A chat with Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens is a real star in the cooking world. With two Michelin stars by the age of 26, Tom has recently opened the fabulous Tom’s Kitchen in Birmingham’s plush Mailbox, and the restaurant has been an instant success, a real destination in the City’s thriving food scene. On Monday I went along to Tom’s Kitchen (with a quick pit stop at Tom’s Deli on route) to chat to Tom about all things food.

FM: Let’s start by chatting about Tom’s Kitchen. Why Birmingham? Why Mailbox?

TA: I started talking about Birmingham two years ago. I’d looked at other cities and was interested in the demographic of the Cities, what other restaurants were based there. I looked at the food press and noticed Birmingham featuring a lot, a lot of buzz around the city being No.2 for food behind London – the food capital outside London, with lots of exciting openings, Atul Kochhar’s restaurant is also coming to Birmingham (Mailbox).

I’d wanted to open a Tom’s Kitchen outside London for a number of years. When Mailbox approached I was interested in the proposed space as it had great visability and footfall. It ticked lots of boxes. Birmingham is a city with so much to offer – lots of tourism, within easy reach of London. But I was reaching out from my comfort zone which can be difficult. In London when I open a new restaurant I tend to move some of my existing staff to the venue, but in Birmingham it was a totally new staff, yet recruitment of the right people was pretty easy – all done within the time frame.

FM: Did you always want to be a chef? Who were your earliest inspirations?

TA: I wanted to be a chef from the age of 12. I grew up in Norfolk with lots of time spent outdoors. We had a massive garden with a veggie patch. Mom was very hands on – we had a kitchen garden and grew a lot of our own produce which we then transferred to our kitchen, with lots of focus on family mealtimes. I liked home economics at school and when I was 16 I went straight to Norwich City College catering school – no exams or interview required.

FM: What was your fave meal as a child? Was there any dish you really wanted to cook?

TA: My favourite meals were puddings. Mom made homemade apple pies and rhubarb crumbles. And roasts, Sunday lunches. Mom cooked  very simple stews and casseroles, and I wasn’t too fussy foodwise, would pretty much eat anything that was put in front of me..except for Steak and Kidney pie. I had a bad experience with steak and kidney pie when my mom’s friend, who was the worst cook served this up. The Pastry was almost charred, and yet it was luke warm inside (how do you do that?). The sauce was watery and it all looked so grey and chewy. It was one of those situations where you can’t leave the table unless you eat everything, so thank goodness they had a dog who I could feed every time she left the room.

FM: Who inspires and excites you now on the cooking scene?

TA: I know lots of chefs who are friends and we meet up. There is a lot of respect on the cooking scene – people like Tom Sellers, Philip Howard, Daniel Clifford from Midsummer house. We all started at around the same age and it is nice to see everyone doing so well.  I also really admire Joel Robuchon from Paris.

FM: Who would you love to cook for if you had an imaginary dinner party?

TA: Well my close family, even though my girls are fussy eaters. And lots of sports athletes. I was involved in the London Olympics in 2012, and I was involved with fundraising, including the Golden Olympic Ball (for 3000 people). I met so many athletes and they are all so dedicated, it would be hard to cherry pick individuals, people like Louis Smith, Mo Farah and Laura Trott, but I so admired their work ethic and the training they put in. If you think about their stress load, they often then have a split second between success and failure.

FM: What would your three courses be on Come Dine With Me?

TA: I’d keep it simple. For starter I’d create my go to dish of Scallops in a shell with butter, olive oil, thyme, garlic – no pan frying at all. Nice and easy, takes about 5 minutes.

For main I would do a simple rib of beef. In summer I just love to barbecue so this ties in nicely. I’d make sure there was a big pot of Bearnaise sauce too.

Pudding – again, keep it simple – a lemon tart. (I did at this point tell Tom that my dessert would be even more simple – Vienetta. He laughed and said ‘chop some strawberries, add some whipped cream and hide the box. Winner.’)

FM: What are your personal favourite foods?

TA: I don’t have one favourite food but I love that British food is so seasonal. I love Asparagus, gulls eggs, game, venison, partridge and grouse. I think we are very lucky to have seasonal food, although the season always seems to be Winter!

FM: What achievement are you most proud of?

I think it has to be my two Michelin stars by the early age of 26. I didn’t really know that something like that would happen, but I’m really proud to have achieved this so young.

FM: What next for Tom Aikens?

TA: Well, I would like to continue to open Tom’s Kitchen’s. On a personal level, I’m looking to a few new projects, one in Doha and one in Abu Dhabi. That will definitely be enough for me.

 

Tom’s Kitchen

Address: 53, The Mailbox, Wharfside St, Birmingham B1 1RE
Phone: 0121 289 5111

 

 

Perfect Pizza at The Stable, Birmingham

There are some great places to find really good Pizza in Birmingham, but The Stable on John Bright Street must be one of the best. It has a menu that is full of delicious pizza combinations. and also has a range of over 80 ciders that you can team with them, making this perfect pitstop for a refuel on a shopping day. In addition, a great outside space is just glorious, especially when the mercury is hitting over 70 degrees, which it was on the Sunday we paid a family trip. With a relaxed atmosphere, and a child friendly menu and staff, you can easily enjoy fantastic food and a chill on a lazy Sunday.

