Tom Aikens has had some pretty bad press over the years, from the infamous branding of a trainee with a hot palette knife that cost him his job as head chef of two Michelin Star Pied á Terre in 1999, to the accusing of a guest of stealing an £11 steel spatula in 2004, to the controversial way he was able to save his business from financial ruin in 2008 whilst simultaneously leaving a large number of his suppliers unpaid and out of pocket – an act that caused many to question his integrity and morality. What has never been in doubt, however, is his talent in the kitchen. His eponymous restaurant in South Kensington was awarded a Michelin Star shortly after its opening in 2003, and in 2005 placed 8th on the World’s Top 50 Restaurants list. At the height of its popularity, Tom Aikens restaurant was one of the hottest tickets in town, favoured by the likes of Kate Middleton, or the Duchess of Cambridge as we must now refer to her, and Hugh Grant, and requiring a booking weeks in advance to secure a table. It was perhaps a telling indication of how things have changed then that we were able to get a table for a Friday night just the day before.
Only two tables in the rather staid black and white dining room were filled when we arrived just before 7pm, and the near silence in the restaurant, coupled with the overly formal service, made us feel compelled to speak in uncomfortably hushed tones to begin with. Thankfully the service did lighten up, as did the ambience in the room as more patrons arrived.
Upon being seated, a trio of amuse bouche greeted us, the best of which was a delightfully light cep mushroom and truffle zabaglione. The soft and flaky bacon brioche from the bread selection also warrants a mention. Our tasting menu then commenced with Roast Scallops, asparagus, flowers, shoots. The scallop (that’s singular, despite the menu clearly saying scallops) was perfectly cooked, but simply served, without a great deal of thought, in what can only be described as a bed of grass. It was a light dish, but none too inspiring.
Next, the foie gras course - Cured Foie Gras, pickled mushrooms, foie gras mousse, cep dressing. The mousse was better than the cured foie gras, and rather nice in fact, but again the combination with the mushrooms wasn’t an overly successful one, neither element really complementing the other.
The fish course was a Fillet of John Dory, mint oil, poached grapes, cauliflower purée that did nothing for me - it was one of those dishes you forget almost before you’re even done eating it. Loin of Romney Marsh Lamb, Tarragon purée, Berkswell sheep cheese, black olive crumb was easy on the eye, but continued the theme of inharmonious combinations producing unmemorable dishes.
The arrival of the first dessert course, Honeycomb, Greek Yoghurt, poppy seed ice cream, confit lemon, fennel, Ginestière cheese, didn’t exactly herald much of an improvement either – the poppy seed ice cream was lovely, the confit lemon the best thing on the plate and a pleasant surprise, but the honeycomb was too overpowering, the cheese totally out of place, and the less said about the fennel the better. The second dessert course, Chocolate Dacquoise, chocolate mousse, peanuts, chocolate pops, milk ice cream, on the other hand, turned out to be the best of the entire night. Better late than never, here finally was a dish where everything on the plate belonged, and was in the right balance. It came far too late to save the day, but at least ensured that the meal ended on a positive note. The madeleines served as petit fours were also excellent.
In a nutshell…
Far too many of the dishes involved unconvincing combinations that simply didn’t come together. The prices, some of the highest at any 1 Michelin Star restaurant in London, added further to the feeling of dissatisfaction.
43 Elyston Street, London, SW3 3NT
Average Price: £80
1 Michelin Star