When I last went to Tom Aikens flagship restaurant my lasting feeling was that although the food was pretty good, it wasn’t particularly memorable and I probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. Well two years on, and having heard that it had been completely re-furbished, had a brand new menu and there was a soft launch with 50% off, I thought it was time for a reappraisal.
The dining room couldn’t look more different; lots of space and light, a very Nordic feel, a lot of wood and a splattering of important looking quotes on the wall. I’m not sure what the quotes were meant to bring exactly; I liked “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all” but thought that “Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live” was a bit of a weird one to plaster all over an expensive restaurant, but each to their own.
The food itself follows on from the Nordic theme, it’s served on granite type “plates” and all of them came with rather a lot of foliage, a lot of it rather unnecessary in my opinion, some of it even unappetising, looking like it had been plucked from a Tesco’s value pack.
Another hat tip to current trends was the small plate zeitgeist; the menu offers a choice of 6, 8, or 10 course tasters or an a la carte 3 courser (which is only £5 cheaper than the six but has more sizeable portions). The food itself is rather hit and miss, a few dishes were very tasty but a few weren’t and the rest were just very dull. I stuck to a la carte, while my companions went for the six courser. I choose the pork and black pudding, the turbot and the white chocolate pudding, the rest of the dishes are from the tasting menu.
Things didn’t get off to a great start; I can see what the chef was going for with the raw turnip salad but I just didn’t enjoy it at all. I found the dish far too earthy and the texture was all wrong, one to avoid.
The pork and black pudding was a lot better, probably one of my favourite dishes of the night, lots of delicious pork cooked in various different ways with a punchy celery butter underneath it made me glad that I didn’t go for the tasting menu and stuck to the a la carte.
The foie gras with smoked onion was a bit iffy, the foie gras didn’t really taste of much and the smoked onion tasted of too much and was far too over powering.
The venison tartar was again rather bland and didn’t really work with the hazelnut puree that came with it. All I could think of was the Raw Hereford Rib with oyster & wild watercress that I had at the Young Turks and how much better it was.
The John Dory was perfunctory, if again slightly dull, a nice piece of fish but not much more than that.
The turbot with chicken skin was an example of Aikens penchant for mixing up meat and fish and in this instance I didn’t really think it worked, the turbot was perfectly nice, meaty and well cooked but I didn’t find the chicken skin or meat particularly complimentary, if anything I found it jarring. This was a dish that had a ridiculous amount of “stuff” on the plate, and it was all too much.
The final savoury course was one of the better ones; a lovely piece of lamb with breaded anchovies and ewe’s cheese, this was a mixture of flavours I can work with and they worked well although perhaps a little in danger of too much richesse.
Puddings came in the form of a rather confused White Chocolate, done a gazillion ways, none of them particularly good and all a bit muddled. The beetroot sorbet on the other hand was superbly light and was a nice end to a rather disappointing meal.
Leaving Tom Aiken I had the feeling that he was trying so hard to mimic the simplicity and popularity of places like the The Ten Bells, Roganic or even Noma but that his cooking lacked their clarity and punchy flavours. A lot of this cooking was muddled, forgettable and badly thought through. There are places all over London and the UK that are doing this better and, you feel, believe in the ethos more. Sadly Tom Aikens is just a poor imitiation.