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Tom Aikens in Chelsea

Rating: 85.
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Note: Tom Aikens closed his Chelsea restaurant in January 2014.

I first visited Tom Aikens eponymous Chelsea restaurant in 2009. At the time Tom Aikens had been mentioned in the Michelin guide as a 'rising star' for two stars for two successive years. The restaurant had opened in 2003 and was awarded its first Michelin star in 2004. Before opening his own restaurant Tom Aikens had worked in many famous Michelin starred kitchens, such as Pierre Koffmann's La Tante Claire, Joel Robuchon in Paris, Boyer les Crayères in Reims and Pied à Terre in London. Both La Tante Claire and Boyer les Crayères had 3 Michelin stars at the time and when Aikens became head chef of Pied à Terre in 1996 he retained the two stars, thus becoming the youngest chef in Britain to be at the helm of a two star kitchen. He was 26 at the time. Tom Aikens' career since has had its ups and downs. These have been well-publicised, particularly in the last couple of years, so there is no need to deal with them here. In July last year it was announced that the restaurant would close for refurbishment. In January 2012 the restaurant re-opened with a completely new design and concept, striving for a more informal restaurant experience.

Tom Aikens is open for lunch and dinner from Monday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturday). There's a set lunch menu with 2 courses for £24, 3 courses for £29. There are two tasting menus, 6 courses are £55 and 8 courses sell for £75. Finally there's an à la carte menu. I had dinner at Tom Aikens on Saturday 7 April 2012 and my husband and I each ordered 3 courses from the à la carte menu.

The first amuse bouche was Duck cassonade served with some cep powder; nice and creamy and wonderful earthy cep flavours. The next four amuses bouches were served on a single plate to share. Crispy black pudding - Beetroot crackers with a goat's curd and seeds and nuts filling - Crispy chicken skin 'crackers' with a peanut and coconut paste filling - Lightly smoked eel mousse served with a celery jelly - Foie gras rolled in hazelnuts. Four lovely amuses bouches, good and balanced flavours, especially liked the crispy chicken skin 'crackers'.

We were also served various types of delicious bread (very generously, but no need to eat the lot!) with three types of butter: salted, cep and bacon. Both the cep and bacon butter were gorgeous.

The first course was Lobster, pickled cucumber, yoghurt snow and lobster snow. The almost raw lobster was quite salty but this was toned down a bit when combined with the lovely pickled cucumber, which came in three different guises: balls, ribbons and slices. The lobster snow was nice and pure and there were lovely refreshing notes from the yoghurt snow.

The other starter was Marinated hand-dived scallops, apple tapioca, green apple jelly, discs of green apple, tarragon granité. All the apple textures were lovely, the apple tapioca was nice, although there was rather of it a lot on the plate. The scallops were very thinly sliced and very thin on the ground too; the few slices of scallop on the plate were completely overpowered by the other ingredients. Lovely tarragon granité, a great way to bring out the aniseedy side of the flavours of tarragon.

Second course was Pork (cheek, ham hock, fritter, pork fat discs), black pudding, blanched celery, celery butter sauce. Soft and rich pork cheek and ham hock which combined really well with the nice and crunchy (albeit rather chunky) celery stalk and the celery butter sauce. Lovely small pork fritter but the larger one was a bit disappointing: the filling was nice but the crispy casing had chewy bits in it. The rectangular thin slice of black pudding had a dry texture, I would have preferred a smoother and more succulent one. 

The other second course was Salt-fried Clarence Court duck egg, dandelion, duck bolognese, sourdough crumbs and caramelised and charred onions. Let's start with the onions: they were divine. The salt-fried egg was fine but I didn't get the salt-fried bit. Seemed like any other fried duck egg to me. Nice texture from the sourdough crumbs and the rather coarse duck bolognese. Unfortunately the duck bolognese was also incredibly greasy and it had clearly overdosed on fresh thyme. All in all an unbalanced and one-dimensional dish (rich onions, rich egg, rich bolognese) that lacked finesse and freshness. Would make for a great hangover cure at breakfast.

Main course: Cod, chorizo tartare, 24-hour squid, cod soup, chorizo fritter, crispy cod skin, young basil leaves. A beautiful moist piece of cod that was well-cooked and the piece of crispy cod skin was perfect. Lovely crisp and soft pieces of chorizo and nice chorizo fritter. Loved the combination of cod, chorizo and basil. The creamy cod soup was made from salted cod soaked in milk but was flavoured very heavily with citrus. Underneath the cod was the 24-hour squid which had a beautiful soft texture but in the context of this dish its delicate flavour didn't stand a chance.

The other main course was Turbot, crisp chicken skin, chicken mince, chicken jus, land cress and sorrel. The skin of the turbot had been replaced by chicken skin, which was tasty and crisp and worked really well with the turbot. The turbot itself was slightly but noticeably overcooked. Serving as a base for the turbot was a chicken mince and herb mixture. Like the duck bolognese this was greasy and again it had overdosed on the herbs. It did provide texture. The chicken jus was lovely and well-reduced.

For dessert we had cheese to share. Well-matured cheeses which were served three types of chutney, tomato and chilli, pear, apple and some apricots in syrup.

Various sweets and chocolates served with our coffees.

My visit to Tom Aikens left me baffled. On a conceptual level the dishes should work as they combine ingredients and flavours which in principle go well together. Unfortunately all the dishes in this meal (expect for the cheese obviously) went wrong when it came to either the fine tuning of the dish or its execution. The nice presentation of the dishes can't hide the heavy-handed cooking. I don't like saying this, because I liked the atmosphere of the restaurant and the very friendly, attentive and knowledgeable staff, but the food they were serving was seriously flawed, sometimes to point of being unpleasant. The food that was also served at very a high pace - three quite big courses in about an hour pushed me to the limits of my considerable appetite. I'm not secretly comparing Tom Aikens new restaurant to his old one; in fact I was very curious to experience Tom Aikens new concept but in all reality any restaurant bearing the name of a chef of such experience and skill should serve better food than this.

Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

Posted 11-04-2012


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