It’s not often I’m stunned in to silence.
Tempting to end the entry at that full stop. However, I am brimming over with excitement, as on Friday I was treated to what I can only think to describe as an intensely impressive meal.
Now, to those of you fortunate enough to partake of fine dining on a regular basis, it may seem a strange thing for a fellow to be ranting and fawning over plates of tucker like some acolyte. To you I say, meh. This is the art of appreciation. To those of more modest means who simply love food, I can only say that you just, must, at least once, shake off the shackles and allow your senses to be kicked in to the next dimension by Mr Aikens and his team.
Let’s rattle at pace past the sundry details. Location, off the Brompton Road, Chelsea. Posh town houses, low rise tenement blocks. Decor: can’t fault it really. I have an oak fetish and the interior is all oak, from floor to walls and furniture. Lighting is subdued, creating the feeling of an exclusive gallery, darkened at the edges, illuminating the table tops. Views directly on to the street are barely worth a mention but it’s not the point. This is all about the food.
We chose from the a la carte, allowing the affable sommelier to choose our wines. Firstly a “chef’s surprise” was genially introduced as pheasant and prune terrine with madeira and black truffle jelly, served with wafer thin crisped bread. This earthy, delicate, smooth and sweet concoction glided down effortlessly. From the off, presentation ticked all the boxes. Pristine, elegant and minimal.
Then we broke bread, as befits any religious experience. It feels faintly ridiculous to be tickled at the mere memory of a bread basket, yet the quality was so fine, it seemed almost embarrassing to be eating it. Like taking a steam stripper to the ceiling at the Sistine. Bacon and onion brioche bun stood out in particular. The buttermilk had a perfect sweetness and the slightly crumbly texture defied – well it defied my fingers actually as I dropped one on the floor. Buttermilkfingers. Three companion buns nestled in the swathe of taupe linen, each as smug as the next. We wolfed them down insouciantly, a murder of crows gathering on the pavement outside peering as they pecked, turning from black to green as they glared at the feast unfolding behind the pane.
Ms. London kicked off with venison tartar, grated walnuts, wild sorrel and hazelnut purée. I plumped for braised pig’s trotter, lettuce emulsion, baked onion, pork crackling. Of the two, I would say the trotter was the more imaginative; although both tasted wonderful and were perfectly balanced. The presentation of this dish is outstanding, the trotter being concealed, encased in a crumb. It was at once apparent to me why a man like Tom is at the top of his game. Attention had been given to every single aspect of the dish. Presentation, temperature, the entire spectrum of flavours and textures, were all singing in a symphony of perfection. Even as I write this I know the words won’t do the dish justice. As a food writer, this presents a challenge and reminds me that in the spirit of Realism we must seek not to recreate the experience of the moment but rather to create a new moment in the reading.
So, I have to craft language as Tom has crafted food?
Oh. Yes, well, about that…
There was no question in my mind as to the dish I would choose for my main. It literally leapt off the page and did a strip tease right under my nose. Reading the description alone was like perambulating through the Folies Bergere as a hormonal teenager. Partridge with roast pear, chocolate, and foie gras mousse. Right there. She who is style, suitably chose John Dory which I approved of, having cooked this odd fish once before and failing to get it quite right, so I was keen to see what Mr Aikens made of it.
The partridge also sang to me. It literally sang, in so many chords, I felt I was surrounded by a choir. Flavours seemed to come at my tastebuds from every direction. My army pal used to say “I’ll hit you so many times you’ll think you’re surrounded” (we’re great buddies, really). Well this dish does something similar. I won’t even attempt to go any further in describing it because go. Ok? I’m not even joking. Just, go.
The John Dory rocked, delicate little fillets which I suspect were poached and seared, but really, what goes on in that kitchen is something of a mystery and it’s best kept that way; to create the feeling of partaking of something that will never be written. I began daydreaming about chords in food, believing that chef had concocted a scale of flavours and created the dish to mirror a Mozart symphony.
The prospect of dessert made me a little nervous. Ok, not all that nervous. Certainly not too nervous to say “we’ll have the frozen chocolate Aero with smoked and bitter chocolate, and the caramelised Delice D’Or Apple” oh what a treat. So it’s basically chocolate reconstructed in various different highly imaginative ways, and a similar treatment with the apple. Varying intensities of flavour and various styles of presentation, all harmonising once again to deliver a rousing finale. Encore encore I began to chant silently to myself although perhaps not silently enough as petit fours arrived. No no I couldn’t possibly – *inhale* – oh is that the lot?
You could certainly do worse than take a tricky client here if you wanted to impress them. It’s not showy and pretentious, rather understated and timelessly elegant. I doff my cap heartily in Tom and his team’s direction.