The menu is interesting in that many of the combinations and dishes look Mediterranean, but are actually full of local produce and British ingredients. The menu also gives a nice nod to the local area, with pizzas named after Birmingham areas like Bournville (the Bournville Bantam is my pizza of choice), Smethwick and Perry Barr.

We started with a Cured Meats and cheese board (£12 for two). This is a dish that has the look of the Mediterranean, but is actually British through and through, specifically the West Country. The pickled cucumber in particular was excellent, and the cheeses were a great mixture of creamy (goats cheese) and sharp and flavoursome (the Wookey Hole aged cheddar.) The meat also showed that Prosciutto and Parma Ham are not the only choices when it comes to pairing cured meats with cheese.

Joe loves garlic bread, and The Stable has the traditional pizza style breads. These were again packed full of flavour with the butter literally oozing from the bread (not my favourite word but the only one to use in this case.) The bread didn’t last long and was totally proclaimed a hit by my boy.

Onto the Pizza. Joe chose a Margarita but added chicken to it. It was delicious, the flavours worked together very well, and it was great that he could add the extra ingredient to create his perfect pizza. I went for the Bournville Bantam, again with chicken, but I removed mushrooms (my idea of food hell) and was really pleased with the overall flavour. Pete went for the special – the Ali Baa Baa, almost a mezze on a pizza with Koftka style meatballs and feta Cheese, as well as tomato, oregano and mozzarella. Pete declared this was the best pizza he had ever had – high praise indeed. We also tried one of the salads, this was a salmon salad that could virtually count as a course by itself as it was full of leaves and pieces of salmon.

If you have any room left for a dessert, I would definitely try the ice cream. The clotted cream vanilla is just so lovely, and the presentation makes it look so special. You can choose three flavours, or opt for double of your favourite.

With friendly and knowledgeable staff able to recommend both dishes and cider, and fast and efficient service, The Stables is a real jewel in Birmingham’s foodie crown. This was my fourth visit, but the first with my family, and it was a big hit with all. We’ll definitely be coming back.

The Stable, Birmingham

Address: 115 John Bright St, Birmingham B1 1BE
Phone: 0121 643 8918
Reservations: bookatable.co.uk

 

 

Happy 1st Birthday Nosh & Quaff

Last week saw one of Birmingham’s most popular and unusual restaurants celebrate it’s 1st birthday. And, because this is the restaurant that saucily encourages its patrons with the suggestion ‘Let’s Get Messy’, Nosh & Quaff celebrated in some style, with Pornstar Bellinis, live entertainment and some fabulous new dishes. It was quite a night.

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Nosh & Quaff is a restaurant that I had not visited until last week, mainly because of its reputation as the best place to eat Lobster in Birmingham. As everyone I know seemed to have tried the said lobster – getting messy in the process, and as I hate lobster, I didn’t think this was the place for me. Last week proved just how wrong I could be.

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Because Nosh & Quaff is about so much more than lobster, it is the place to find the best meat dishes in Birmingham, many of them with an American feel. It creates burgers that are so much more than a patty on a bun, and makes onion rings into a work of art. In short, it is comfort food with a serious style edge – you leave sated, satisfied, and needing to undo your top button. Yes, that good.

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The star for me last week was the cheeky burger, a succulant hearty beef burger made up of dry-aged, naturally reared beef and braised cheek, topped with truffle mayo, pickles, cheese and crisp onion rings. It is hard to describe just how delicious this burger is, the beef is soft and juicy and with all the other ingredients it is literally an explosion of flavours in your mouth. This is the item on the menu I would choose over and over again, especially when ordered with a side of ‘blooming onion’ which is an onion that has been kept whole and deep fried with batter to create a crispy delight, this is teamed with special house sauce that was so good we asked for more.

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Other dishes which impressed included the Beef ribs that are slow cooked in hickory smoked molasses glaze. The meat literally fell from the bone it was so soft and tender, while hubby enjoyed the pork ribs, especially as they were dusted in mustard.  The Mac and Cheese is something I usually avoid, tending to find it sickly, but here it was a lovely balance for all that meat.  We also tried the wings that were coated in habanero sauce. These are perfect for those who like a little fire and heat in their food, the spicy habanero certainly packs a tasty punch, but this can be cooled down with the addition of Stilton Mayo (the only thing I wasn’t keen on, to be honest, but then stinky cheese is not my thing.).

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Nosh & Quaff continue to create delightful dishes that work for leisurely lunchtimes or a more substantial evening out with the partner or friends. With a vibrant atmosphere and the slightly naughty feel to the food, it is a place I am really looking forward to visiting again…and yes, I will be ordering another cheeky burger.

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I even found room to fit in a dessert!

Selfie with the hubby!

Selfie with the hubby!

 

 

Nosh & Quaff

130 Colemore Row

Victoria Square

Birmingham

B3 3AP

0121 236 4246

Click here for website and menu.