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Andy Lynes

Restaurant Tom Aikens

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The last time we ate here was about four years ago.

We dined one sunny lunchtime as a table of four, expecting good food. What followed was much of a disaster. The service was ghastly, scandalously sloppy and irritatingly slow. To cap it all Tom Aikens love of beetroot resulted in a plate of food ( venison with textures of beetroot) that David Cronenberg would have been proud of. The only thing that was missing was the scary music.

We vowed never to return.

When I told my wife where we were going she said "Oh no, your joking, not the beetroot place".

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After reading a couple of good reviews outlining a full makeover I decided to give it another go. Not really knowing what to expect.

The room is still the same shape as it always was, except now its a lot less formal. Exactly in keeping with what is happening more and more on the London dining scene. That casual style runs through to the staff uniforms, there are none as such, or at least anything recognizable, they are all on trend but different.

The amuse that arrived tableside was a great teaser whilst we decided what to eat.

King Edward, ratte and violet potato crisps with smoked herring mayonnaise topped with paprika and chopped egg. Far better than my favourite Kettle chips. If this was the start, roll on the rest.

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It took a while for the freshly baked bread to arrive but it was easily worth the wait.

Four rolls in a hessian sack served with three flavoured butters. The bread first, cep, buttermilk, polenta, and I forget. Butters were a fantastic cep, bacon and onion, and plain.

A cracking selection.

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The lunch menu is tempting, a two, two, two, choice at £24 for two or £29 for three. The carte has a terrific choice two courses for £40 and three for £50, very reasonable for anywhere in London never mind a SW3 postcode.

Two tasting menus an eight course for £75 or six at £55. This is the one we chose. Applause to the kitchen also because both tasting menus are different making choice more difficult.

Raw turnip salad does not sound very exciting but I guessed basic it would not be.

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In keeping with the feel of the place the rough hewn plates showed off the food to a tee.

The chestnut consomme that was poured around the dish was a bit lost on me. The truffled chestnuts were interesting, as was the hazelnut mayonaisse that was smeared around the rim of the plate. Turnip tops and sliced turnip finished it off. Refreshing and quite a surprising combination. Good.

A signiture dish next, and one that we were looking forward to.Roast Foie Gras. which was pan fried with a cider glaze. A cracking dish this, needless to say we could have wallowed in a larger lump of foie but thats just us being greedy.

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The slow roasted charred onions were a revelation. Sweet, smokey, yummy and melting, and interesting enough in there own right, also note a thyme sabayon. The waiter told us one of the onions had been burnt on purpose just to cut through the acidity. The whole plate of food worked really really well.

Smoked Venison tartare cured with juniper berries was plated with horseradish granite, hazelnut mayonnaise and wild sorrel. Good textures, nice mouth feel, perhaps a dish that I personally would not normally choose but we were both glad it was included in this menu.

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The next dish did not really excite at first mouthful, but it gained stature with every single bite Roast John Dory. sweet cauliflower, poached and roasted, cumin seeds, brown butter and a selection of milk skin. I found out that the milk skin was made by poaching the cauliflower in milk then dehydrating the milk to end up with a skin. Next time we cook cauliflower, cumin will make an appearance with it, it really worked well.

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Romney Lamb next and this was fighting toe to toe for

the best dish of the meal with the foie gras.

Big, big briney flavours. Tender tasty nugget of lamb cooked sous vide, a bed of very finely diced green olives, goats curd, sliced confit garlic and a wonderful wafer thin battered deep fried anchovy. Our type of dish a real winner.

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We worried about the dessert, would it work, or would it spoil the meal?

Candied Beetroot you would not credit it. The stuff of our dreams (not).

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I have to say we thought the presentation to be stunning, would it deliver on flavour?

Jelly, meringue, and beetroot sorbet, and a selection of yogurts and a granite made up the plate. Hand on heart it was far better than we thought it could deliver. Truth be told it far exceeded our expectations. An excellent dessert.

The petit four showed thoughtful presentation too. Quite an elaborate and generous offering, one of the best we have seen. There were a couple of choccies that we nibbled on before I remembered to take the photo. Witness cinnamon garnache, ricotta dumpling, armangnac truffle, carrot cake, and three tuille with, hazelnuts, dark chocolate with pistachio and ?

