Sargeant is overseeing all menus at the 91-bedroom boutique hotel,which includes the 90-cover Plum & Spilt Milk restaurant, GNH Bar and artisan sandwich shop, KIOSK.
But, after spending over 20 years as a restaurant chef, Sargeant is no longer lured by the prospects of running service every night and cooking under pressure, with the 39-year-old preferring to return home in the evenings to cook for his wife and two children.
“I want to be allowed to do other things in my career and in my life,” he told BigHospitality. “I prefer being more of a restaurateur than an actual chef - there are so many more things to do when you’re running a restaurant than just overseeing the service.
“It’s a bit easier for me in terms of the physical workload but the pressure is the same. I do have much more time now but the time I spend at work I have to use very wisely – the best thing I ever learnt working for Gordon was multi-tasking, and that’s a crucial skill to have when running restaurants.
“Do I miss being in the kitchen? Not in a million years. When you’re running kitchens, it’s all about writing menus, managing food costs, running service, and cooking under pressure – that all takes the love out of it.
“I’m able cook at home every day now for my family, it relaxes me. I’m so pleased that I’ve done what I’ve done.”
On the menus
Sargeant now splits his time between the Great Northern Hotel, his own restaurant, Rocksalt in Folkestone and nearby fish & chip restaurant, The Smokehouse.
At Plum & Spilt Milk, the restaurateur has introduced a menu of British ingredients ‘cooked simply yet creatively’. Taking the top spots in his kitchen brigade are executive chef Mike Denman, formerly executive chef at Hix Soho, and head chef Matt Laville, coming in from Pollen Street Social. The restaurant’s director is Scott Sapot.
Red mullet with braised fennel (£19); monkfish curry with pilaf rice (£19.50); and salt marsh lamb shank hotpot (£18.50) all feature on the menu, as well as an ‘on toast’ section and a range of fresh shellfish including Dorset crab and native lobster.
The railway theme of the Great Northern Hotel continues into the restaurant, with its name originating from the livery colours of the dining cars pulled by the Flying Scotsman. Floor-to-ceiling sash windows and banquette-based furniture complete the dining area’s bespoke design.
The F&B offering at the 100-capacity GNH bar has also been redeveloped by Sargeant. It now offers a distinctive menu of ‘small bits’, ‘big bits’ and ‘sweet bits’, with smaller plates including black pudding scotch eggs with HP sauce (£6) and crispy baby squid with harissa mayonnaise (£8).
Meanwhile, sandwich bar KIOSK serves hand-carved, generous and unfussy hot roast meat sandwiches including a salt beef Reuben (£7.25) and pork belly with stuffing and apple sauce (£5).
Great Northern Hotel’s owner-operator Jeremy Robson said: “I am delighted to have Mark on board. An exceptional space deserves an equally outstanding chef and I am thrilled to offer this exciting combination to both our guests and local residents alike.”
Asset management company RAM invested £40m in restoring the Grade II-listed railway hotel to its former glory,but Robson recently revealed details of a 'compelling' offer by a major hotel brandto potentially operate the property under a franchise agreement.
Mark Sargeant will take over the food and beverage operations from 18 July. The restaurateur is set to extend his reach internationally, overseeing the soon-to-open Oxwell & Co restaurant in Singapore. An exclusive ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ interview with Sargeant will be featuring on BigHospitality later this month.