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The recent refurbishment at Tom Aikens – earthy, beautifully crafted – reflects the delicious new menu. We went to try it out and meet the man himself
What could be better than an invitation to lunch at the newly refurbished Tom Aikens in Chelsea? How about a lunch that
includes a six-course tasting menu with wine and Champagne? Or perhaps a visit from Tom himself? Sound too good to be true? Well, for our lucky lunch clubbers, it wasn’t.
Following a six-month closure last year, Tom Aikens revealed its makeover in January. Gone are the white table cloths and black walls; the new look is younger and fresher, with a less formal approach to both decor and food. Oak floors, mismatched tables, comfortable wooden armchairs and stone walls extend throughout the 54-cover restaurant and into the 12-seater private dining room.
It was an intimate group of six PAs and event bookers that joined three Square Mealers and Irene Lentsch, the marketing manager for Tom Aikens Group, to check out the PDR. Before we began, Irene explained the new concept behind the restaurant. ‘It’s like a story,’ she said. ‘We start with an empty table, nothing but napkins and glasses and as the meal goes on the story builds up.’
Our story began with a bag of homemade bread. Initially everyone held back, steering clear of carbs. That was until we found out that the bread was still hot and the home-churned butters came in three irresistible flavours – onion and bacon, ceps mushroom and classic salted. It looked as good as it tasted, served in miniature potato sacks with hot cherry stones in the bottom to keep it warm.
The menus focus on seasonal, natural produce, which was evident in the flavour and presentation of the dishes. Each was served on a different stone or slate plate, in a palette of earthy autumnal colours. Tom spent
months sourcing the crockery and now has 12 suppliers from all over Europe, including Denmark and Holland.
The bread and butter was followed by a raw turnip salad with chestnuts, then roast foie gras with thyme and smoked onions. Both were packed full of flavours and exciting additions, such as the jellied turnip hidden under lettuce leaves in the salad.
Next up was venison tartar with grated walnuts, wild sorrel and hazelnut purée, which we all agreed was a highlight of the meal. Three courses in and the menu continued to delight and surprise. We almost expected a wood nymph to crawl out from under the roast John Dory and cauliflower cooked seven ways (course number four).
You might be thinking we’d be full by this point; no chance. The dishes were light and the portions just the right size to leave us satisfied but not waddling to the nearest sofa. So with space for more, we moved on to our final main course, beautifully pink Romney Marsh lamb with ewe’s cheese, anchovy and garlic confit.
But the kitchen had saved the best for last. The finale was a candied beetroot dessert, with yoghurt parfait, sweetened beets, and port syrup. Irene admitted the dish has had mixed reviews – guests either love or hate it. The verdict from the lunch clubbers was unanimous: we all loved it. Not too sweet and very refreshing, the bright pink pudding was the cherry on the top of a memorable meal.
While we picked and nibbled on petits fours and sipped tea served out of miniature teapots we looked around the table and saw our story had turned into Alice In Wonderland – minus the Mad Hatter. Then Tom appeared to talk us through the meal and answer any questions we had about it. This same personal touch is shown throughout his restaurant, from the food, to the crockery and the quotes on the wall with his name on them.
This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, spring 2012