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Restaurant Tom Aikens


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Tom Aikens was the venue for an enjoyable first outing of the “’Twas far from snail porridge you were reared” Eating Alliance.

Four brave adventurers made the trip to deepest, darkest South Kensington in search of gastronomic titillation.

On entering the restaurant we were hit by the almost overpowering funk of the cheese trolley. The smell might put some people off but one look at that trolley groaning under the weight of its dairy delights simply filled me with expectation for the cheese course. In this regard at least I was not to be disappointed…

We started with some Pol Roger NV while considering the menus. The Tasting menu had been recommended by a number of people on another site and having considered the founding principles of our Alliance our choice was never really in doubt. We also decided to put ourselves in the hands of the sommelier and ordered the wine flight.

A special mention must be given to the excellent and very imaginative bread selection, some truly excellent breads.

We started with an amuse of four little forks laid out on a plate. One held a cucumber jelly and some celeriac, another a sublime combination of foie gras terrine, carrot mousse and a carrot tuille. Unfortunately I cannot remember the contents of the last two forkfuls. The foie gras was clearly the highlight, one of the best mouthfuls of foie I have ever tasted.

This was followed by a further amuse of chilled artichoke soup served over a jelee of asparagus and anointed with a poached quails egg and some (unbilled but very distinctive!) truffle oil. This was rather curiously served in a small vacuum pot similar to those in which foie gras terrine is sold. A delicious, seasonal amuse.

The tasting menu proper started with a scallop served with pickled endive and carrot, an orange vinaigrette and carrot and orange puree. The scallop was very nicely cooked, seared on the outside and just warmed through in the centre but I felt that the almost cloying sweetness of the puree did not add anything to the, already sweet, scallop. This combination did not work for me.

This was followed by cured foie gras terrine with red pepper gazpacho, pickled shallots, red pepper and raisins. Our waiter had singled this course out for particular praise earlier in the evening and as foie gras is a real favourite of mine I was very much looking forward to it. This expectation only served to add to the disappointment I felt with this lacklustre dish. The curing did not seem to add anything to the terrine, if anything only serving to blunt its flavour. The accompaniments failed in their task of raising this dish above the mundane.

Next was John Dory served in a horseradish veloute and accompanied by a celeriac mousse. The fish was well cooked and very fresh and the veloute had a nice kick of horseradish without overpowering the fish. This was a successful, if slightly unexciting, dish and one that I would eat again.

The roast lamb with roast lamb sweetbreads, wild mushrooms, fried sardine and pickled onion left me with a curiously “unsatisfied” feeling due to the miniscule size of the serving. The dish looked very appetising and, at first glance, there appeared to be a large hunk of lamb in the middle of the plate surrounded by some delicious looking sweetbreads. Unfortunately the bulk of this dish was the large pickled onion. My serving of lamb was limited to three very slender 50p sized pieces. Hardly one mouthful between them and too small to impart much flavour, certainly when combined with the curiously out of place fried sardine or the pickled onion. The sweetbreads were delicious but could not save this dish from being a complete failure.

The cheese trolley was then wheeled to our table. I can honestly say that this was the finest cheese service I have ever experienced, in fact I would go so far as to say that it is worth visiting Tom Aikens just to experience this course. The selection is broad, perhaps 40 French cheeses, all in excellent condition and including many I had not previously sampled. The waiter responsible for the cheese was knowledgeable and wildly enthusiastic. Once he realised that we shared his passion we received service the like of which I have never seen before. We sampled every cheese on the trolley. The waiter would cut a slice and put it on a plate in the middle of the table, we would then divide it into four and each sample a piece. These “tasting” portions became larger as the waiter warmed to his task. After tasting the entire trolley we each selected 5 or 6 personal favourites to be added to our individual plates to be served with bread, biscuits and a delicious fortified Spanish wine. Highlights included the comparisons we were able to draw between three different Bries; a regular Brie, a Brie with black truffles and a triple-cream Brie. Surprisingly I preferred the regular Brie (who knew that adding extra cream or black truffles does not automatically make something taste better?!) and a wonderful blue cheese which had been matured in a fortified wine (anyone know the name?). The cheese waiter must have spent 20 minutes beside our table; serving cheese, sharing our enjoyment and imparting his knowledge to us. A wonderful experience.

