“If I had millions, I’d move around the corner, just so I could be a regular here,” my dining companion declares over supper at Tom’s Kitchen. We’re at the Chelsea outpost. It’s the first of five relaxed farmhouse kitchen-meets-urban style restaurants in London, opened by star chef Tom Aikens. The youngest chef to be awarded two Michelin stars, at 26 years old, Aikens learned to cook under some of the best names in London, including Pierre Koffmann. The stars were earned at his eponymous restaurant, known for French food and fine dining. It’s now shut, but Aikens has announced plans to open a British tapas bar and restaurant.
While awaiting his next opening, there’s plenty to keep us coming back to Tom’s, especially with a new menu for spring. The Chelsea one is a particular favourite for it’s comfortable, familiar atmosphere and warm, welcoming service. Aikens opened the restaurant ten years ago, with clear intentions: use the best seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, supplied by British farmers and producers passionate about what they do. Nowadays, everyone is keen to name which farm the salad leaves came from, but Aikens has been doing this, in earnest, well before it became en vogue.
Full disclosure: I’ve been to Tom’s twice before and it is a favourite. Still, even favourites can disappoint, so a solid review was not a fait accomplit. I remember how good the pastry of a savoury tart tasted on a previous visit, and thankfully; the high standards of the bread-maker and the pastry chef haven’t changed a bit.
Generosity is a word that springs to mind during our meal. We’re served bread straight from the oven, and portions are plentiful – perfect for sharing. A few favourites are resistant to seasonal changes, like the fresh ricotta served with gremolata, and grilled sourdough. Other dishes, like dill-cured salmon on a layer of crème fraiche are welcome additions. At last, an un-smoked salmon! Pan-fried foie gras arrived with a duck egg and crispy bacon – a Paleo delight which packs almost as much hearty protein as a steak. Speaking of steak, my companion went completely carnivore and ordered the rib eye, which was cooked to perfection. Staff has well-informed opinions of the food, and I was directed towards one of the best dishes on the new menu: Cornish brill served on a bed of pea and mint puree with fresh herbs and mint oil. The taste was of spring: light, clean and flavourful, the contrast of white fish against the bright green of the mint and peas made for a beautiful, yet simple presentation.
It was difficult to choose with burrata and squash, and other salads on the menu, along more substantial dishes of lamb and duck. But, by dessert, we were groaning. Unfortunately, having been in winter, we’d become overly attached to Tom’s Panettone Baked Alaska, a flaming spectacle, even more divine to eat, than look at. Mario, the Italian manager, agreed, even he had fell hard for the Panettone. He consoled us with a sampling of ‘lighter’ puddings. Our favourites were the apple and almond tarte fine, with its caramelized edges and the ice cream sundae, served as a parfait with chewy hunks of honeycomb, drippings of caramel, and popcorn.
We have Tom’s to thank for saving us cab fare. There was no choice but to walk the mile and a half home after devouring every dish. We’ll definitely be back before the season is over. Thankfully, with such friendly staff, we needn’t be locals to get the ‘regular’ treatment.