Plum & Spilt Milk – The Best of British at London’s Gateway:
As a teenager, well before the Eurostar existed, I much preferred travelling by train. The French family who used to host me every year were kind enough to help me travel from Norfolk to Chambery in Savoie that way. My own parents would put me on the boat train in London and Monsieur met me as I arrived in Paris. We then travelled to the French Alps by couchette – strange bunk beds with sliding wood partitions to provide privacy. In Paris, before our overnight trek, we used to stop at Le Train Bleu, a stunning brasserie in Gare de Lyon. I was more than a little impressionable – the decor, the food and the service were something I’d never experienced in the UK. we did eat out fairly regularly both in London and East Anglia, the height of sophistication for me at the time was dining at The Swan in Lavenham or being treated to a fondue at the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square. If anything like Le Train Bleu existed in the UK train station, I certainly didn’t go there.
King’s Cross St Pancras has taken the mantle of ‘gateway to Europe very seriously – there are now a wealth of good bars and restaurants in the vicinity. Plum & Spilt Milk (named after the dining carriages on the Flying Scotsman) opened in July 2013 as the house restaurant for the Great Northern Hotel. It has somehow managed to evoke all the grandeur and style of places like Le Train Bleu with a contemporary flair and without an ounce of stuffiness. About as close as I’ve found to ‘casual fine dining’, the waiters wear jeans and while the seating and table settings are comfortable and stylish there’s not a tablecloth in sight. I arrived early and sat sipping a glass of champagne for half an hour or so until my companion turned up.
It gave me a chance to look through the menu, a veritable tribute to British food with Cornish mackerel, Shetland mussels, Shropshire blue and pennywort, Yorkshire rhubarb and Paddock Farm Tamworth pork. Everything seemed ‘just so’.
Once The Hedonist arrived, we settled down to the serious business of ordering. I was intent on avoiding beef, or I’d have been more than tempted by the Mey Selection Scottish beef, from the Scottish Highlands. My compromise was to order Loin of Balmoral Estate venison for my main course, whilst The Hedonist picked a large portion of scallops.
To start, trying to be healthy still I ordered RR Spink and sons smoked trout on a griddled potato cake with horseradish creme fraiche. I was initially surprised by what were quite substantial slices of smoked trout. It was delicious, though, especially with a light and piquant topping of horseradish. I found the potato cake a little heavy, probably a bit of visual psychology. It looked pretty much like a large blini but was much more robust.
Meanwhile, The Hedonist was happily tucking into a large bowl of rich, Cornish fish soup with croutons, gruyere and a herb mayonnaise. It looked for all the world like an English take on Bouillabaisse and was silky smooth with a good depth of flavour. Both of us sipped happily on a glass of Ad Hoc Hen and Chicken Chardonnay 2014 – a rich, buttery white wine from Australia that could stand up to both the smoked trout and the fish soup.
My venison arrived beautifully pink with fingers and shavings of salsify, Perigord truffle and a watercress puree. A meaty jus was served at the table, adding a sumptuous finish to an elegant dish. With it, I enjoyed a naughty portion of rosemary-salt fries, which would have been worth a visit in their own right. All washed down with a glass of smokey, liquoricey Izadi Rioja, 2011. I really didn’t feel short changed by avoiding the beef.
The Hedonist’s scallops were perfectly cooked, just caramelised on the outside and nicely opaque without a hint of chewiness. The whole dish was something of a picture on the plate, with lacy shards of cauliflower, fronds of samphire and a sherry vinegar caramel.
His wine pairing was a pinot noir, Devil’s Staircase 2015 an unusual choice which he seemed to find worked very well.
Our helpful waiter, apart from pairing the wines very well throughout the meal, encouraged us to order the Baked Alaska with mango and passion fruit compote. It wouldn’t have been my normal choice, but, flambeed at the table it made a stunning retro finish to dinner. And, the addition of a generous dollop of compote lifted the dish very well.
Overall, we both loved Plum & Spilt Milk. It’s grown up – you can book a table and eat without that lack of personal space you sometimes find in Soho. And, the food is really VERY good without being in any way ostentatious. It will be firmly on my list to take visiting friends from Europe or the US who just don’t get that the British can cook (and do have some fine produce to play with). Prices are mostly under £10 for starters and somewhere from £20-£35 for main courses. And, at least for me, it’s worth it.
We dined as guests of Plum & Spilt Milk
Plum & Spilt Milk
Great Northern Hotel,
King’s Cross St Pancras Station,
Pancras Road, King’s Cross, London N1C 4TB