A couple of years ago I had a very good birthday lunch at Tom Aikens' eponymous restaurant. The chef has a very distinctive style - the presentations are like a baroque David Bellamy fantasy, fronds entwining seductively over a plate with no centrality to the construction. Each dish is highly complex and it's possible to find a new element of a dish even up to your last bite of it. My one criticism of the whole menu had been that there was too much acidity overall, that flaw shouldn't apply to any review of the place though.
Recently Tom Aikens has published a cookbook. It's thoroughly user friendly and achieves this in two ways: first by presenting versions of his haute cuisine dishes, simplified for home preparation, secondly by including recipes for simpler dishes that didn't feature at his formal restaurant. These dishes do form the core of the menu at his new, informal dining venture, Tom's Kitchen.
Ben and I thought that it would be difficult to get a table close to the new place's opening, so I drafted in my well-connected friend, Nick, to act as our restaurant secretary. Nick in an amazing piece of organizational skill and subtle use of influence, er, phoned the restaurant. And got a booking. Harry completed our quartet.
Yesterday, Ben, Harry and I arrived on Cale Road and entered Tom's Kitchen with all the excitement and anticipation one can muster on a Monday after work. We were immediately jettisoned up the stairs and into Tom's Cocktail Bar, or the Games Room, as he calls it. We spurned the choice of pre-supper cocktails and tripped down to the restaurant. It was all slightly confusing so far.
The dining room itself is clean cut, with white tiles and sharp pale wood tables and benches. It's close quarters and we had to squeeze past diners and waiters alike. It's also very very dark. We sat down and waited for Nick to arrive. The menu is one of those, like the Anchor and Hope, where you'd really like to eat everything on it. It's solid but exciting food (if that makes sense), mainly English and French dishes but with Italian influences too. It's divided into standard courses and also into types of beast. Use of the kitchen's rotisserie grill features. Macaroni cheese also squats there, as is the law these days.
Nick and I both settled for the pan fried foie gras with bacon and duck egg (£13) followed by a roast pork cutlet with caramelised apple, cider and grain mustard sauce (£14). Ben leapt for the deep fried pig's ears £7.50), possibly spurred on by his missing something similar at the Anchor and Hope recently, followed by the spit roast shoulder of lamb (£16.50). Harry, the steak specialist, wnt for goujons of plaice (£7.50) and then a burger (£11.50, with bacon and cheese) (add American influence here as well). To accompany this we had side orders of mashed potato, savoy cabbage with bacon and parsnips (all at £3.50). With this we had a bottle or two or Heinrich red wine from Austria (£23).
The foie gras was really really good, together with the crispy bacon and a perfectly fried duck egg it starting me mulling a foolhardy plan to try this out for breakfast some time. The egg white was crispy at the edge, but the egg yolk oozed out at just the right thickness - fried in clarified butter we reckoned. Put one of your hands up to an ear and feel its sorta rubberiness and then imagine that deep fried. You might be imagining something resembling calamari now, which is how exactly how the pig's ears were. A sharp sauce was a good accompaniment. Harry thought his plaice a bit boring.
Everyone was very satisfied with their main courses. The pork was succulent, it was slightly pink in places though overall overdone for my taste. The crackling had been cooked separately and was presented that way, mine was crisper than cold day with a pack of Golden Wonder. On top of the pork the caramelised apple was sweet and melting, underneath was a bed of thyme, though I thought this was woodenly inconvenient and maybe even hazardous! I didn't try Ben's lamb, but maybe he'll comment below. Harry had ordered his burger medium but it came rarer than that and it suited him just fine. The side dishes were delicious but on the small side, the only part of the meal that didn't prove good value. We were stuffed but two of us battled on, Nick with the Poire Belle Helene, poached pears with a saucepan of chocolate sauce and myself with a cherry clafoutis that was alright but not convincing enough for me to finish.
And then finally, the Games Room. On Nick's recommendation the two of us had Ron Zacapa Centenario rum, Ben some Ardbeg and Harry, perhaps misguidedly, a Brandy Alexander. I don't normally drink Rum, but that's pretty good stuff! Vanilla and spice enhanced with some caramelised orange peel Nick had requested. It was a delight to have the room to ourselves, it's a nice size with big comfy chairs and free table football.
So, what's not to like? Well, it's still a bit shaky at this stage - our waitress hadn't been trained how not to dribble wine everywhere when pouring. The whole place is also slightly soulless - Aikens' book and photos in the same style are all over the place, they were clearly co-designed, this makes the place feel slightly over-marketed. And maybe some of this slight flatness of style is caused by the fact that the format will probably be a template for further expansion. Perchance the cutlery dies used as table separators were symbolic of this?
Tom's Kitchen, 27 Cale Street, SW3 3QP 0207 349 0202