In the warren of small Chelsea streets, Tom’s Kitchen is chef Tom Aikens’s (with his twin brother, Robert) second place, done up like a fantasy Edwardian country-house kitchen. The food is plain, simple, and delicious—like the enormous wooden slab of charcuterie: pork terrine, chicken liver parfait, almost transparent slices of ham, smoked duck breast, slices of salami, toasted pain Poilâne, and a couple of pots of chutney. Or the best burger in London, the beef coarsely chopped by hand; the big pot of moules marinières; or house-made vanilla yogurt with churros, a stunning dessert even if, like me, you suffer from vanilla fatigue.
Aikens has in common with Gordon Ramsay a bad-boy image and now, at Ramsay’s new gastropub the Narrow, a style of eclectically British eating. In an old dockmaster’s house on a bend in the Thames (with a vast terrace and plenty of tables for sunny days), Ramsay offers potted Cromer crab, chunky country pâté with turmeric-yellow piccalilli (chopped spiced vegetables), firm grilled Dorset mackerel (an underfished, underpriced, and absolutely delicious species) with potato salad, soft herring roe on toast, deviled lamb’s kidneys, savory braised Gloucester pig’s cheeks, and a fantastic beer list with some bargain prices as low as the amazingly reasonable cost of the food.
The Grand Finale, as Promised…
Alain Ducasse was unlucky: he rolled out Spoon in the Sanderson Hotel in 2000. Its mix-and-match formula never really caught on, and it is now the Malaysian Suka, run by New York chef Zak Pelaccio. But Ducasse has treated himself to a second bite of the apple and opened, in a historic room, a restaurant with obvious aspirations to live up to his Monte Carlo and Paris flagships.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester inhabits the space where, in the 1980’s, a young Swiss chef named Anton Mosimann shook well-heeled London diners to the core of their Manolo Blahniks by introducing French nouvelle cuisine. We’d never seen such Japanese-y presentation before—indeed, we expected silver service by bored waiters, and weren’t used to the chef plating our food at all, especially not when the portions were smaller, the ingredients fresher, and the sauces flour-free. Except for the odd bar mitzvah, the Terrace room, where Mosimann launched Britain’s food revolution, had remained more or less dormant until Ducasse’s expensive refit this past November. Two walls are covered in clusters of thousands of green silk buttons that echo the trees and shrubbery just beyond the large windows, which look out over Park Lane and Hyde Park. Far-apart tables (there are a maximum of 80 diners) are set with napery, cutlery, and china that whisper luxury. There’s a sculptural fiber-optic curtain of light where the diminutive dance floor used to be. And if you can get to see the kitchen…it’s a thing of beauty.
Still, the food, presided over by Jocelyn Herland, who has come from Ducasse’s Paris restaurant at the Plaza Athénée, manages to take precedence over the surroundings. Ducasse’s self-confident menu does offer the elaborate freebies we’ve come to expect, but I especially liked the I-want-to-eat-it-all bread and small plate of crunchy baby crudités with a runny riff on anchovy paste. What follows is blissfully restrained, contemporary French cuisine, with a relish for good British ingredients. Among the beneficiaries of this approach are the squid bonbons with crisp green vegetables—thumb-size portions of pearly squid encompassing a deeply satisfying stuffing that includes its tiny tentacles; a perfectly poached breast of Landes chicken in spectacular sauce Albufera, which gets its smoky note from the incorporation of foie gras; and his famous dessert star of fresh raspberries, edible silver, and chocolate.
Ducasse is serious money, a minimum $150 for three courses—but there is a $70 prix fixe lunch, and if he happens to be in the kitchen himself (a rare occurrence—after all, the man’s got 14 Michelin stars to look after), you might think it worth taking out that second mortgage to pay for your dinner.
Paul Levy has been writing about food for the past 30 years. He is based in Oxfordshire and London.