TOM’S KITCHEN: GOODBYE MR TOM
If someone asks me what the worst meals I have ever eaten were, as they often do, it is not very hard to come up with a list.
In at No5, The, unlamented Food Room in Battersea, which was like, I imagine, eating in a neighbourhood restaurant in Birmingham in the late 70’s but without the glamour.
At No4, St Germain, a meal so ridiculously awful that I still shudder when I think of the bowl of “potted shrimp” that turned out to be frozen prawns in melted butter.
At No3, Chintamani, a horrifyingly ill judged attempt to create a high end Ottoman experience by serving gloop and putting a man in a fez on the door.
At No2, Gordon Ramsay at Claridges which separated DH from over £350 for a meal which included a floor show comprising of one of “Gordo” mates shouting “c**t” at the top of his lungs at the next table throughout the meal.
At No1, wait for it.
Restaurant Tom Aikens.
Singly the worst experience I have ever had in a London dining establishment. Flavourless, ugly food served on plates that looked like car wrecks in a room where all good humour had been sucked out of the air by the front of house (his ex wife, I believe) So bad was the meal that, as my companion and I slunk out, we looked in pity at another couple examining their food and could not tell if the course in front of them was a starter, main course or dessert. Words cannot sum up the misery of that meal, but I think I described it at the time as the same as coming home and finding your grandfather prancing around in a lacy teddy.
Move on three or so years and the pain of that night had dimmed a bit. HP had taken the day off work and suggested we walk across town to Tom Aikens’ new fish and chip place called Tom’s Place. The dreadful name did not bother me so much it does, after all join a long and glorious line of chip shops with pun name like “Just for the Halibut” and “Rock & Sole Plaice” but it did reawaken the dread of experiencing a meal like my last at RTA.
However, HP prevailed upon me and reminded me of my unspoken duty to try every fish & chip shop in London from high end to greasy corner joint (we do it so you don’t have to) and I agreed to join him in a cross town walk of some seven miles or so to Cale St in Chelsea.
I should not have worried, not because the meal turned out to be any good but because the, already much delayed place, turned out not to be open at all and was filled with angry looking men working in a room that looked nowhere near finished.
We hadn’t really considered a fall back position, but HP in a moment of weakness suggested Tom’s Kitchen. I had my doubts, but it was close, it looked like there was space and it was bloody freezing outside, so we ducked in.
The empty seats, it turned out were reserved but they offered us a seat at the bar area which, not having any alternatives in mind, we took. The room, is utilitarian in a “Chelsea” kind of way with communal bench seating and white tiled walls.
HP’s snort of “fuck’s sake” was the first indication of what was to come. The prices at Tom’s Kitchen are not for the faint hearted. £25 for steak and chips anyone? £16.50 for pork belly, £17.50 for pan fried lemon sole?
We had decided, if it was on the menu, that we had to have fish & chips given that it had been the purpose of the excursion in the first place. I guessed around £14.50 and, surprise, surprise, was spot on. I don’t mind the price so much. I have paid more at places like Bibendum and close to that even at The Fish Shop on St John St. This is, after all a restaurant not a chippie. But, at those prices, these need to be as good as fish & chips is ever likely to get.
A couple of glasses of Meantime stout numbed the pain of the menu pricing and we ordered a couple of starters as well.
HP’s Ceasar Salad looked was no better than you would buy in a pr-prepared packet at M&S with uniform croutons and tired leaves ( this is, of course being a little unfair to M&S). A few shavings of dry parmesan and couple of anchovies thrown on top could not disguise the fact that for £6.50 this was as miserable an example of this classic dish as you are ever likely to behold.
My remoulade was little better. A bigger portion, I will grant you, but that, in this case, was not a good thing. It tasted medicinal which made me think that the whole thing had been allowed to sit and have a good ferment before being served with a few strips of chewy ham and a piece of sourdough that must have been just perfect when it was prepared at 7am that morning.
The wine list is through the roof expensive and even our “cheap” bottle of Picpoul (about £4.50 at retail, I think) came in at a laughable £16.
But, the best is yet to come. Our fish & chips, and I use that term in its most loose sense, arrived. On a wooden board no less, as all good fish & chips should. On top of the board was a layer of greaseproof paper and on top of that, our meal.
Oh dear, oh dear, where to begin. Well, let’s start with the fish, it is after all the main component. Pollack is sustainable (hurrah!) it is also dirt cheap which means that you should be able to expect a decent portion. What we got were pieces that were microscopic barely being half a runt size fillet each. The small amount of fish we had been treated too was served in a limp batter which had failed to protect the fish during cooking so it descended into a mushy hell.
Alongside this, a bowl of fat, grim chips which had a little crunch but not enough to hide the floury insides which I tried to hide by dipping into some tartar sauce that lacked any of the pre-requisite tang or crunch.
Decorating the plate was a large pile of salad leaves which is so wrong on so many levels. HP refused to eat it on principle. What I tried was no better than you can find in any gas filled bag in any supermarket.
They brought proper Sarsons vinegar which I am certain is done with a huge dose of “slumming it” irony and also a bottle of their homemade ketchup which was a pale glop of a cold tomato reduction with none of the flavours that make ketchup such a perfect companion to fish & chips.
There is no excuse for food this dreadful. There was, trust me I counted, a brigade of ten people in the kitchens and yet they still turned out food that would make Findus blush.
The bill, ah the bill. A mere £70 including a 12% charge for service which was efficient, if unhindered by charm and well trained in the up selling filling of customer’s wine glasses. We thanked God that we did not bother with side orders which came in tiny portions at £3.50 a pop.
The place was packed as we left and the other plates of food, a burger here, bangers & mash there, looked as ghastly as our own “meal” it would seem that Mr Tom has managed to transplant the spirit of his high end place to this canteen intact, quite a feat. We both suggested at once “efficiently extracting money from the stupid”
The only benefit of the whole sorry story is that I know now that I shall never have to set foot in Tom’s Place when it opens. I already know just how bad it will be.
I have written nearly 1300 words about how awful Tom's Kitchen is. HP sums it up so much more eloquently in the first picture