Last night (2 September) I was invited to attend the press launch of Tom Aiken’s new restaurant at Somerset House.
Replacing the Admiralty Restaurant, Tom’s Kitchen is essentially a West End reproduction of the Chelsea restaurant of the same name, which I visited a couple of years ago. It was alright.
While waiting to be seated I had a look at the wine list, which appeared to have been bowdlerised for the press evening – the list on the website has a “Fine Red Wines” section that was not on last night’s list. Perhaps Somerset House did not want drunken hacks ordering bottles of Les Forts de Latour 1996 at £170 a pop.
The 40 or so wines on the list are arranged according to style: Champagne; crisp, dry whites; fruity, aromatic whites; full-bodied whites; rosé; light-medium bodied reds; fruity reds; spicy, robust reds; full-bodied reds; sweet and Port. Some half bottles were also listed and 17 wines are available by the glass. I was told by two young ladies sat next to me that the cocktails were excellent.
The Champagnes are mostly from Lanson, which was fine for me, though one glass of the Black Label NV (£55 a bottle) was enough – Lanson is a very acidic style of fizz, not necessarily easy to drink.
Only the most expensive wines on the “press” wine list cited a vintage. The Seresin Marlborough Sauvignon turned out to be 2008 and very good it was too – I spent some time there in 2004 but the winemaking team has changed since then. The Sesti Brunello 2004 at £75 represents a 100% markup on the retail price but it’s a good wine.
Of course Tom Aiken is known for his food and not his wine lists. Feeling a bit peckish, I ordered a starter of steak tartare, one of those basic dishes that is a good test of a chef and a restaurant. It was ghastly. Although there is no fixed recipe for steak tartare, I like it to be lightly spiced and with a raw egg on top. Aikens’s version looked as though the egg had been stirred in with the meat to create a mush that looked, felt and, for that matter, tasted like mushy peas from an East End chip shop. I would not want to pay £12.50 for this. (They charge £18 for it as a main course – do they serve 50% more?).
The main course was much better. The Daylesford 7 Hour Confit Lamb with balsamic onions and mash is apparently one of Aikens’s signature dishes. It hit the spot – high quality gastro-pub food, which is really what Tom’s Kitchen is all about. The gut-busting side order of truffle chips with Parmesan was very decadent.
I drank a glass of SixFootSix Shiraz 2005 from Geelong, Australia, with the lamb. Not bad – a bit beefy and bovril on the finish but that’s ok with lamb. I also tasted my companions’ Fernand Girard Sancerre rosé 2009, which was very good, showing real Pinot Noir character and freshness.
For dessert I had a very sweet Eton Mess that used blackberries rather than the usual strawberries – it’s that time of year, I suppose.
So it was a mixed evening chez Aikens, then. One final observation: the toilets are “bisexual”, so to speak, shared by boys and girls. I don’t mind that but I suspect that some people would. A restaurant is only as good as its little girl’s room.