I remember reading about Tom Aiken's new venture some 2 months back and, thinking I was the only one who read TimeOut, tried to get a table for the following weekend... no such luck. The lines have calmed down a bit since then and I managed to secure a booking in the middle of December and while everybody was going shopping mad on nearby Old Brompton and King's, Jeanne and I could finally enjoy a last, quiet brunch together before the New Year. In fact, it looked like they keep a fair amount of tables unbooked altogether in order to accommodate any hungry shoppers dropping by unannounced, so despite it being one of the spots to be at the moment, it is worth checking at the odd chance of securing a table.
Now, it's the end of another year and food critics around the globe are falling over each other trying to predict what will be hot and what not in 2007. One thing they all seem to agree on (and you really don't need a degree in astrology to spot this trend) is that we will see more gourmet food served in a casual environment, with lots of top chefs up and down the country (globe) opening eateries where you can enjoy your food without having a waft of waiting staff dancing attendance on you when you least need it.
Are top chefs getting bored with their millionnaire punters who might have a wallet that's bursting at the seams, but don't know their foie gras from their rabbit terrine? Or do they find that people who really appreciate food just find the price tags coming with it extortionate and laughable? Joel Robuchon has bid his Michelin-starred haunt adieu over a decade ago, only to re-emerge with an altogether more approachable concept, Thomas Keller was probably the first to go down the path of diversifying into a more affordable kind of eaterie with Bouchon, even Gordon Ramsay is said to open a chain of pubs serving good food next year (he is loathe to call them gastropubs, a term that has been overused in the past and is now stamped on every public drinkhouse with a license to serve food other than a packet of fried pork scratchings).
London Wunderkind Tom Aikens (and, born in 1970, he really is a child compared to his closest rivals) had found instant success when he opened his restaurant by the same name in 2003. Whether he got bored with it or just wants to make the most of the fact that his name seemingly grants instant success, I don't know, but he's only just opened his version of a casual eaterie with great food at accessible prices: Tom's Kitchen. Whether you're off to the museums (the V&A, Natural History and Science Museums being just a stone-drop from there) or looking for a quick bite before a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, Tom's Kitchen is at a manageable distance and certainly one of your best options...
A lot has been said about it in the papers and I didn't find a single review that didn't compare its interior with St. John's... I don't quite get why, to be honest, if the white tiles are your trigger, you might as well compare it to any odd bathroom in the UK and abroad. I am happy to report that the simliarities end there (I have only ever been downstairs at St. J's, but don't see the attraction of it - neither in the cold, uninviting decor, nor the non-existent wine glasses, and even less in the grub they serve - for it is no more than that, I am afraid).
Tom's Kitchen is a sleek and modern dining room accommodating maybe 100 diners at any one time, around simple bare wooden tables which can be re-arranged into any combination of seatings needed - the tiled walls are adorned with massive black & white photography on canvas and in the back of the restaurant all eyes are on an open kitchen. The clientele is the young and beautiful crowd you'd expect in this corner of the capital, but they are also surprisingly casual, friendly and certainly into their food - very much like the image Tom Aikens carries himself... cute and successful, but approachable. Staff are very friendly and attentive, knowledgable and kind. Despite the restaurant filling up at a fast pace, they had no problem waiting for our order although my "date" was 45 minutes late and it took us another 15 at least to decide. Another high point was the fact that they are happy to cater for children, room for pushchairs at the entrance, Stokke high-chairs for the little ones and never-fading smiles all around.
The brunch menu has a good mix of sweet breakfast treats ranging from the healthy (weetabix, porridge) to the indulging (French toast, pancakes, croissants), as well as an even larger selection of brunch items for those with a healthy appetite: from a variety of cooked eggs (benedict, scrambled etc) to heartier fare like fried pig's ears with tartare sauce, duck confit, foie gras and burgers, as well as an excellent selection of side dishes.
I opted for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on a bagel, the eggs slightly undercooked and still deliciously creamy, while Jeanne had thinly-sliced Bayonne ham on celeriac salad, served with the crunchiest home-made sour-dough bread imaginable.
On the sweet side, Jeanne couldn't resist a sour cream & chocolate muffin while I just had to indulge in a French toast with maple syrup, properly made with brioche, crunchy on the outside and creamy and buttery within, but not too eggy. I asked for some rhubarb compote to go with it and this combination proved so delicious that they should really put it on the menu!
With several helpings of delicious espresso, served in cute brushed steel "shotglasses", hot chocolate and some fresh grapefruit juice to satisfy the health-conscious part in me, this was brunch how I like it... an easy-going, leisurely affair with indulging food and no rush to get out (and a bill that came to no more than £50 for the two of us).
No wonder, really, that this kind of eaterie should be the next food fad - bring it on, I say, bring it on.
27 Cale Street
London SW3 3QP
Tel 020 7349 0202
Nearest public transport: South Kensingston tube (District & Picadilly Lines)