Tom’s Kitchen is the casual sister of Tom Aikens flagship restaurant, located in the next street. It is a large place, with a semi-open kitchen and a dining room that can seat 80 diners, with a further 30 upstairs. There is a wooden floor, closely packed tables, no tablecloths, and rather murky lighting. However there is complimentary wi-fi for guests, which is a nice touch. The wine list started at £18.50 had plenty of choice under £40. Elki Sangiovese 2009 from Elqui Valley in Chile was £25 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £6, Coopers Creek Pinot Noir was £42.50 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £10, and Antinori Tignanello 2008 was £135 for a wine you can find for £52 retail. The pleasant Katnook Riesling 2009 (which we drank) was £35 for a wine that costs a tenner in the high street. Mineral water was £3.50 per bottle.
The strength of the restaurant is partly based on its large, appealing menu of British dishes. As I looked down the list I felt that I could happily eat anything on the menu, something I rarely find to be true. I went for a traditional Caesar salad (£7.50) to start, and this was capably made: the cos lettuce was crisp, the anchovies not stunning but not bad either, the Parmesan in the right proportion (14/20). Also good was a Nicoise style salad (£13) made with sardines. The salad had rocket, green beans, capers, olives, Charlotte potatoes, a crisp with tapenade and good quality boiled egg (easily 14/20).
The next course was more variable. Chicken schnitzel (£19) was very good, crisp on the outside, cooked through well and served with a good sauce made from roasted tomatoes, red peppers and pine nuts (easily 14/20). Less good was spicy crab cake (£11) with tomato salsa. Here the crab flavour was rather lost, and the salsa was one-dimensional, just with chilli heat rather than successful blending flavours as a good salsa should (12/20). Chips (£4) on the side were triple-cooked and crisp (15/20). Spinach (£4) was steamed a bit too long (13/20).
For dessert sherry trifle restored the meal to a good level, with nice sponge, well-made custard and red fruit, though I could have done without the little ball-bearing like edible silver cake decorations (14/20). Coffee (£3.75) was of quite good quality, which is more than could be said for the service, which was amateurish. The meet and greet person kept wandering over to joke with her friends at a nearby table, and our waiter had no clue who had ordered what dish, with one side dish forgotten entirely. I don’t expect slick service at a casual restaurant, but remembering the order is surely a reasonable expectation? The bill came to £69 a head including the £35 wine.
In June 2011 Tom's Kitchen closed for several months for a refurbishment, and underwent a change of format to "more informal style". The notes below are from the previous format.
Actually finding this place turns out to be non-trivial. The street is tucked away in a one-way system of labyrinthine proportions if you come by car. Moreover the restaurant’s phone number is not, as of my visit in November 2006, listed in any of the mainstream directory inquiries numbers. When you find it, is has a narrow frontage in a quiet street. The dining room has numerous bowl-shaped lamps which cast a rather poor light; there are no directed ceiling spot lights. This combined with the small font of the wine list make reading a challenge. The tables are plain wood and there are a few pictures of rustic food scenes (e.g. a butcher with a pig’s head) on the walls of the high-ceilinged room. The atmosphere certainly feels like a bistro and was very buzzy this evening – two weeks in and they were turning tables.
The wine list had about 40 or so bins and covered Australia and New Zealand as well as France, Italy, and even Germany. The cheapest wine was £13 and there were a dozen choices on or around £20. Krug Champagne was a very fair £130 (retail £90) while Ruinart “r” was £60. Basic house champagne was £40, or £9 a glass. One oddity is that the white paper napkins were some of the smallest, flimsiest things I have seen – the kind of thing you expect in a school canteen. The menu shows various photos and descriptions of the suppliers to the restaurants e.g. the suppliers of beef, pork, salads etc. This is all very admirable, but all the more amusing given Tom Aiken's recent interview where he admitted that he delegated the selection of at least some of his suppliers to his “lifestyle adviser”.
Breads, both rye and sourdough, were both served as slices and were very good indeed. These were actually made on the premises (by the same chef who prepares the bread for the main Tom Aiken restaurant). Breads had excellent texture and taste, and well-balanced seasoning (17/20). Goujons of sole were really top drawer, four goujons with light, crispy batter and delicious fish filling, offered with excellent home-made tartare sauce (17/20). Celeriac remoulade was well made, the celeriac julienned into fine shreds and served with a mayonnaise to add a little moisture; this was served with a single piece of toasted sourdough bread (15/20). A classic beefburger featured high quality meat, cooked medium and served on a nicely toasted bun. The other half of the bun was topped with fresh tomato, pickled cucumber, onion rings and lettuce (16/20). The chips served with this were very good indeed, quite large and managing to be crispy on the outside but carefully cooked through on the inside, with decent seasoning (16/20 chips). Sea bass was baked through well and topped with a tangy red pepper relish (15/20).
Lemon tart was pleasant but rather flawed in that the pastry base was slightly overcooked and a little hard, while the filling was a fraction too sour (14/20). Coffee was a bit of a let-down, being a little bitter (12/20). Service was friendly if a little chaotic at times. Waiters did not know who at the table ordered which dish, which seems a bit too basic even for a bistro, while getting attention was problematic. At one point I wanted to remind them about some mustard for my burger, which had not turned up. I counted at one point seven staff crowded around the reception area, all talking to each other and looking anywhere but at the dining room. I was three metres away and literally waved my arms about like a demented football supporter for some time and no-one noticed (eventually I waylaid someone else delivering a dish to a nearby table). The general manager, who has been working in New York for several years in advertising after a spell in the restaurant trade, has a bit of tightening up to do.
This was between a 15/20 and a 16/20 based on the dishes tonight; a second visit confirmed its strengths as well as its flaws. I found this a better meal than (say) Arbutus or Galvin’s. The original chef (Ollie Couillard) used to be head chef at La Trompette in Chiswick but has now moved on to a new venture at the Grosvenor House. Behind the stoves was Tom Aiken's brother. The restaurant is highly successful, with Tom Aikens in a recent interview in Restaurant Magazine reckoning to be turning away as many as 60 people a night.