Harden's survey result
Last year’s makeover has failed to transform Tom Aikens’s casual dining venture in a Chelsea backstreet, which remains a handy amenity for breakfast or a bite in the area, but is “not what it used to be” as a destination (and inspires modest feedback nowadays). Meanwhile, its sister venues in Canary Wharf and Somerset House have closed down, amid little sign of the standards that made Aikens the youngest British chef to earn two Michelin stars at 26.
These “smart” casual dining venues in Chelsea and Canary Wharf win most acclaim for their “top breakfasts” and the Somerset House outlet has “a fabulous location on the river (outside in summer)”. The food is “decent” but gives no particular hints of much connection with chef Tom Aikens, who founded the group.
Erstwhile haute cuisine star Tom Aikens has switched his focus to these casual diners in recent years. Fans (the majority) praise their “lively” staff and “good bistro cooking at friendly prices”, but ratings are still dragged down by numerous reports of “slapdash” results.
“For a serious weekend breakfast”, fans do tip Tom Aikens’s casual bistros (particularly the backstreet Chelsea original), but overall they give an impression that’s decidedly “average”.
Tom's Kitchen SW3
You would expect the food at this new converted pub in Chelsea to be good. The 'Tom' concerned (Aikens) was after all the youngest ever Briton to win two Michelin stars. Naturally, though, he's not really doing the cooking at this new backstreet spin-off (around the corner from his foodie temple). That rôle falls to Ollie Couillard, who earned his spurs at La Trompette in Chiswick.
The food at 'Tom Aikens' is often criticised for one too many foams and mousses. So some patrons may actively prefer the blunt, no-nonsense style of the new operation. In this white-tiled room, everything is brutally plain. The chairs and tables are bare wood and the cutlery, china and glass are chunky and simple. It's noisy. Only the linen napkins - and a fine marble bar - hint that the aim here is anything much higher than a smart local.
The menu continues this straightforward style, and straddles both Gallic-brasserie and English-gastropub traditions. Our starters - foie gras and rabbit terrine, and celeriac remoulade - owed more to the former, whereas puddings such as bread 'n' butter pudding and an eclectic dish of churros (doughnuts) with home-made yoghurt leaned to the latter. All of these dishes were text-book renditions. As is so often the case, the main courses didn't quite have the pizzazz of the overture or the finale, but an unctuous bouillabaisse and a tender dish of sliced veal with Dauphinoise potatoes were both still fine dishes.
It's no secret that this is an opening which has not been entirely smooth - the builders were still upstairs on our visit - and, considering the simplicity of the dishes, service was quite slow. The staff, though, were very affable. And so they should be - hefty prices notwithstanding, this place has all the makings of a smash hit.
27 Cale St, London, SW3 3QP
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lunch noon - 3 pm, dinner 6 pm - 11 pm
Last orders: 10.30 pm, Sun 9.30 pm