I think, given all the 'you stole a spoon! I will brand you with a pallette knife! I will send all my suppliers into bankruptcy!' controversy surrounding Tom Aikens the blogosphere has kinda ignored him. Which is sad, because he is a huge talent. And it's not as if ear-cutting stops people buying Van Gogh...
So we gave him the benefit of the doubt. That he was a talented chef, with a slightly hot head, but that there are always two sides to every story and he had been unfairly consigned to culinary Antarctica. Possibly.
His eponymous Chelsea restaurant is a very handsome place. All dark wood, cool orchids, restrained colours, spaced tables. With VERY smart service.
But it was half full, on a Friday evening, and the tables that were occupied were 'Chelsea does date night'.
Reasonable dirty martini to start, then the amuses were a parmesan beignet, an olive jelly reformed into an olive, and a truffle consomme thing...all gorgeous. The bread selection included cep, bacon and onion, buttermilk...very nice.
A lively Sancerre to start and into the starters. I won. Poached lobster with pork belly and apple slices and pearls of (candied?) apple, in a tomato and apple consomme, with maybe a hint of ginger? It was lovely. Really lovely. The lobster was generous, and despite sitting in the consomme the pork retained its crackling.
This was from the ALC - which is divided into Tom-style dishes which are more complex and then 'classics' formed around a single ingredient, so my partner had a langoustine risotto which was fine, but. Like I said, I won.
But then it went downhill.
My main was loin of Romney Marsh lamb. Cooked perfectly, it was meant to come with dry olive powder which I had thought sounded interesting. But it was like a sous chef had gone beserk with it, so a really thick, bitter layer which rended a lot of the lamb inedible. I was also disappointed by the aligot. I LOVE ALIGOT. Am sure there are some of you out there who choose a dish based on the accompaniment...Made properly it's potato, cheese and garlic whipped to such an extent you can draw it up feet from the table in strands; here it was just a lump of garlicky mash with some parmesan on top. Hm. He did much better with the suckling pig which came with roast pineapple.
To accompany we had a velvety and reaonsably priced bottle of 2006 Cahors Chateau du Cedre - recommended, as is the charming sommelier.
For pudding I chose a truffled panacotta. Again, hm. It looked exquisite, all frills and furbelows. But the sous had been heavy handed again, so the white chocoalte tuiles with black pepper to accompany were inedible as they were almost have black with pepper, the various sorbets/panacottas/icecreams/snows on the plate were just (never thought I'd write this) too generous with the truffling.
Cheeseboard was goodish, and the petits fours included some heavenly madeleines.
I'm marking it down as an admirably courageous failure. He's so talented and has some amazing ideas but am guessing he wasn't in the kitchen last night, hence the truffle/pepper/olive frenzy. But I think what's more sad is I can't see the place surviving at the occupancy level.