As usual, I have taken a long time to post this one. I feel bad for being so slow in getting some of these posts up as I have had lots of adventures so far this year, but the disappointment of missing out on my proposed trip to el Bulli made me very reluctant to talk or write about my dining experiences. However....
I'm over it.
So.... in January, my best mate Kevin Barron (@kevinbarron07) came back to the UK for a few weeks-for those who dont know, he is currently working abroad, in Kenya- so as seemed fitting, we arranged a few culinary jaunts to keep us entertained. one of these jaunts took us to Chelsea to try out what Tom Aikens had to offer. As it turned out, we chose well- Tom is a fantastic chef and the menu had a really natural flow. That said, the restaurant decor was a little tired, with battered chairs and damaged paintwork all around us. Not the types to let the room put us off our food, we chose the tasting menu which was a very reasonable £55 for 7 courses. we opted out of the matched flight of wines and instead spent the same money on a very nice bottle of st emilion.
starting the lunch off, we were presented with a lovely little pot of duck confit, foie gras and Madeira jelly. a delightful beginning, the confit was a perfect room temperature and soft and easily spread on the plentiful crostini served with it. Its often been said that its the simple things that are often the hardest, and this was a real testament to Tom's ability.
The first course proper was 'Roast scallop, beetroot puree, caramelized onions, beetroot dressing'. As scallop dishes go this had it all- plump, well cooked scallops served with a variety of beetroot preparations, red endive, red amaranth and roast grelote onions. We both took our first bite and slowly turned to each other smiling. the temperatures and flavours worked really well together and the enjoyment continued through the whole plate as we tried the various beetroot garnishes including puree, paint(?), powder, jelly and roasted. Probably the standout course of our meal.
Next up was 'salad of roast mallard breast, winter vegetables', which was a picturesque dish reminiscent of a 'Noma' style pickled vegetable course with the addition of the roasted mallard, which to our surprise was completely cold. We didn't feel that the mallard suffered for being cold, but that if it had been served hot or even warm, the dish would have been pushed on to the next level. as well as the mallard and vegetables was a mallard 'ham' which also gave another texture dimension. Amongst the vegetables were some strips of carrot, beetroot and parsnip, which were mostly filled with a variety of mousses, jellies and even a kind of remoulade- salted shredded celeriac bound in mayonnaise. A very good dish, which ran the scallops very close.
For the main course there was a choice, so in the interest of research we had one of each so we could have a taste of each others. I chose the 'roast turbot, pumpkin sauce, braised veal shin'. As with a lot of the menu, there was a simplicity to the dish as well as a refined definition in composition. the turbot, shin and pumpkin were joined only by a crisp potato beignet. This left the main flavours alone to shine, the combination of the rich shin and the meaty, fresh fish was sublime, and the pumpkin was a great tool to relieve the richness with a touch of sweetness.
Kevin's choice of the 'Loin of Romney marsh lamb marinated in ewes milk cheese, aligot potato' was better however, a silky smooth, generous portion of garlicky potato covered in grated ewes milk cheese, roast onions and the star of the show- the lamb. Im a fussy bugger with my lamb, as I feel lucky that I work in the heart of south wales where we produce (and i cook) the finest lamb in the country. That said, this was a fine example of the young ovine meat we call lamb. succulent texture, and a rich yet delicate flavour which definitely left me wishing i had chosen it instead of the (absolutely fine) turbot.
After a perfectly acceptable cheese course, we moved on to the desserts-starting with 'pistachio mille feuille, parfait, praline and pistachio cassonade'. This dessert divided us in our opinions- it seemed a bit too much pistachio for me- I know, I know, what did i expect from a pistachio dessert, but it was just too much for me. i don't mind a little, but the entire thing left me feeling a bit overdone. all the elements were fine, just could have done with another flavour to break the nut monotony.
The same was our united opinion of 'passion fruit mousse, panna cotta, passion fruit granite'. as you all are aware, passion fruit can be a tart wee fruit, and when every element ( about 7-8) are strongly flavoured with it, it leaves the inside of your mouth feeling a bit acidic. for me, passion fruit is more of an accompanying flavour, and this was pretty overpowering. A lovely selection of elements again, and each one would grace any plate, however too much is too much.
We finished the meal with some lovely petit fours- three flavours of madeleines and two different chocolates- and a little tour of the kitchen and a brief chat with Mr Aikens himself.
All in all a lovely meal and experience, with a few points that could have been improved.