Food and Foraging

Tom Aikens shows the way at his Kitchen with seven-hour lamb still top of the bill

A late dinner at Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea with seven others from the office. A sense of Jubilee celebration was in the air in the surrounding streets, and a busy, bustling dinning room greeted us.

In this place at least, the flame-haired man has got it exactly right. Tom Aikens’ attempt at a fish and chip shop floundered nearby (sorry!) and the refit at the his two-Michelin-star outlet has been more Shoreditch than South Kensington.

But a mid-priced brasserie is perfect. It felt like people were eating there because they wanted to pop out for a bite – far better than a room full of one-off destination diners.

Blown-up black and white photos of food producers adorn the walls: easy to be cynical about but I’m pro sourcing things carefully. The chap in a field of curly kale looks like he’s having a particularly good time.

Being a table of eight meant we couldn’t go for the Spring/Summer menu with its tempting-looking mackerel with cauliflower. Instead I kicked off with a starter of chicken liver and foie gras parfait came egg-shaped on a plate with grape chutney, cornichons (tiny gherkins) and two large pieces of brioche toast.

And when I say large, I mean doorstop-sized. Trying to get that into your mouth along with the parfait was a challenge. The parfait itself carried the rich, creaminess of the foie gras nicely but could have done with more chicken liver bitterness.

But this was more than compensated by what came next: seven-hour cooked leg of lamb to share. As if to ram home the fact that the meat would fall off the bone, they supplied no knife to cut it, but a fork and large spoon instead.

Thanks, we get the message! And lo the meat did fall off the bone and more. Rich, unctuous, complex, it packed so much flavour, and came with gravy that had been given red wine to add tasty sourness, plus some shallots and garlic for sweetness.

This particular cut is the Poll Dorset breed from Daylesford Organic, with its boutque shops found here and there in London as well as a farm in the Cotswolds. For sure their produce is expensive, but it’s worth it.

The only disappointment, which you can’t hold Daylesford in any way responsible for, was the accompanying chips. Triple cooked following the Heston way, these had no outside crunch and a slightly stale flavour – too long in the fridge most likely.

Finally onto a poached rhubarb and custard pudding.

We’re getting towards the end of the season so rhubarb quality is not A1 – I found the flavour muted. But this was also because of the added rose water which blanded out the delicious sourness of the fruit. Custard in the centre of the plate was jellified, and really tasty, with crunchy vanilla seeds – Aiken’s haute cuisine leanings emerge here.

And so we finished around 11 in a still half-full dinning room, with a warm feeling (added to by a half-open kitchen) and a sense of having eaten well. Service could be a little more charismatic and some of the peripheral food improved, but meat is the main deal here and in this they excel.