An exercise in excellence. Dining @ Tom Aikens
London streets roar with city life. The tube is flooded with folks eager to get home after a long day, the weather is…bleak. However it is London, the ever grey sky looms overhead with the constant threat of rain but we persevere and it’s going to take a lot more than a little wet weather to keep Jess and I from our next destination. Restaurant Tom Aikens.
We walk into the busy restaurant and are quickly seated, it is of course tasting menu for us no doubt and we are both keen to get started. Tom offers a seven course taster and with the decision made snacks arrive on cue. Rillette, quail egg with truffle, puffed pork skin, the treats are almost overwhelming. We of course demolish these bites and get ready to move on to our next courses.
However standing between us is a mountain of bread! It is not like me to mention bread but the bread here is something else. Brioche, sourdough, porcini rye, it has everything. Paired with butter, oh glorious butter. This butter was flavoured with cheese and bacon, and another with mushroom. Can things possibly get any better. Usually I don’t want to fill up on bread but here, just tuck me into a corner with the remainder of the basket and I’ll be happy. No seriously.
In between mouthfuls of rolls our first course arrives. Crab, coriander, horseradish snow, coconut, crab vinaigrette. A light starter pairing freshly picked crab meat with the icy bite of horseradish. Coriander and coconut gave an almost green curry feel to the dish without taking away from the lovely oceanic flavour of the crab. A light start but with plenty of flavour to get us ready for everything that was to come.
Rabbit, rabbit boudin, sorrel, nasturtiums. This was a rabbit dish like nothing I’ve had before. The rabbit is delicate in flavour, lightly poached and served cool. The boudin gives great depth to the dish while sorrel ice and fresh nasturtiums provide acidity and freshness. It was an interesting dish to eat, as if the rabbit had tumbled into the flower garden. A nice design rather then the usual braised rabbit with sticky game jus.
A scallop shell is whisked in front of us. Baked scallop, grains and bread consommé. Wow. This dish was utterly incredible, the scallop had a rich, roasted flavour that, combined with the decadent clear stock was utterly moorish. The grains had a porridge like consistency that made for soaking up sauce and consuming each flavour packed bite a treat. Suddenly we are completely sucked into Tom’s world and cannot wait to see what he will treat us with next.
The next treat arrives in the form of house made ricotta, green olive juice, honey jelly, pine nuts. The ricotta comes fresh and in sheets, the pine nut in the form of sorbet and the honey jelled so lightly that they almost dissolve on the tongue. A vegetarian dish with bones, this dish had great structure and texture without being over complicated. The ricotta was fresh with a slight sourness, the green olive juice is slightly bitter but very fruity and the pine nut gave in to the rich creamy mouthfeel that all good cheese dishes should have. This dish was a surprise after the scallop but gave a pleasant change on the palette before we moved into the main performance of our degustation.
Open with a bang. Halibut, salt baked celeriac, chicken wing meat, truffle butter. This is a fish dish. Aikens writes books on fish cookery and dishes like this show why. Perfectly cooked halibut pairs with earthy celeriac and mounds of black truffle. This is fish that stands up as a main course, I think people’s predisposition to dislike fish is due to the notion that it tastes fishy. Wrong, good fish, fresh fish tastes of meat. Bright, oceanic but with a richness that stands up to any meat course. This was a fantastic dish. The celeriac added deep, roasted notes along with our earthy friend mister tuber melanosporum, that’s truffle in other words. All of these flavours pushed the fish into another realm, and it was a delight to destroy.
Now for the main event. The tasting menu says piglet or grouse. Our fantastic waiter seems to know us so well and of course brings both. Piglet belly, braised and roasted, baked aubergine, smoked apple. A dish filled with classic flavours, roasted pork with crackle that snaps underneath the fork, the smokey apple and the creamy aubergine. A roast dinner in a new form, the pork is of ridiculous quality and tastes as though it dined on only the finest. The smoked apple brings sweetness and of course the smoke that gives a flavour reminiscent of Carolina BBQ with the cream of the aubergine bringing everything together. Jess and I fight to get forkfuls.
Now for a taste of the woodland. Allenheads Grouse, grouse sausage, barley, blackberry. Another classic pairing of game bird and berry. This dish tasted of the woods, the blackberry brings a forest note cuddled up alongside the games richness that is perfectly cooked grouse. The sausage is bold and full flavoured with the barley bringing great toasty notes. The stomach is filling but I know that dessert still calls.
Once again we are agonised by choice, chocolate or pistachio. We have great waiters who are happy to decide for us. Why not have both. Ok! Pistachio, parfait, pistachio cake, pistachio praline. The many textures of snackable, oily, delightful pistachio. The cake is soft and crumbly, the parfait rich and creamy and the praline snaps deliciously. Gorgeously green this dessert brought this humble little nut to new heights and the dish was devoured in but a few mouthfuls.
I can see Jess’s eyes bulging at the remaining dessert. Chocolate & violet, violet sorbet, cocoa crumbs, honeycomb, crystallised violets. Dessert is about texture and this dish had plenty, cake, cookies, crumbs, sorbets, mousse. Every bite was intricate and exciting, violet is such an under-utilised flavour and brings sweetness, floral aroma and just overall depth to a dish. I love violet in dessert and here it is paired with decadent chocolate. I had to wrestle the plate from my beautiful fiancé just to get a taste.
With stomachs filled we settle back, then our wonderful waiter says “fancy seeing tom?” Well after dining like that we have to meet the magician in charge, so we head down to the basement to see the engine room. A quick handshake with the maestro and we leave the boys to their busy scrub and remaining pastry orders. Our table is now flooded with petit four, lucky we saved room. The chocolate box is full of delicious treats, green olive lollipops, black truffle ice cream, berry meringues, lemon tarts the treats seem endless and Jess and I must try them all.
So with stomachs filled to bursting point we waddle out of the restaurant. Tom Aikens is creating food with a new voice, it is original, interesting and most importantly delicious. If you’re in London step off the dreary streets and step into Toms world.
Be sure to ask for more bread.
Josh and Jess
Dined November 2013
Tom Aikens Restaurant
43 Elystan St Chelsea, London, England