Following the cheese was always going to be difficult but the Coffee and Hazelnut dessert did not even put up a fight. A tiny, bland sliver of coffee and hazelnut cake was served with slightly artificial tasting coffee mousse chocolate tubes and an uninspiring coffee parfait.

The Lemon dessert was a definite winner however. I very much enjoyed the lemon rice pudding and the lemon mousse white chocolate tubes while the lemon sorbet nestling under a lemony foam was delicious and refreshing. Very good.

Good coffees were served together with some decent petit four including a wide variety of tuilles, madelines and truffles.

This meal was served at a leisurely pace over almost 5 hours and while we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly I have to admit that many of the courses simply did not work for me. I don’t think this was a case of the restaurant having an “off” night. Many of the preparations and combinations (the scallop and carrot/orange, the lamb and sardine, the cured foie gras) simply did not work in my opinion. I look forward to hearing from other diners to see if we were alone in being left cold by these particular dishes.

The peripheral items; bread, amuse, cheese, and petit fours were excellent but the body of the meal; starters, mains and deserts were (almost all) disappointing.

On this evidence the calls for TM's second Michelin star are premature.

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Ian - very curious - i adore all of the dishes you hated & hated the ones you loved (john dory & lemon dessert)

ah well

That is interesting. I don't see how anyone could have loved the lamb the night we were there, there was not enough of it to love! Did the fried sardine work with the lamb for you?

I can see the scallops, the foie gras and perhaps the coffee and hazelnut appealing to some people, more a matter of personal taste I think.

I'd say the lemon dessert is a bit of a splitter, it has quite an intense "lemonyness" that I enjoyed but may not be to everyone's taste.

I enjoyed the John Dory but would not say I loved it. What put you off?

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roast lamb with roast lamb sweetbreads, wild mushrooms, fried sardine and pickled onion

Not so much a plate of food as a situationist prank. What is going on inside that man's brain do you think?

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"Tom, these pickled onions are getting near their sell by date and these sardines are a bit whiffy"

"Hold on a minute, I'm just cleaning these sweetbreads." (Thinks: Hmm, that gives me an idea....)

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"Tom, these pickled onions are getting near their sell by date and these sardines are a bit whiffy"

"Hold on a minute, I'm just cleaning these sweetbreads." (Thinks: Hmm, that gives me an  idea....)

You know what, you just might be right, the version listed on TA's website is:

"Roast lamb fillet, roast lamb sweetbreads, black olive pomme purees, figs and goats cheese"

Certainly sounds a hell of a lot more appetising than what we got...

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That is interesting. I don't see how anyone could have loved the lamb the night we were there, there was not enough of it to love!  Did the fried sardine work with the lamb for you?

OK - one quibble with TA might be that the "main" ingredient isn't always centre stage. I found this more of an issue with the scallops. However, it doesn't really matter as I'm usually dazzled by the fireworks that come with it.

I found the saltiness of the sardine to be work just fine

I enjoyed the John Dory but would not say I loved it.  What put you off?

too much vinegar in the sauce. it needed something to cut through the "custard" but I got a serious whiff of vinegar which brought tears to my eye. also lacking in the visual feast that are his other dishes - I supose it was just too tame for me

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When I went to TAs on the lamb plate I had anchovies in a light batter, and deep-fried?

I went into a French restaraunt and asked the waiter, 'Have you got frog's legs?' He said, 'Yes,' so I said, 'Well hop into the kitchen and get me a cheese sandwich.'

Tommy Cooper

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That is interesting. I don't see how anyone could have loved the lamb the night we were there, there was not enough of it to love!  Did the fried sardine work with the lamb for you?

OK - one quibble with TA might be that the "main" ingredient isn't always centre stage. I found this more of an issue with the scallops. However, it doesn't really matter as I'm usually dazzled by the fireworks that come with it.

I found the saltiness of the sardine to be work just fine

I enjoyed the John Dory but would not say I loved it.  What put you off?

too much vinegar in the sauce. it needed something to cut through the "custard" but I got a serious whiff of vinegar which brought tears to my eye. also lacking in the visual feast that are his other dishes - I supose it was just too tame for me

I didn't notice any vinegar in the sauce, the horesradish cut the sauce nicely. Also the sauce was quite far from a "custard", I'd describe it as a foamy broth. The dish has obviously evolved over time.

