Newcomer of the Year

08 July 2004
Newcomer of the Year

Sponsored by Christie Group

Tom Aikens

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Opening a restaurant in the full glare of the media spotlight, with your every move watched by your fellow professionals, is not an easy thing to do. The tiniest hiccup will be noted… and gloated over. Yet, it's fair to say that the chef-proprietor of this year's Newcomer of the Year has achieved that almost impossible task.
"My meal at restaurant Tom Aikens," remarked one of our judging panel, "was one of those occasions of which I remember every little detail because it was so good." Another added: "Looking at the restaurant as an entirety Ð the wine list, the decor, the food, the service - it has all been envisioned and carried through."
Our panel was reflecting both the public's verdict and, crucially, the views put forward in print by the country's restaurant critics. Never an easy bunch to please, the nation's arbiters of all things foodie have been unstinting in their praise since Aikens opened his eponymous 60-seat <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>

Chelsea restaurant - along with wife, Laura, as general manager - in April 2003. The Daily Telegraph's often-pithy Jan Moir referred effusively to the ‘visual joy' of an Aikens rabbit dish, the Guardian's much-respected Matthew Fort pronounced the restaurant ‘a terrific place', with food that had ‘weight and depth'. Even the hard-to-please Fay Maschler of London's Evening Standard was won over. Pertinently, she asked: "In these straitened times, does London need one more ambitious, ego-driven, fancy-pants restaurant?" She concluded: "In my view, when it is the restaurant Tom Aikens, it does…\[He\] has brought to his new venture an ease and lightness of touch which are so often missing from ingredients at shrines of gastronomy." Recognition in guides wasn't long in following the critics' eulogies. In January, Michelin awarded Tom Aikens a star, while the AA gave it its second-highest rating of four rosettes. All of which is amazing, because the opening of this restaurant was one of the most eagerly anticipated events in recent years. Not only because of Aikens's unquestionable talents as a chef (in 1996 he became, at 26, the youngest British chef to hold two Michelin stars when he was head chef at Pied a Terre), but also because he had been out of the London restaurant cauldron for three-and-half-years. Yet that time spent out of the limelight clearly allowed Aikens to re-focus his energies and creativity on food. The result? superbly sourced produce and menus that carried dishes such as roasted scallops with poached grapes and Pernod, grape juice and acidulated fennel; and the rabbit rillettes with carrot and Muscat jelly, pickled carrots and carrot and tarragon salad that wowed Moir so much. It looks like former wunderkind Aikens is back with a bang.
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