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I'm not going to mince my words. This is the best food that we have eaten this year, and equal to many meals, if not better, than we we ate last year. We both thoroughly enjoyed this food. In fact I would go so far to say that if this was one of the young guns on the London dining scene like Ben Spalding, James Knappet and perhaps Ollie Dabbous critics would be raving about Tom Aikens and that is the sole reason why we wanted to try his food again, just to see whether he could still cut the mustard, and in my humble opinion he most certainly can.

Hand on heart I did consider not going, given the comments above, but I had already booked and would have fealt bad cancelling at such a late date.

We are more than glad to say that we would have sadly missed out on a truly super meal.

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A friend who's in the industry went the other day and his comments matched David's. Very impressive indeed seemed to be the consensus.

My only initial observation is could it get any closer to Noma if it tried? The look and feel appears to be very, very close indeed. Perhaps a little too close...

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My only initial observation is could it get any closer to Noma if it tried? The look and feel appears to be very, very close indeed. Perhaps a little too close...

Yes. Interesting the style has reinvented itself along the current nome-esque trend for "warm composed salads".

My beef here is that the dishes basically become interchangeable. The formula is roughly:

1) Take minute quantities of sous vide posh protein + granite or ice + random crunchy snow/soil/crumb + unusual foraged green + foam or emulsion.

2) Arrange apparently nonchalently (but actually very carefully on plate).

3) Serve. Repeat ten times. Call it an avant garde tasting menu.

This isn't particularly about TA per se. But you can get pretty much the same dish at Viajante, or North Road, or Dabbous, or Texture, Roganic, or Tom Aikens nowadays. What variation there is tends to be in the provenance of the ingredients (North Road/Texture: Scandi. Viajante: More southern. Roganic: British).

Essentially what these all are are what are called "composed salads" (salades composees) in classical French cuisine. Basically a bunch of complementary tastes and textures mushed togther on a plate.

Nothing wrong with that per se, and in the hands of someone like Nuno the results can be delicious. But it does all get a bit samey nowadays.

J

PS But on the subjects of Tom Aikens I do wonder if rather than spending all that money renovating his restaurant, he might have considered keeping the decor the same and using the money to make good the suppliers he screwed over. It would have been the decent thing...


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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What a bang-on and insightful post Jon.

Personally I don't mind the style so long as it's executed well and has flavour. It can be very exciting. There's no doubt the Scandinavian movement has become the biggest influence on gastronomy since the Spanish wave.

To clarify a bit more about TA though, it's the look of the place; the colour scheme, chairs and tables (without cloth) are near enough the same, why? Then there's the bread in the hop sack, and that's all before you consider the presentation of the food. I'm all for influence and homage, but it does appear to have strayed across the wrong side of the line. Putting the moral debate over the suppliers to one side, they had a blank canvas at their disposal so it would have been nice to see them develop something more original.

Still, the food's obviously brilliant. I'll certainly be checking it out at some point in the near future.

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Been thinking all weekend about this meal, so much so that I want to make a very early revisit to see whether or not the rest of the food is up to this standard.

These days that is a very rare occurrence indeed.

Compared to another high profile restaurant that we tried the next day this place is head and very high shoulders above it.

Be very interested to hear other folks opinion of the place and some of the other dishes on the menus.

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I am stunned at the extent to which he has "paid homage" to Noma. So many elements - the tables and chairs, the bread in the hop sack, the presentaiton of the tuilles, the herring mayonnaisse... But the tartare with sorrell and juniper really takes the Danish butter cookie.


Edited by IanT (log)

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Isn't it incredible that young British cooks can't have their own identity. First we had the wave of Ferran Adria imitators - some are still practicing his methods :wacko:. Now we have the Nordic copycats; Tom Aikens, Dabbous & Young Turks. All very good indigenous talent, but it does amaze me how they come to see this as the holy grail. How long will it be before Ferran's disciples jump ship?

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Not been to Noma, and have no real desire to do so, until we run out of restaurants in London to try that is.