When I went to TAs on the lamb plate I had anchovies in a light batter, and deep-fried?

Same preparation, the sardine is battered and deep fried.

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After the scallop surely a dish containing pointy birds may have been more appropriate.

Anybody else fed up with pointless verbs and past participles sprinkled and dusted onto menus?.

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After the scallop surely a dish containing pointy birds may have been more appropriate.

Anybody else fed up with pointless verbs and past participles sprinkled and dusted onto menus?.

"Anointed" was my actually my description. I'm not sure if it appeared on the menu, apologies for the slip into "menu-speak".

Nice reference by the way, anointy nointy.

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That is interesting. I don't see how anyone could have loved the lamb the night we were there, there was not enough of it to love!  Did the fried sardine work with the lamb for you?

I can see the scallops, the foie gras and perhaps the coffee and hazelnut appealing to some people, more a matter of personal taste I think.

I'd say the lemon dessert is a bit of a splitter, it has quite an intense "lemonyness" that I enjoyed but may not be to everyone's taste.

I enjoyed the John Dory but would not say I loved it.  What put you off?

I think that the small portion is perhaps a function of the tasting menu. We had the non-tasting menu at TA - and found that we had plenty of everything.

As for the lemon dessert - I had that (although perhaps I had a somewhat different version - dishes can change over time) - and my husband had chocolate. He got to choose first (although he's not usually a "chocolate" person). I found some of the lemon a bit tart for my taste - but my husband liked it (he's the kind of person who enjoys sucking lemons and limes - he loves tart).

I probably agree with you that TA isn't a 2 star Michelin. Then again - I've never been quite sure what a 2 star Michelin is - except a stopping point on the way up to 3 stars - or down from 3 stars. I don't think most people would disagree that it has easily earned the one star it has. Robyn

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I think that the small portion is perhaps a function of the tasting menu.  We had the non-tasting menu at TA - and found that we had plenty of everything.

It was not the size of the serving per se that annoyed me so much as the imbalance that the small serving of lamb caused. The three tiny morsels of lamb were completely overpowered by the huge pickled onion, the sardine, the mushrooms etc. The balance was way off.

As for the lemon dessert - I had that (although perhaps I had a somewhat different version - dishes can change over time) - and my husband had chocolate.  He got to choose first (although he's not usually a "chocolate" person).  I found some of the lemon a bit tart for my taste - but my husband liked it (he's the kind of person who enjoys sucking lemons and limes - he loves tart).

Parts of the dish were very tart I agree, I'm also someone who enjoys sour flavours.

I probably agree with you that TA isn't a 2 star Michelin.  Then again - I've never been quite sure what a 2 star Michelin is - except a stopping point on the way up to 3 stars - or down from 3 stars.  I don't think most people would disagree that it has easily earned the one star it has.  Robyn

2* is hard to judge, and is perhaps more easily defined by what a restaurant lacks than what it provides.

I can only base my judment on the 2* star restaurants in which I have eaten. I did not enjoy the food in TA as much as in either of Dublin's 2* venues, but found it to be on about the same level as La Gavroche. I appreciate that comparisons such as this are invidious, particularly given the huge gulf between the approaches of Roux and Aikens.

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Perhaps this will widen the discussion too much - but I'm not a person who has been converted to the concept of "tasting menus". I like traditional meals - starter - sometimes salad/soup - main - dessert - perhaps some amuse courses in the middle - or the dessert nibbles at the end. And I'm not sure most restaurants/chefs I've been to are fans of tasting menus either judging from most write-ups I've read about tasting menus. There are chefs who specialize in these kinds of menus - but I suspect a lot of chefs do them simply because people expect them to be done. E.g., we also dined at Gordon Ramsay RHR the trip we ate at TA last year - and almost everyone around us was having the tasting menu. Judging from the amount of food the people left on their plates - it was either too much food - or the food was underwhelming. And TA trained in part with Robuchon. We only dined at Jamin once - maybe when TA was in grade school :smile: - but we didn't have a tasting menu there.

