The Tom Aikens supershow

In Chelsea to find out if his popularity matches a chef's skills. It certainly does

12-07-2013

Tom Aikens, London born, class 1970, carrying the Olympic torch before the London 2012 games. Tom Aikens Restaurant gained a Michelin star in 2012. The chef is a popular figure in the UK, appearing on TV shows such as Great British Menu

The tension was palpable, even through the TV screen. After trying in the past, the 2013 banquet had to be the one. And the one it was, for Tom Aikens. His starter Chicken Egg / Egg Chicken, a playful take on who came first, the egg or the chicken, made it with full marks onto the tables of this year’s dinner on the popular series The Great British Menu. Watching him in the kitchen was fascinating: anxious, focused and with a veil of arrogance which seemed to confirm his past fame of enfant terrible; his dishes well thought and striking. All show and no substance?

Marinated, half-dried field strawberries with strawberry ice-cream and yogurt

Marinated, half-dried field strawberries with strawberry ice-cream and yogurt

To figure out for ourselves and see if it was just TV fiction, we booked a table at his Chelsea flagship restaurant. Reopened after an extensive refurbishment and restyling (of the interior and the furniture as well as the menu) Tom Aikens Restaurant has warm, elegant but relaxed surroundings, shades of wood and glass and a menu that focuses on seasonal ingredients. During our visit a few dishes were inspired by the annual Chelsea Flower Show and were presented garnished by edible flowers, citrus coulis and delicate seasonal greens. Strong, natural hues, compositions that wouldn’t look out of place on an artist’s canvas: each dish, from the amuse bouche to the spectacular petit fours, is an incredible mix of textures, flavours and ingredients which please the eyes as much as the palate.

We ask Tom what is the inspiration behind such beautiful creations. He tells us that – like for many of his peers – it’s the season that influences his choices. If a particular ingredient is coming into season and he feels like using it, he then changes the menu accordingly. “I look at the protein or vegetable then see what’s in season that can match it; I then attach the correct ingredients to the main dish. How that is decided is never the same pattern really, it may be an idea that just popped into my head that is untried and new, so it may take a few attempts to get it right”. He is keen to point out however, that while the visual side to him is very important, the main thing is that the dish has to taste great. The changes, in the kitchen as well as in the venue, have paid off: Tom Aikens Restaurant has re-gained a well-deserved Michelin star in October 2012.

Loch Duart Smoked salmon

Loch Duart Smoked salmon

What motivates him to keep doing more and better? “Cooking is all about teaching and developing new ideas, new ingredients and matching these to potentially form dishes, it’s not just teaching others but also yourself”. For the chef, is important to keep trying new things and developing himself as well as his team, to hopefully stay fresh and alive with ideas and inspirations. He adds: “The team is the most important part of a restaurant; it’s never just about the chef, it’s those that are in the team that make it special.” And, judging by the results, looks like Tom has found the perfect team.

Tom Aikens Restaurant
43 Elystan street
London, UK
+44.(0)20.75842003
Tasting menu: £90


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