparse at first, it turns out to be a smart balance that could have otherwise been too much. Sadly, the cheesecake doesn’t match the same immediacy, and though the texture is perfect, it lacked a richness of flavours that isn’t helped much by the runny compote that the base is soaking in. Lastly, there is the treacle tart, which is by far the best of the trio. Its balance between soft, chewy filling and crunchy topping is masterful, and though the added scoop of vanilla ice cream itself didn’t offer the same quality it was, at least, a suitably plain pairing that helped us combine the hard and the soft of the tart itself.
As we leave and stroll quietly across Tower Bridge, the last remnants of sunlight still grasping onto the evening sky, we’re mostly struck with a sense of confusion about Sargeant’s Mess. We left just before it closed but hadn’t seen much in the way of activity inside the restaurant. Considering the footfall, we had seen pass by its doors, it is unusual that on a busy Friday night in the centre of London at a location appealing to both locals and tourists alike, such a venue should have such little in the way of custom. But then in truth, there wasn’t all that much to get excited about: the dishes were well-presented and high-quality, but not much better than the sort you could expect to see in your standard country pub. The classics are classic for a reason, but if that’s what a menu relies on then they need to be absolutely exceptional to succeed and bring people back for more.
Words and photos by Adam Barnes
Sargeant’s Mess, Tower of London, The Wharf, St Katharine’s & Wapping, London, EC3N 4AB