Wish I could get to these places more than once in a blue moon - so I could compare things more intelligently (try the regular menu and the tasting menu) - but - unfortunately - we only get to London perhaps once every 5 years or so. And I'm sure that the next time we're in London - everything will be different. Still - I don't think you'd disagree that if TA was just around the corner (e.g., if you live in or are visiting the UK) - you'd have to try it - at least once. Robyn

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Went to TA last Friday night & had the tasting menu - completely different from the one I had last year. The main difference is that the portions are a lot smaller - but this is no bad thing as there was just too much food last year.

On arrival we were told that the air conditioning had broken down - and it was hot. Thank god they sat us down at the corner with the door wide open and a small portable AC unit next to us. I've no idea how others managed to survive. I have to say - I did think this was a bit off - they could have phoned & warned us and offered an alternate night. The heat obviously interfered with service – we arrived at 8 and didn’t leave until after midnight. Some very large gaps between courses.

However, as for the meal - IanT describes it very well above – the only difference seems to be our reaction. We thought it sublime – every course a winner (weak desserts, excepted – then again it was so late by the time they arrived I really couldn’t have given a toss). One minor complain – the scallop was overcooked. But the lamb dish seems to have been corrected – more substantial pieces of lamb were served. The John Dory – particularly wonderful – bore no relation to the dish I have a couple of months ago. The cheese took an age to arrive – the cheese guy was so into his job – but was well worth the wait.

Great meal, pity about the heat

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  • 2 weeks later...

Experienced my first visit to Tom Aikens last night and thought I'd venture into the world of egullet postings for the first time as a result :smile:

The menu was largely the same as IanT so I won't go throught the details other than where things differed- and I have to say my experience of the meal was also pretty much the same. I was really looking forward to going here and expecting/hoping to love the food - but left slightly underwhelmed.

Amuses were as described in Ian's posting and, for me, the highlight of the meal - perhaps the high standards of the amuses made what followed more disappointing.

All first three course were as described , with the John Dory being the highlight and the only dish I would choose to eat again. The lamb had lost the pickled onion but gained a (reappearing) pickled raisin and various tomato accompaniments. The size of the lamb was one single - i think 50p sized would be being generous - piece. I have no problem with small servings of ingredients in a dish but here the lamb and the sweetbread were just completely overwhelmed by the tomato, that you really struggled to taste them in the dish at all.

The desserts also differed - the first one being a chocolate and grapefruit theme and the final one strawberries in various disguises. I have to confess that as it took a long time to get to the desserts (we had to wait an hour after the cheese for the first one and then another 45 minutes after finishing the first for the second) that the details of them have somewhat left my memory. I do recall that choc/grapefruit had some tiny chocolate beignets stuffed with grapefruit mousse - the beignet was rather doughy in texture, a fanatastic rich chocolate ganache, a thin chocolate tube with grapefruit mousse and jelly, the jelly was served very cold which made a lovely contrast with the texture of the mousse and was very refreshing and an air dried strip of blood grapefruit. The strawberry dessert was quite artificial tasting - and consisted of various mousses and jellies in a strawberry sauce. I think there was a strawberry and vanilla jelly - which was simple and rather lovely. The sauce tended to overpower the rest of the dish.

It was so late by the time we'd finished the final dessert that we skipped coffee as everyone was just so exhausted. We arrived at 7.30 and left at 12.45 without the coffee course. The room was also incredibly hot - we were in the middle with one tiny air fan at one bit of the table which was completely inadequate. Unfortunately the heat resulted in everyone being just desperate to leave by the end having drunk gallons of water - not ideal :hmmm:

Overall I found that, whilst I could appreciate intellectually the continued use of the jellies and mousses throughout each dish - it seemed to me to create a continuation of the "essence" of flavours - as an actual eating experience it just didn't do it for me. This was for two reasons; firstly the jellies and mousses seemed to constitute the main part of each dish and this (overall) created a very overpowering experience, in some dishes the subtlety of the flavours did come through but overall, for me, it was just too much - by the third/fourth course I was leaving alot of what was on my plate despite still being hungry; secondly I found that the textures were also just too similar for my tastes, by the end I wanted something I could actually bite into as opposed to more jellies and mousses! Also the meal itself (and all of the table of 6 commented on this) when taken as a whole was very acidic and sweet. At the end of the meal I felt quite tired - although I think the heat/length of waiting times didnt help matters. The service was also slightly off - key, maybe the heat was getting to the staff too.

