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.