Charlotte Peters reviews game week at Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea
A good restaurant has to have two things. Firstly, delicious food and secondly, ambience. Don’t you think?
You really can’t have one without the other. If the food is great but the atmosphere is lacking, then you’re not going to want to linger and chat. If the ambience is great but the food poor, then you’re going to leave feeling unsatisfied.
Walk into Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea, London and the ambience hits you the moment you walk through the door. It’s warm and relaxed with a continuous rise and fall of chat amongst diners.
In all the best ways it feels much more like eating supper in the kitchen with friends rather than dining in Chelsea. But don’t be fooled. The eponymous Tom’s Kitchen was set up by Michelin-star winning chef Tom Aikens so standards are going to be high.
Tables are set up refectory style in twos, fours and sixes, informal yet still intimate, floors are stripped oak, lighting subtle and there’s a well-stocked open bar all along one wall.
Our waiter, the aptly named ‘Talent’, showed us to our table and I asked him about the origins of game week at Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea.
He said that they’ve been having tasting menus at weekends which have proved very popular. People who have dismissed eating game, thinking they wouldn’t like it, are pleasantly surprised by the taste of venison, pigeon and pheasant and even more delighted when they’re educated about its free-range, low fat and high protein qualities.
There has always been a game week at Tom’s Kitchen, in keeping with the ethos of offering seasonal food and this year in particular it has been a huge success.
I liked the fact that when we were handed our game week menus, there was a handy guide to British game on the reverse, useful for newbies who are uncertain what to expect. For example: “If you like beef, then you’ll love venison. A stronger, muskier taste.” Or a description of hare: “The strongest taste in game meat, slightly metallic, very lean and a healthy option!”
I love what’s happening with gin these days so whilst we were choosing we had a Legacy gin, which is made from Bimber dry gin, lemon juice, English breakfast tea gomme, soda, pomegranate seeds. I don’t know what a gomme is but it was the perfect aperitif.
What we ate
To start with, I opted for the pressed game terrine, which was perfection. Served with grilled sourdough, which gave a crispy bite to each mouthful and mulled wine cabbage, to add an edge. I tasted a mouthful of my companion’s foie gras and although it’s a cliché, it really did melt in the mouth.
Pigeon is a favourite of mine and for my main course I chose the Cornish pigeon breast, with potato and artichoke purée, beetroot and almond brittle. The pigeon was succulent, perfectly pink and it was all I could do to allow my companion to share a mouthful, wanting to keep it all to myself.
My dining partner had the venison and smoked beetroot pie, with chestnuts and smoked pancetta. He was in rhapsodies. “That is the most beautifully presented venison pie I have ever seen”. Instead of a pastry crust, this pie had a delicate egg yolk mash piped around the sides. With deep satisfaction, he announced that the pancetta came through in a silent ‘whisper’, by which I think he meant that it was a subtle flavour underlying the venison.
Other choices on the menu that evening were roast loin of Cornish hare and roasted Wiltshire pheasant, so there was certainly a varied selection of game dishes on offer.
We asked Talent to choose the wines for us to accompany our food. I drank a 2013 Californian Pinot Noir from Grace Bridge and my partner a 2015 Grenache blend, Côtes du Rhone. Both worked ideally with the flavours, enhancing the taste.
Doing their bit for game
I love what Tom’s Kitchen is doing with game, having tasting menus and a regular game week every year. It’s what needs to happen and I got the feeling that many of my fellow diners were regulars. As well as Chelsea, there are Tom’s Kitchen restaurants in Canary Wharf, St Katharine Dock, Somerset House, Birmingham and Istanbul.
Afterwards, I asked a few questions.
What is a customer favourite?
Venison casserole always goes down well. Tom’s Kitchen recipe for venison casserole is here
Any tips from the chefs for cooking game?
Game lends itself to many types of cooking. With most of our game birds we brine them and roast them on the bone for maximum moisture and flavour.
How does Tom’s Kitchen source its game?
For many years most of the game has been sourced from Celtic Fish & Game which is a family run business in Cornwall who are fantastic.
How many years has Tom’s Kitchen been running game week?
We offer seasonal specials in each of our restaurants, so have always offered game dishes during this week. However, in recent years we have certainly put more of an emphasis on it. Everything from the design of the specials boards to the specific plates that are used with each dish, we really just want to encourage guests to give game a try. This year in particular has been a huge success.
Definitely a restaurant to visit if you have the opportunity. It’s a real treat to eat beautifully cooked and presented game.
Price: About £100 for two, including wine.