Situated in a Chelsea townhouse, Tom’s Kitchen is empty when we arrive – a mere half an hour after opening for service on an early summer’s evening. While each of the restaurant’s four floors had been fully booked over the course of the Chelsea Flower Show, today we have our choice of tables. We opt for a table by the open kitchen, which exudes a reassuring hum into the cosy ground floor. The dark panelled walls are a proud canvas, showcasing photographs of the restaurant’s suppliers, all UK-based.
While the restaurant itself is not new (it is the flagship restaurant of acclaimed chef Tom Aikens, first opened 12 years ago), it’s had a recent facelift. Addressing both the interior and the menu. Concentrating purely on the UK’s seasonal produce, the menu is ever-evolving with a focus on both contemporary dishes and much-loved classics, all in a sharing style (naturally). As we peruse the menu, sipping a crisp Petit Chablis, we’re advised to plan for approximately three starters, three main dishes and a side to share between two.
At first, this makes me extremely happy. Given the choices I’m not sure how I would possibly pick just one. But then I realise that even three dishes per section are going to be a challenge; each dish sounds textbook for a warm evening in London. Eventually, the choice is made.
To start, we opt for Cumbrian beef tartare (£7), spicy Devonshire crab cake (£11) and Stracciatella (£8). Throughout dinner, the dishes arrive as they are completed in the kitchen, which means a steady stream of plates to our table.
The crab cake comes recommended by our waiter and is server with cubes of cucumber atop fluffy quinoa. The crab cake itself does pack a little punch, but it is nicely cooled by the fresh cucumber salsa. Beef tartare is a faultlessly balanced dish. Fresh, succulent beef is offset by a light black garlic aioli, which forms a kind of sweet glaze at the bottom of the plate. Crunch comes from a sourdough wafer and fresh vegetable slices, with a pop from mustard seeds.
Finally, it’s the Stracciatella. I’ve been addicted to this stretched curd cheese (often used to make Burrata, which is also on the menu at Tom’s Kitchen) since my visit to Carousel, so I must admit I had high hopes for it. Even those were completely exceeded. It arrives wonderfully cold, drizzled with truffle honey, truffle vinaigrette and tiny slivers of summer truffle. The whole dish is creamy and earthy, but it’s lifted by a little zing from the vinaigrette. I have no problem admitting I would rather not share it and barely resist the temptation to order a second helping. By this point, the restaurant is starting to fill up. From conversations around us it’s clear that while this is our first visit, our fellow diners are no strangers to the establishment.
For mains, we decide on the day’s special – John Dory – soya braised beef cheek (£22); and courgette and pistachio risotto (£12) with a side of seasonal broccoli (£4.50). The John Dory is indeed interesting, served with a red wine sauce alongside asparagus and mushrooms. I’m not a great believer of fish with red wine sauce, but this dish goes a long way in changing my mind.
The risotto rice is cooked as should be; still with a little crunch. A bright green colour from the courgette and a little extra texture and nuttiness from the pistachio contribute to making this a supreme summer’s dish. However, it is the beef cheek, slow cooked and served with garlic puree and cabbage, that wins our hearts amongst the mains. The meat melts in the mouth: rich and sweet with garlic. The cabbage is still al dente, impeccably contrasting the softness of the meat.
Although at this stage we are completely full, we simply cannot leave without seeing what the dessert menu has to offer. Lemon and yoghurt parfait (£6) is creamy, almost like cheesecake, while the Gooseberry Fool (£6) lacks something savoury on the plate. Perhaps some peanuts might have offset the sharpness of the dish a little better.Dessert notwithstanding, it’s difficult to pick faults in any of the other dishes. The idea of an evolving menu, changing with the seasons, opens up ample opportunities for many future visits.
Tom’s Kitchen can be found at 27 Cale Street, London, SW3 3QP.