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Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Tom Aikens, London

43 Elyston Street, London, SW3 3NT, England **

Mon-Fri, Lunch 12-2:30pm, Dinner 6.45-11pm, Lunch Menu: £29 for three courses, coffee £5 supplement.

8.5/10

As J and I walked around the streets of South Ken, admiring the Georgian crescents and remarking open London’s unfailing and attractive ability to place council housing directly opposite what must be the London pads of the rich and famous, we both stated our desire to end up living in such an area. While this is in no doubt a possibility for J, it most certainly isn’t for me – but perhaps I can visit. One of the attractions of the area would be having such a wonderful restaurant as Tom Aikens as your local eatery. The dining room is a reasonably small affair, though the tables are well-spaced out. During our lunch 6 tables booked, including our own. No doubt the credit crunch is hitting the restaurant, though I might ignorantly wonder aloud whether Tom Aiken’s is more an upmarket local restaurant for South Kensington – it certainly did not have the suits one associates with the restaurants of Mayfair. However, one very noticeable victim of the credit crunch – if that is what is the cause of such an empty dining room – is atmosphere. The restaurant felt cold – temperature I mean – and empty, regularly the conversation of the separate tables stopped at the same time and the room was filled with a hush while numerous staff (though all of them attentive, more than competent and friendly without being intrusive) stood in the corner slightly aimlessly, almost embarrassed, waiting for something to do

This did not effect our enjoyment of the cooking at Tom Aikens. This was the finest lunch I’ve enjoyed at such a restaurant in a long time. The meal started very well with bread including a choice of semolina and buttermilk rolls and bacon brioches, alongside more standard fare of brown and ciabatta. All of these were served as individually baked breads, made on site. While the semolina roll was good, the bacon brioche was truly fantastic: flaky on the outside, sweet and moist on the inside and, well, exciting (8/10).

A successful amuse bouche kicked off proceedings. This consisted of a confit of rabbit hidden beneath a layer of chicken consomm√© jelly with chunks of celeriac, with a rich celeriac mousse on top. An enjoyably rich beginning. The jelly successfully avoided tasting of a Baxter’s soup (this happens more often than you might imagine in such restaurants), the celeriac mousse was particularly flavoursome with what seemed to be an addition of garlic and yet successfully did not dominate the more delicate flavour of the rabbit (8/10).
My starter consisted of a roast scallops, with cured duck breast, roast pine nut and mango puree. The scallops themselves were undone, leaving them slightly chewy. My personal preference for scallops is for them to be well done, so this was a slight left down. The dish did come together well though, with the mango puree providing appropriate bite to the depth of the duck and the pine nuts adding a little crunch to proceedings (6/10).

Mains consisted of roast loin and filet of venison on a bed choucroute red wine celeriac, fondant sage beignet and parsley crumb. This was wonderful. The venison arrived on top of the choucroute dressed in red wine alongside some celeriac. The edges of this had been cooked a little further providing an enjoyable crunchy texture. The venison had been cooked to perfection; extremely tender and succulent. Beignets seem to be very fashionable at the moment and this one was successful, with a light sage flavour coming through. On a normal occasion this would have been the highlight of the meal… (8/10).

Feeling a little disappointed by my rhubarb dessert at
the Ledbury the previous fortnight I ordered off the lunch menu and went for the truffle pannacotta, accompanied by black pepper truffle ice-cream, white-chocolate mousse, thin squares of white chocolate and truffle shavings. I think it is a sign of a great dish that I am still thinking about the intensity and richness of its flavours even now. It will go down in Fat Robin folklore. Each of the pannacotta, ice-cream and mousse were along a gradient ranging from silky and light (the mousse) to velvety and rich (the pannacotta). While all pretty much in the same general texture area (that is, smooth) each was sufficiently distinct to make for an interesting mouthful. While I appreciate such things are not to everyone’s taste, I am a fan of truffle and, as stated previously, black pepper as ingredients for desserts. What was very noticeable about this dish was the strength of the truffle flavour; a lesser chef perhaps might have backed away from having gone so full-out with arguably a daring flavour paring of white chocolate and black truffle (let alone also black pepper). For me this was a great success (10/10).

Petit fours here are generous to a fault. And such a statement is not something that comes easily to me. The number of sweet nibbles – various flavoured madeleines, chocolates, mousses of varying innovative flavours – were enough to warrant description as a second dessert. I am ashamed to say that neither I nor J could finish even half of these, though not for want of trying I assure you (8/10). A doggy-bag might have been a good idea.

What did others think? Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

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