Admit it, you've missed us. Go on, say it. Say you missed us. Whisper it so nobody hears. Whisper "I missed you I Choose Birmingham". We missed you too. What we didn't miss was the youngest chef to be awarded two Michelin stars ever, opening his first restaurant in Britain outside London. Tom's Kitchen is here, and as is customary, we've been chatting to the eponymous man behind it all, Tom Aikens.
"We're definitely not trying to win a Michelin star", explains the young veteran of culinary-related silverware. And he means it. "The middle ground is our territory and that's what we're hoping to fill — a place where you can come two, three times a week, for a snack at the bar, for dinner or simply a sandwich from the deli." And though Aikens uses the phrase "low-key" to describe the offering on more than one occasion, his terminology needs to be interpreted in the context of his award-filled training and exceptional early career. Accessible Tom's Kitchen is, but with a pedigree and flourish lacking at chains attempting similar.
Aikens is like a proud new Dad when it comes to discussing the Brum fit-out. "I'm very happy with the look and feel of the place." He pauses. "Not that my other restaurants aren't as nice... but this one just has that little bit more attention to detail — it's special, really special, and it adds to the whole feel of the Mailbox." With restaurants from Hong Kong to Istanbul, though Aikens is keen to pay plenty of visits to his newest outpost, he's taken on the former head chef at Turners, Tom Wells to run the kitchen. And it's got nothing to with his first name apparently. "He's a very good chef and he's doing an exceptional job already. He's got the local knowledge and his team is working really well together."
And if you're wondering what the man himself would order if dining from his own a la carte menu, the scallops with pine nut risotto and black pudding (£15) are right up there — "I love fish and this combination is completely moreish, rich and satisfying". In terms of mains, the Cornish loin of venison (£26) is where it's at, including one of Aikens' most beloved vegetables two ways — beetroot, gratinéed and puréed. Like our waitress, we actually turned out to be big time suckers for the spicy crab cake (£10, pictured), which is served up with a picquanty little cucumber number.
Coming from a family of wine merchants, it's probably unsurprising to hear that there's a worthy wine by the glass game at Tom's Kitchen, with Grace Bridge's flavoursome Pinot Noir understanding us — and that venison — like you never could. There's also the sort of bar you're going to lose entire afternoons to at the head of the restaurant and two private dining rooms, one opening onto the pastry chef's large station to take care of your night and the other looking onto the huge seelction of wine. If only the restaurant were the brainchild of a talented celebrity chef who could put on special events there. Oh wait.
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