Hotel restaurants can be a hit and miss affair: some excel and some merely fill a hole for weary travellers.
Karbon Grill bills itself as a “destination restaurant” and it certainly has enough about it to lure non-hotel residents through its doors. To hammer home the point, it’s been given its own entrance and stamped with its own identity separate to that of the Hilton Garden Inn.
To reflect the Pan-American menu, the fittings takes inspiration from upmarket New York diners with red leather booths you can sink into, retro Americana images on the walls and copper tiles in the centre of the ceiling festooned with industrial chic lighting. You know the kind: all spindly arms and exposed bulbs.
It all gels together well to create a light and airy modern brasserie that’s a little different to the other new restaurants springing up around Sunderland at the minute.
Though the decor and food may stem from influences across the pond, the name is a play on carbon in reference to Wearmouth colliery which once stood on the site.
As you’d expect from this huge 141-bed hotel, which took sixteen months to build in the shadow of the Stadium of Light, it’s a capacious dining area with plenty of space for families and larger groups - there’s also a kids’ menu for those with rug rats in tow.
We chose from the a la carte menu, a handful in both size and quantity. There’s plenty of choice here, nothing too out there, but a wide enough range to suit even the fussiest of palates.
As you wade your way through there’s a ‘while you wait’ section featuring moreish classics such as pork scratchings and houmous with pitta bread. Or, you can get stuck straight into the starters: a blend of American, such as Tennessee glazed ribs (£6.50), as well as more Mediterranean fare, such as the beef carpaccio.
It was the latter which won my patronage. It was £8.50, but this is the most you’ll pay from the starters section and you certainly get plenty for your pounds.
I was presented with sliver upon sliver of meat. The core ingredient is a simple starter, but it was elevated by Karbon’s presentation with drizzles of a light pesto and colourful blobs of lemon dressing. America may be the main theme here, but Karbon still does a great Italian job.
It was a perfectly light way to ease me into a heavier main course. You can pick your way through a choice of handmade pastas and gnocchi, which start from £10, build your own burger for a tenner, tuck into a pizza or sharing platter, but as this is a grill restaurant I went for something from its Josper grill - a hybrid kitchen feature, an indoor barbecue of sorts, which is aimed at retaining a meat’s moisture and flavour.
Did it work on my order of 8oz New York strip steak? You bet your bottom dollar it did.
Beautifully succulent and tender, it didn’t need to be wrestled with a steak knife like some of its contemporaries. At £23, it comes with chips or jacket potato and a choice of sauces or, if you’re feeling flash, you can top it with half a lobster tail for an additional £8.
I was full, but couldn’t resist the temptation of sharing an American classic for dessert: the key lime pie (£5) was a zingy dénouement to dining here which dips in and out of America.
Parking is provided at the stadium’s car park, but isn’t available when there’s major events, like the forthcoming Beyonce gig. The restaurant, which works closely with the club, is also proving chock-a-block on match days, so bear that in mind once the season starts if you’re after a leisurely meal.
Or, for Black Cat fans, Karbon Grill certainly turns up the heat for pre-match dining.