From your comments it would appear that I dont really need to make a visit, we could return here for another meal and get two meals for the same money it would be for a trip abroad :wink:

Jon Tseng is bob on with his observation. In all of the places that are being talked about, Viajante, Roganic, Texture and of course Dabbous,(Agnar Sverrisson's ex head chef) etc, the very same style is evident.

Personally I see nothing wrong with that, these chefs are not daft they are in business and it obvoiusly suits them to adapt and refine and yes copy if you like.

I did suggest to our waiter that during the refit perhaps Tom Aikens had been out and about a bit to sample what is happening on the dining scene. "Of course he would be foolish not to take note of what is happening around".

Is that not what most ambitious chefs do whenever they get a very rare chance to dine elsewhere?

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I see that you're easily influenced by this Nordic nonsense practised by Brits, all the restaurants that you mention veer towards that particular style, the only exception being Texture, who indeed pays homage to his homeland. I find these imitators shallow and soulless, completely preoccupied with Noma. I personally found Noma very pleasant and hugely interesting, but that cannot be transferred here. It will be very interesting to see what direction these lost sheep will follow when Alinea gets top spot in the ludicrous worlds top 50 this year.

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I see that you're easily influenced by this Nordic nonsense practised by Brits, all the restaurants that you mention veer towards that particular style, the only exception being Texture, who indeed pays homage to his homeland. I find these imitators shallow and soulless, completely preoccupied with Noma. I personally found Noma very pleasant and hugely interesting, but that cannot be transferred here. It will be very interesting to see what direction these lost sheep will follow when Alinea gets top spot in the ludicrous worlds top 50 this year.

Sorry Trencherman, I'm not sure I agree with any of that. The industry needs innovators and it's natural others will follow. I'm sure many chefs were obsessed with Escoffier a hundred years ago and where would we be without his influence today? Answer: without much of the basic cooking technique employed at all these restaurants!

The influence of Noma may be writ a little too large in many of the gaffs recently mentioned in this thread, but they are far from shallow and soulless. It's doing them a disservice in fact. Yes, they may not be perfect, but there is a lot to be admired in all of them. And why is Texture of greater provenance just because the chef's actually Scandinavian? Take Simon Rogan, for example, who is perhaps one of the most considered supporters of British produce and its sourcing. I think it fair to say his food does have its own domestically inspired identity. Heck, he has even gone to the lengths of starting his own farm, or do you think that's just vapid because he's also treading in Passard's footsteps?

And to give Aikens due credit, despite my niggle about the aesthetic similarity to Noma, the general consensus is that he's producing truly fantastic food.

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My comments aren't directed at Simon Rogan's establishments, and I applaud his 'British' identity. What strikes me is the fact that too many young British cooks do see Noma as the holy grail, but that aside. I'm at a loss to understand how someone like TA, who let's not forget was considered a bit of a maverick when he first burst onto the scene at Pied à terre after the much lauded Richard Neat in 96. He was seen by many as a culinary natural, I for one enjoyed breathtaking originality. Now it seems he's ran out of ideas, and hopped over to Copenhagen. Now that's a real shame.

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Trencherman I was only talking to somebody yesterday about exactly that! Aikens was one of the most original chefs when he opened Restaurant Tom Aikens, it may not all have been to my taste but he was at least different to everyone else.


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

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I agree too. Five years ago Tom Aikens was one of the few chefs in London where if you were given a plate of his food you'd know instantly who cooked it. Cassonades, weird Jackson Pollock presentations, deboned chicken wings and all that.

Now while it looks like the execution is very good the style has been more subsumed.

Maybe this is just part of the maturing process. I went to L'Enclume for the first time over xmas, but to be honest I thought the food they were doing a few years back during Rogan's "crazy times" looked much more interesting.

Similarly Paul Kitching looked like he deliberately calmed down a bit when he moved to 21212.

Shame though.

J

PS Welcome, Trencherman!


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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Similarly Paul Kitching looked like he deliberately calmed down a bit when he moved to 21212.

Uhm, maybe he has calmed down, but not enough to avoid serving espresso in paper cups, one of the dumbest ideas I've ever come across.

Ah no, that would be having forks with only two prongs. :smile:

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