The restaurant, as is now well publicised, has stripped back to the wood no table cloths thing, walls adorned with food quotes etc. Tom Aikens' web site quotes the designer as saying that the dining room is 'inviting and welcoming and not over powering or over-designed ... a space that celebrates the simplicity of good ingredients'. Can an environment so meticulously planned really claim to avoid 'over-design'? In our view, it fails on all fronts.
On the night we were there the lights were dimmed so low you could hardly see the place anyhow: it failed the informality test because hushed tones still seemed the most appropriate thing. Also, of all the things the food is, simple isn't one of them. We would go so far as to argue that the dining room design is actually incongruent with the food, making it all seem even a little cynical perhaps.
Waiters appear caught in the middle of the simple dining room/complex food format leaving them unsure of how to be and act. The restaurant has resisted going 'all-in informal' with waiters sporting rolled up sleeves and tattoos, but clearly eschews the traditional Michelin waiter look: the result is waiters who don sports jackets, a middle ground that seems to us the worst of all worlds.
First out on the food front was a Duck cassonade with cep powder amuse which was excellent in every way. Then the canapes appeared; for a restaurant that has put so much thought into so many things, this was simply odd. Gourmet Traveller in her Tom Aikens post observed that serving five individual but different canapés to a table of two results in obvious problems of division; she posed the question 'how many canapés would a group of three receive I wonder?' Well, we were a group of three and we are therefore in a position to answer: also five! Five canapés between three people, each different, that's just poor.
The bread posed similar issues, a basket containing one of each delivered to the table. Now, we have to say that the bread is truly excellent, the butters (salted, cep or bacon) also excellent. This is one of the few places that could justify a service charge for the bread. But with three people and one of each, again, division presents problems, The bacon and onion brioche is most in demand and fortunately we know each other well enough to split it three ways, but really. We similarly divide some other rolls. Maybe it's a cost thing but the canapés and the bread seem suited to serve the kitchen's purpose (of highlight of expression) and not the diners' enjoyment.
The starter of raw turnip salad and chestnuts sees the chestnuts come in a number of presentations (varieties being a theme of the meal), though they are mostly hidden in the picture below. Does the acidity of the salad dressing combine so well with the sweet rich chestnut dumplings? We're not so sure and for us, it's not a dish to thrill, but it's only the start. This starter when purchased a la carte (possibly with a different portion size) is priced at £12.
It's the big guns next however, Roast Foie Gras, thyme sabayon, smoked onions (alc menu price £18.50). A natural dish to the extent that force feeding geese is natural I guess, and already we might suggest that any comparisons with Noma should stop here. This feels like two starters, one of foie gras with a second of 'textures of onion'. There's at least six onion presentations on the plate and in our view it competes with the foie gras to lay claim to the dish; competition on a plate rarely makes for satisfaction.
The effect of the consommé is to mix up all the components of the dish as they each now run into each other (see second picture). It's certainly interesting. One problem however, this is all served on a plate, and although you get a knife, fork and spoon, a flat plate even with a small rim makes it impossible to spoon up the consommé allowing you to eat only what you can mop up with the solids. The finished plate sees much of the consommé sadly returned to the kitchen. Again, the ideas behind it and the visual impact are stunning but it is not the best way to serve it in our view if the principal purpose is to fully enjoy the food beyond the spectacle.
With the amuse, the canapés, the bread, and the excellent chocolate box at the end, it is, by some strange contradiction good value for a meal that we didn't really enjoy, though gin and tonics before the meal at £12.50 each seem less good value; we didn't view the wine list though others report it to be reasonably priced.
Tom Aikens has without doubt a great deal of talent and with the restaurant in its new guise, he's clearly putting 110% into delivering unique and creative food. However, for the three of us around the table that night, we were in agreement: the balances of the dishes didn't work for us, most plates were overly fussy and at the end of the day, failed to deliver joy which should surely be the meal's ultimate goal.
Return to homepage