Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Magnificent Tom-foolery

Well I finally got to eat at the hallowed Tom Aikens and what an amazing feast it was. I remember reading Giles Coren's hilarious review of La Noisette a few months ago where he ate so much that he couldn't bear to recall all the individual components and I thought how curious, surely as a professional reviewer that would never happen. But as an amateur reviewer I can vouch that this can indeed and it was all Tom's fault! Or maybe it was mine; maybe I shouldn't have eaten that light lunch. Maybe I shouldn't have eaten yesterday. Or last week even!

We chose the Classic tasting menu, and opted for the wine matching also. Well you've got to really! We could have selected the other tasting menu or a la Carte, but the 'classic' looked the best. I had the coffee and hazelnut substituted for the prune dessert from the other tasting menu but I didn’t mention the tomato aversion, there didn’t seem a need.


Roasted scallops with poached grapes and pernod, grape juice and acidulated fennel


Poached and seared foie gras with jabugo ham, haricot beans and sauternes sauce


Roasted john dory fillet with celeriac and horseradish, foie gras boudin


Blanquette of veal with roast veal sweetbread, pommes purée and braised onion


Braised pigs head with stuffed trotter and turnip confit


Coffee and hazelnut cake with coffee mousse and coffee parfait


Poached prunes with vanilla tapioca, prune and armagnac ice-cream


Ravioli of mango with mango rice, mango delice and lime syrup


Selection of tea, coffee and tisanes.

And then we started eating... and eating and then we ate a little more.

Firstly we had canapés, which was what they referred to the sculptural tray of little spoons, Petri dishes, forks and what suspiciously looked like a pencil. The waiter in a slightly impenetrable French accent introduces this cornucopia of delights but there are so many that you quickly lose your way and forget what's on offer so you just close your eyes and enjoy the sensations. In no particular order I do recall a fabulous little foie gras bite with a miniature gingerbread, a salt cod beignet wrapped in Bayonne ham on a fork stood upright with aid of tiny black beans in a glass and a tiny mound of fishy mousse with a single caviar egg perched on top (E felt it was reminiscent of a teeny little breast - though I'm paraphrasing here!) But there were many, many more, I recall each little bite being a masterpiece; a taste explosion and a delight but I can't remember each bit and this mortifies me. Next was a small cylindrical onion and bacon loaf with an amuse gueule of cauliflower foam and lentil soup with other fabulous bits. And then the actual tasting dishes started turning up. Firstly we had perfect Scallops with grapes and a Pernod and grape juice sauce (complete with silver sauce spoon). Actually the entire meal was a showcase of magnificent silverware especially spoons. There were long, elegant handled ones, tiny coffee spoons and of course sauce spoons. There was a story that Tom Aiken in the belief that a female diner had slipped one of the silver spoons in to her handbag, confronted her in the restaurant and demanded the spoon or recompense. I'm not sure of the validity of this but decided to keep my handbag well away from the table in case of an unfortunate spoon mishap. The salmon coloured maitre d' was walking around looking slightly flustered the whole time, perhaps it is his job to count all the spoons out of and back in to the kitchen. He did spectacularly demonstrate a particular maxim that a ginger haired person should probably not wear a pink shirt with a bright pink tie, the total effect was somewhat boiled lobster.
The scallops were followed by succulent
Foie gras with jabugo ham, haricot beans and sauternes sauce a really tasty Roasted John Dory fillet with celeriac and horseradish, foie gras boudin really stunning! Next it was the turn of the delicious Blanquette of veal with roast veal sweetbread, pommes purée and braised onion. The veal was accompanied by a little bowl of mash with a biscuity thing on top and some sort of exotic sauce come gravy, possible the braised onion, it starts to get a little hazy here! However, the pork plate was when we started to become totally undone, it was not a huge portion it was a perfectly proportioned porcine tasting plate of Braised pig's head, trotter and a long, thin pig's ear in breadcrumbs or two and a turnip confit. E suspected that the breaded pig's ear were actually the deeply detested by Jamie 'turkey twizzlers', but they tasted better than that! By now the waiter's verbose explanations had morphed into French sweet nothings and I couldn't actually discern more than the odd word - pig's ear... confit... turnip.
We wisely decided against the cheese course, there were two desserts on their way and it was touch and go whether we would make it. Though this was a first for me. The substituted
Poached prunes with vanilla tapioca, prune and armagnac ice-cream were delectable and we could see the end in sight. The final course was a really refreshing Ravioli of mango with mango rice, mango delice and lime syrup.
Though the meal wasn’t entirely over, with a flourish the petit fours arrived. When you see ‘petit’ on a menu, you think ‘oh that will be small’, and the ‘fours’ well, that that actually means 'oven' not that there will be four – but four seems a good number after this meal. Actually I would have struggled with one, but I can admire the other three from a distance. But what we actually got was a carpet of little sweet delights, mousses, chocolates, sorbets, candies fruity things, toffee bits and lollipops. I am so hoping that this display is to celebrate the marvellous skill of the pastry chef, as I certainly couldn’t do it justice; the merest spoon tip of a lovely crème brulee and a small square of chocolate loveliness was all I could attempt. It looked amazing but was rather wasted on us. Of course, I will never eat again after this meal!
Regrettably after stunning sensation after sensation a sensory overload alarm went off in my brain and the part that had been squirreling away the memory of each component of each course was flooded with cool rushing water which swept away all the details. Fortunately after some sleep and a promise to myself that I'd never eat again (swiftly broken by a proffered sausage sandwich the next day) little highlights of the meal have returned. Luckily I have a copy of the tasting menu which helped fill in some of the gaps as this review would be been even more incoherent. This was a truly fabulous meal, with wonderful company who (almost) appreciates food as much as me and was thankfully also over faced by the abundance (I’m not just being a lightweight then!). There was nothing I could fault about the service or the food, each little morsel was sensational with no jarring combinations and ne'er a tomato in sight (it can be done!) but I just wish that it all had been slightly simpler and that my palate hadn't overheated due to over exertion. Tom Aiken thoroughly deserves three silver forks - and of course, spoons! And if you think I've been harsh it's only because I wish I could have eaten everything and I could describe every dish in detail. Tom is on the highest podium when lined up with other recent three fork experiences. Bernardin was fabulous but there were a lot of sauces and I started to crave something beyond fish, I needed meat; Juniper possibly went a little off piste with incongruous flavour combinations, Tom's were excessive but sublimely coherent and Smith's of Smithfield served the most perfect meat but can't compete with Tom's artistry and flavour combinations. Tom you are top of the leader board and in your honour I will add a new category - diamond encrusted fork - which is awarded to the restaurant that served me my most magnificent meal of the moment. Thank you, it was worth waiting for and my taste buds salute you!

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