In summary I'm glad I went (but wasnt paying :biggrin: ) for the experience as I did enjoy aspects of the meal, and certainly those that didn't at least produced a strong reaction! Infact the most interesting aspect was the way in which the meal did really make everyone (and we were a mixed bunch foodies and non foodies) think about what they are eating/liked in food - I've rarely had a dinner where everyone in such a mixed group discussed their thoughts/reactions to each course in such depth. It was also fascintaing to see that even within our group of 6 people had very different responses to each dish - some loving/others hating - which mirrors much of the discussion on this board. However, for me, the "experience" aspect simply wasn't enough as the food just didn't touch me in the way that other meals have where you get that - without wanting to sound corny - emotional response to the food.

Apologies for the rather long length of these ramblings!

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  • 11 months later...

I've just seen that Tom Aikens is planning to open a second restaurant (round the corner from the first) to open late September / early October (about the time that his cookbook is due to be published).

According to the press blurb the site will include a 90 seat brasserie (serving "Modern British" food), bar and games room (pool table, table football) and space for his food and wine classes. It will be open for breakfast through lunch and dinner.

Head Chef is to be Ollie Couillaud (ex Grill Room at The Dorchester and La Trompette in Chiswick) so another plus is that Michael Winner is unlikely to visit!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Tom Aikens is obviously a busy man and was in the Sunday Times at the weekend in an article about Lifestyle Managers. Tom loves his (Emma Barnsdale from Ten UK), he even gets her to source his English Meat Suppliers! :shock:

My life is pretty hectic. A friend suggested getting a “lifestyle manager”, but I resisted — they wouldn’t know the ins and outs of my life. But basically, I was too bloody busy. Emma checks in every day, and I might send her three or four e-mails. She takes care of the dull, boring things, like sourcing English meat suppliers, home improvements, VIP passes to clubs. She’ll book the theatre, the dentist, hair appointments, holidays — she’ll get quotes, then I approve them

Lifestyle Managers

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Tom Aikens is obviously a busy man and was in the Sunday Times at the weekend in an article about Lifestyle Managers. Tom loves his (Emma Barnsdale from Ten UK), he even gets her to source his English Meat Suppliers! :shock:
My life is pretty hectic. A friend suggested getting a “lifestyle manager”, but I resisted — they wouldn’t know the ins and outs of my life. But basically, I was too bloody busy. Emma checks in every day, and I might send her three or four e-mails. She takes care of the dull, boring things, like sourcing English meat suppliers, home improvements, VIP passes to clubs. She’ll book the theatre, the dentist, hair appointments, holidays — she’ll get quotes, then I approve them

Lifestyle Managers

Sourcing his meat? That's not his 'Lifestyle', that's supposed to be his job.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Sourcing his meat? That's not his 'Lifestyle', that's supposed to be his job.

:huh: I suspect he might think his job is to cook it (and THAT'S supposed to be his passion BTW), not traipsing round the countryside looking for it. If that's not what he's good at, or enjoys then as long as the end product meets whatever quality criteria he sets for his supplies what's wrong with him getting somebody else to do the legwork for him?

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I don't think there is anything wrong with getting somebody to do the legwork but surely sourcing meat suppliers should be the responsibility of somebody employed at the restaurant with an interest in good quality products not a Lifestyle Manager who looks after Tom Aikens not his restaurant.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I don't think there is anything wrong with getting somebody to do the legwork but surely sourcing meat suppliers should be the responsibility of somebody employed at the restaurant with an interest in good quality products not a Lifestyle Manager who looks after Tom Aikens not his restaurant.

The PR spin when he was at Pied a Terre was that he was so into the job that he was at the markets early every morning selecting the produce himself. But perhaps he went to fewer society bashes in those days?

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The PR spin when he was at Pied a Terre was that he was so into the job that he was at the markets early every morning selecting the produce himself.  But perhaps he went to fewer society bashes in those days?

It's worth reading the whole article to get the full flavour of his busy life (including the need for someone to arrange "back-waxing or gushy messages on flowers").

Don't know if the service includes handy tips on dealing with third degree burns

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