I’ve been spoiled with good food recently. I can feel it across my waistband and as a nagging ache on the left hand side of my chest. I’m not complaining, I live a good life with many trappings, but I did I know I was going to have eaten so well over the last two weeks? No, probably not. Simpson’s was always a given, and I knew enough of Matt’s cooking to know that I was going to enjoy Cheal’s. But did I really expect Tom’s Kitchen to deliver a great meal? Honestly, not on my nelly. I went to the launch party, I met Aiken’s (my fiancé has a crush on him. Strange taste in men, that girl), I ate the nibbles. They were good, nothing more. And then the company themselves downplay what they do, describing the restaurant as a brasserie serving British favourites and comfort food classics. Thanks, but I can rustle that up at home to a decent standard.
So here we are, in a tucked away corner in The Mailbox, finding out that Tom Aikens excels in, of all things, modesty. The kitchen here is producing some very high quality cooking, they’re just not shouting it out from the rooftops. Whoever has designed the room needs a promotion. It’s a chic space of oversized yellow chesterfields, with splashes of dark green, all under the base colour of soft sand. Tables are well spaced, service is buzzy and friendly.
A parfait of liver would be the first proper thing to eat. It’s smooth and distinct, the richness ramped up by the addition of foie gras to the chicken offal. We smear it inch thick on to toasted brioche, apply both cornichons and chutney and away we go. The parfait is as textbook as it gets.
And then things go up another level. Venison loin is rare, with red wine poached pear, beetroot gratin and a puree of the same root. It’s a cloud of purple with only a dome of braised leg croquette stopping Whoopi Goldberg from winning Best Supporting Actress for it. What impresses most is the precision of it all – every element has been cooked and seasoned to perfection. It punches way above brasserie level and more into the kitchen of somewhere like Turners, incidentally where the Head Chef previously worked.
A similar story was had with a special of Guinea fowl supreme, on the most addictive of barley risotto spun with confit duck and hazelnuts. Its deceptively simple looking, though had massive flavour throughout. If they had this dish on the menu in one form or another, I would be back fortnightly to eat it.
Alas, the pudding we shared was good, though not of the same ridiculously high standard of the two mains. Iles flottantes, floating islands, or Mrs Bettons Snow Eggs as they appear here – call them what you may – are the ultimate use of an egg; poached meringues for the whites, custard for the yolks. Good enough to eat as just that with toasted almonds, though here with a blackberry jam that dominates and honeycomb, in the only technical slip, that has the tang of alkaline from raw bicarbonate of soda. It’s still tasty stuff, and we finish all of it, but it feels a bit of let down given the savoury courses.
This being The Mailbox it comes at a price. Starters are typically £7-10, the Guinea fowl was £18.00 and that venison at £26.00. Desserts rarely fail to hit a tenner. Is it worth it? Yes, I’d pay that for either of those mains any day. Quality like this comes at a price, and I’d argue that a total bill of under £90 for the above, including two large glasses of wine represents good value. Tom Aikens can cook, anyone who knows his pedigree can tell you that, but this is a team working to his specification in his absence and they are doing his name justice. Brasserie? Debatable. Seriously good addition to the cities restaurant scene? Undoubtable.
A proportion of my bill was comped by the restaurant