Less than a month old, Tom’s Kitchen is the shiny, new, opening in Birmingham’s Mailbox and fifth UK restaurant for chef Tom Aikens.
I went along on a Friday lunchtime with my mum to review the new eaterie. From the warm welcome, as soon as our coats were checked we were presented with an invitingly long list of wines by the glass. Like us, the other two booths and stools around the bar were all occupied by couples who looked in no hurry to move, happily savouring craft beers and cocktails.
With an open seating area at the front of the restaurant, we were shown to a jumbo Chesterfield occupying the whole of the back wall of the interior dining area. This was a comfortable table with great views of the kitchen and bar.
Huge pendant lights, oak cabinets and verdant green tiles soften the industrial exposed ceiling. A glass display case next to the open kitchen is also a useful reminder of the quality and provenance of the meat and game on the menu, with hanging hooks to age ingredients from pork to partridge.
Skipping starters Mum went for one of her favourite main courses – fish and chips (£15). She couldn’t fault the light, crispy batter and juicy, firm fish. A big tick also for the triple-cooked chips for the perfect blend of crispy outside and fluffy inside. Mini pots of crushed peas and tartare sauce were as expected, the only touch missing was half a lemon wrapped in muslin rather than just a wedge to squeeze over the fish.
Momentarily distracted by the specials board and Detox v Retox menu options, I went back to the main lunch menu for a chicken schnitzel. The was a lot bigger that I expected, covering the plate with strips of crispy chicken pieces (£18). Less successful was the oversweet bed of caramelised onions and red peppers that the meat rested upon. I probably should have gone for mash and spring greens as sides but couldn’t resist the chips (£4).
We’d missed starters to save room for desserts, which was a tough choice from a good selection of panna cotta, plum bakewell tart and sticky toffee pudding (to share). I tried the blackberry cheesecake (£7). The cheesecake was whipped to a light mousse and top was studded with nuggets of honeycomb and blackberries, alongside a zesty berry sorbet which was fab.
Our waitress Nicky warned mum that her dish of chocolate and peanut butter fondant (£8) would be hot and as the blob of vanilla ice cream melted she was able to tuck in and declare her dessert was a ‘chocoholics dream’. I had to take her word for it as the moreish pudding was devoured before I had a chance to try it!
The second part of Tom’s Kitchen is the Deli. This is a daytime café offering sandwiches, soups, hotpots and salads in the central seating on Level 2 i.e. ‘The Urban Room’ of The Mailbox.
With drinks and two courses each, it is easy to rack up a bill of £60 for the generous portions of gastropub style dishes at Tom’s Kitchen. I like the simple, bold flavours that show off the key ingredients and quality sourcing. I’m going back to see how the atmosphere differs in the evening and try the poached monkfish and the chocolate and peanut butter fondant which I can’t stop thinking about.
Tom’s Kitchen 53/57 Wharfside Street, The Mailbox, Birmingham B1 1RE
About Tom Aikens
As the youngest chef to receive a Michelin star (he was only 26) Tom Aiken’s father was in the wine business and Tom developed his love of cooking at an early age in his mother’s kitchen. This interview is an extract from the Great British Chefs website, you can read it in full here
If you weren’t a chef what would you be?
Either a Jump Jockey or I’d be in endurance sports of some kind.
What’s your foodie guilty pleasure?
Vanilla ice cream.
What is your favourite foodie destination in the UK?
Devon. There are so many great little fishing ports and food producers.
Which dish would you like to be remembered for?
Well, there are many dishes that I have loved making and we all have favourites, but the first was always the braised pig’s head dish that I had all the time at Pied à Terre. And also my seven-hour slow-braised shoulder of lamb in Tom’s Kitchen