Tom’s Kitchen

Tom’s Kitchen, Birmingham

As a man who spends many an hour looking at restaurant menus, I have learnt to appreciate a good one when I see one. A good menu is itself a skill; it has to be concise and clear, and – in my view at least – make correct use of the seasons and flavours that on paper complement each other. Promising red fruits in February? You deserve to be tortured. And thanks for the time you’ve taken to design the dessert of pink grapefruit poached in beef stock but I wouldnt feed that to my gran. And she has been dead for twenty years. It’s overlooked as a minor detail, yet when deciding where I am spending my money, a menu can turn me off as quickly as it can turn me on.

So full credit to the team at Toms Kitchen for curating a menu that reads like a dream. One that is packed with the bounty of the seasons, and British tradition; one that puts the decision of what to eat in quandary. Prior to dinner we had decided on the lamb for two, changed to mains of venison and guinea fowl, and then back to the lamb. Of course by the time we are seated in the far corner of the spacious restaurant with glass of something cold and fizzy in hand we order none of these. It’s the effect that a well written menu can have. You don’t get this problem at a Toby Carvery.

They have snacks so we order snacks. In truth you don’t need these if you’re planning on ordering three courses given the portion sizes, and I should know this considering this is my fourth visit since they opened two years ago. Of those snacks the red pepper hummus is very nice and tasting strongly of all the listed compenents. I am less keen on the lengthy strips of pork crackling that vary from crisp to overly robust in texture. The apple puree it comes with is a silky, smokey thing that we insist stays on the table throughout the table. I’m not saying you should steal this but should you, it would make the ultimate sandwich with some vintage cheddar. From the starters crab cakes are lively things stuffed full of crustacean, with a cucumber and quinoa salsa that serves a purpose, and an oozy macaroni cheese dotted with bits of truffle. We like them both; two very nice plates of food that speak of a confident kitchen. Both faithful renditions of classic dishes.

The best thing we ate happened to be the most intricate. A kind of deconstructed (I really hate that word) bouillabaisse has salmon, pollock, mussels, and scallop, all accurately cooked to order and sat in a puddle of something deep and burnished. A crouton acts as a crossbar, dotted with saffron aoili and pickled fennel. It’s a plate that requires considerable skill; the timing of the fish is crucial, as is the labour intensive sauce. It is a huge success, controlled cooking that smacks of the sea on every level – I’ve certainly had worse renditions at restaurants several times the price. This skill can also be seen on a dish that on paper is far more simple. Chicken snitzel is classic dinner time stuff; breaded poultry shallow fried until it resembles a butter-less Kiev. Aside from the quality of the meat, it is the clever layer of basil between bird and crumb that pushes it up a notch. Add confit tomatoes, a punchy salsa, and what are right now the best triple cooked chips in the city, and you have something I could eat several times a week. I’m going to give that statement a go.

I think they’ve really stepped their game up with desserts. From the specials board is a chocolate delice, with white chocolate mousse and raspberries that ticks all the right boxes. It is upstaged by a cube of milk chocolate and peanut, layered visibly like Marie Kondo’s wardrobe. The bits of textures are spread out, crousilliant-like, so that every spoonful cracks. It is rich and salty, pretty addictive. I finish before Claire, an experience usually reserved only for our bedroom.

Service is excellent from a team who look like they enjoy being at work, and we leave replete and happy. With starters £6-11 and mains £19-28 some have accused Toms Kitchen of lacking value. Nonsense. They have a head chef pilfered from a starred restaurant as well as some pretty premium ingredients. That front of house reads like who’s-who of the best in Brum. I was unsure whether or not to write about here again, though in my eyes it has gone up a level since it opened. There is a consistency to the dining experience that means for me that Tom’s Kitchen is now up there with the very best in casual bistros across this city.

You know the drill. I got tipsy and A2B took me home

Tom’s Kitchen, The Mailbox, Birmingham

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.

IMG_8765

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.

IMG_8769

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.

IMG_8771

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.

IMG_8772

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.

IMG_8774

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.

8/10

A proportion of my bill was comped by the restaurant

Tom’s Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato