Tom Aikens – Where has the magic gone?

Could not resist the toptable deal of £49 for a 5 course lunch with champagne and petit fours at Tom Aikens.

They are also doing a free corkage deal this month too, but as they only allow one promotion at a time,  it did not apply to our lunch option. The normal corkage fee of £30 a bottle would be charged. So we decided to leave our bottles at home on this occasion.  Ironically the corkage deal would have been the better one, as the normal lunch tasting menu is £49. So the deal was really just a free glass of champagne.

The sparkle does now seem to be missing from Tom Aikens, there were no stand out dishes at all.  The salmon and grapefruit dish worked but the fois gras was just lost in an overdose of blackcurrent.  The main course of lamb was too simple and a tiny portion (when I compare this to the lamb cuts I had on my first visit to Tom Aikens a few years ago, then there is no comparison).  There was a good cheese course and the chocolate dessert although complex was not very exciting. We finished with some basic petit fours –  the spectacular ones are saved for the evenings these days.

On the plus side the bread basket is still one of the best around – offering at least 6 different bread selections.

On the wine front, we ordered a rather disappointing bottle of Mt Beautiful Pinor Noir 2007 at £29.

In conclusion, I am sorry to say that in my view Tom Aikens has lost its magic, as reflected in the marks below.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.9

Service 6.5

Ambience 6

Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

UPDATE : March 2012 – The Restaurant has had a major revamp – see Matthew Forts post for details

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Foliage – The Last Post

Last Post for the Foliage, not last post for No Expert – we are still going strong.  The Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental however had a farewell lunch service today. It was lovely to be there but tinged with sadness, as it marked the end of an era for us.

The team pulled out all the stops.  We started with a complimentary glass of superb champagne and some very tasty canapes. This was followed by the amuse bouche.  We then had the opportunity to go off menu to choose some of the dishes. One of the standouts being the Sea Diver Scallops with chicken and mushrooms.  It was also impossible not to order our last gnocchi, one of the Foliages sublime dishes.  For main course we choose the lamb and an off menu beef dish, the wine selection chosen to go with this was absolutely stunning. Indeed all the wines selections were off a very high standard.  I especially enjoyed the Trocken Beerenauslese, Nittaus, 2004 dessert wine.


The ever attentive staff were on hand to bring us up to date on the progess being made to complete the Daniel Boulud Restaurant (Bar Boulud)  in the basement, due to open in May, and the Heston Blumental Restaurant which would be the Foliage replacement, due to open towards the end of this year.  It is just a shame that a such a fine restaurant is closing prematurely to make way for these changes. It was good to see the Head Chef Alex Marks come out of the kitchen to talk to some of the regular dinners, where he received some direct praise for his teams work over the years.  It was also a nice touch to be presented with a copy of the menu signed by members of staff as a memento. 

So it’s a fond fairwell to the Foliage. We and the other regulars will miss you.

See also Post – Fairwell to Chris Staines

Marks out of 10

Food 8.5

Service 9

Ambience 8.5

UPDATE : January 2011 – Alex Marks in now the head chef at Maze.

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Michelin Stars v AA Rosettes – Ding Ding!

No Expert has just hit the 100th post mark, so for that milestone rather than single out a restaurant, this post focuses on an issue that impacted on a number of our restaurant choices and that is can we trust Michelin Star and AA Rosette ratings alone.

I know there is a lot of debate over how accurate the Michelin star rating system is. I believe we have been to enough Michelin starred restaurants to give an opinion on the subject. Basically the  problems seem to be inconsistency and big name restaurants hanging on to stars they no longer merit. The Michelin star rating seems to be about as reliable as the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, i.e., not reliable at all.

The rating system definition for Michelin stars is:-

  • 1 star – A very good restaurant in its category
  • 2 stars – Excellent cooking, worth a detour
  • 3 stars – Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

For more information see Michelin Guide

We have been to some 3 star and 2 star Michelin restaurants that are not in the same class as 1 star restaurants.  Compare Tom Aikens to The Waterside Inn for example.

The 5 AA Rosettes award however does seem to match our tastes. The ones on the list in England for example are among our all time favorite restaurants.

The rating system definition for 5 AA Rosettes :-

  • The supreme accolade awarded only when the cooking is at the pinnacle of achievement. Flavours, combinations and textures show a faultless sense of balance, giving each dish an extra dimension.

The rating system definition for 4 AA Rosettes :-

  • At this level, not only should all technical skills be exemplary, but there should also be daring ideas, and they must work. There is no room for disappointment. Flavours should be accurate and vibrant.

Then just when I thought I could maybe rely on the AA Rosettes I find out that one of our worst of the worst restaurants Harveys of Ramsgate has just been awarded one AA Rosette, and that another of our least favorite places Abode in Canterbury has 2.

The rating system definition for 1 AA Rosette :-

  • Chefs should display a mastery of basic techniques and be able to produce dishes of sound quality and clarity of flavours, using good, fresh ingredients.

The rating system definition for 2 AA Rosettes :-

  • Innovation, greater technical skill and more consistency and judgement in combining and balancing ingredients are all needed at this level

Our experience of Harveys of Ramsgate and Abode indicated that they were sadly lacking in several of the areas associated with the definitions.

For more information see:-

The conclusion is that research is essential before you  commit to the really expensive dining experiences in the high end restaurants.

  • Check out the food blogs.
  • Check out Hardens and Zagat.
  • Look for real customer reviews via Google Maps.
  • Be really wary of the hype.
  • Be wary of Celebrity Chef endorsements.

Click here to access our prefered Food Blog/Site list.

  • It is also worth trying one of the restaurants deals first, e.g., a pre-theatre or set lunch deal.  It is surprising just how many of the top restaurants do offer less expensive options. The toptable web site is a good place to start to find these deals.

Tom Aikens – Downsizing

Readers of our earlier post  (Tom Aikens – Flavour, Flavour, Flavour) will have noticed that our only criticism, applied to portion control. It does rather seem that Tom Aikens has had this feedback from a number of customers and has made some changes. Ironically we went here, without having had breakfast, ready for a feast, instead we had a well balanced lunch.

The petit fours also used to be a highlight, and now at lunch time are limited to some Madeline’s and rather tiny chocolates, which might have been ok, if we had not been aware of how spectacular this part of the meal used to be.

We had  the Tasting Menu with some stunning matching wines. The lamb course with artichokes was the weakest course, but on the whole the food was superb.

It is also great to be given the details of the wine parings.

One day we will visit and stick to our original intention of trying the much cheaper lunch menu. The temptation was just too much for us yet again.

Update: Tom Aikins is now doing BYO – see

http://www.hardens.com/restaurant-news/uk-london/17-09-09/byo-tom-aikens-bob-ricard/

Marks out of 10

Food 8

Service 8

Ambience 8

LOCATION INFORMATION
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The Foliage without Chris Staines

Felt a bit odd returning to the Foliage our favorite restaurant following the regime change.  Alex Marks is now the Head Chef, he was Chris Staines Sous chef for a couple of years and had formally worked at The Square. The menu still retains a number of Chris’s dishes, and a few new ones from Alex. One of Alexs’ dishes the gnocchi was a particular success, which although it contained  no meat, seemed to deliver the essence of Sunday lunch.

The new Heston Blumental restaurant is yet to be named and is due to open in October 2010 with perhaps as many as 200 covers. Time will tell if all these changes are for the best. One thing is for sure is that we will miss Chris Staines and the Foliage once it goes for good. I just hope the staff are kept on under the new regime as Heston would be unwise to lose the talent in the kitchen and front of house.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.8

Service 8

Ambience 7

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Foliage replacement – the gossip!

Mandarin

As you will see from the earlier post – Fairwell to Chris Staines, the Foliage is not going to be with us for that much longer in its current form.  I do not know the exact date of its demise.  According to our sources, the plan is to combine the space currently occupied by the Foliage and The Park Restaurant to provide a new 140 cover restaurant (Heston Blumenthals London flagship). Most of the area currently used by the Foliage will become the kitchen. A new (temporary) restaurant will be housed in the basement while this work is going on.

Update : November 2009 – Looks like the basement restaurant is not going to be temporary after all, as New York restauranteur Daniel Boulud is opening Europes first Bar Boulud restaurant in a previously unused space beneath the hotel.

Update : January 2010 – The latest information seems to be that the Foliage will be closing sometime in March.

Update : March 2010 – We attended a fairwell lunch at the Foliage, for details  see post:

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