Just like the man himself, the food of Tom Aikens has mellowed. From the long gone enfant terrible days of Pied a Terre, to the master of his eponymous restaurant, there is now a greater assurance, a confidence that comes with experience. This means that the menu has stabilized. Whilst there are still exciting combinations and a creative spark, gone are the frenetic days when the set lunch menu changed daily; and whilst seasonal changes are reflected on the carte, established favourites remain. Not that the quest for more stars has diminished. Indeed, one is constantly delighted by the genius and generosity that characterise his style.
Whether choosing from the set lunch menu or the carte, diners can be assured of well sourced ingredients, precision of timing, and fullness of flavour. Combinations of fish and meat are paired without the clashing of tastes and textures. From the amuses- bouches, through the six different types of bread including an excellent bacon brioche, to the pre desserts and petits fours, the attention to detail is meticulous. Nor are luxuries absent from the cheaper options: a set lunch featured scallops, foie gras and Anjou pigeon. Prices are very fair indeed for a rising two Michelin star restaurant: £30 or £65 for three courses on the set lunch and the carte respectively.
An amuse bouche of lobster meat, jelly and lime foam was light and zesty, perfectly serving its purpose of stimulating the palate. A brilliant set menu starter saw a large roasted scallop, its caramelized sweetness perfectly balanced by crisp pickled carrots, flecked with herby nasturtium flowers.
On the carte, plump langoustines were roasted and served in a tempura-style beignet. The braised pig’s cheek and ginger sauce offset the crustacean well, although the dish did not benefit from the pig’s cheek beignet.
Breast of Anjou pigeon, marinated in almond milk, was gently cooked to conserve its tenderness. It was served with confit leg and a fig puree to counter the gaminess of the meat. A beef dish from the carte was outstanding in its conception and execution. The roasted fillet, topped with summer truffles, was perched on a disc of ox tongue and duxelles, and enhanced by cubes of bone marrow. A port and truffle sauce of great intensity added to the uncompromising richness of the dish. The ratte potato, with its nutty texture and buttery flavour, was a perfect vehicle for a mash.
Desserts reach the same stellar levels. A trio of panacotta, ice cream and mousse revealed exemplary consistency in all three elements. The black truffle in the panacotta and ice cream exuded a heady fragrance which complimented the white chocolate elements in the dish. Poached strawberries with pannacotta, vanilla ice cream and mint syrup from the set menu proved a most refreshing summer dessert.
Special mention should be made of the petits fours, surely the best in the country. Whist other top restaurants have taken short cuts, Tom Aikens has extended the boundaries. A tray of fruit compotes, flavoured sugared tuiles, warm madeleines, truffles, and “tasting” spoons is presented with justifiable pride. This would be a good reason to opt for cheese instead of dessert, allowing the petits fours to add the sweet note. Surely they are a loss leader at £5, including coffee?!
Service is highly professional, being well informed, helpful and unobtrusive. The sommelier Gearoid Devaney is happy to suggest matching wines for each course without breaking the bank. Of particular note was the unusual Ice cider Leduc- Piedimonte 2006 which enhanced the poached strawberries.
Food of this accomplishment is well served by the sophisticated elegance of the restaurant itself. Generously proportioned round tables are well spaced in a room of white and black minimalist lines. Spotlighting is supplemented by table lamps perched above the bamboo window screens. Set in a quiet residential Chelsea street, hard to find for newcomers, the modest entrance belies the grandeur of the cooking within. Overall, the chef patron goes from strength to strength, having achieved numerous accolades, and definitely worthy of at least two Michelin stars. One feels it is only a matter of time before this and more is achieved.