Muse in Belgravia: Tom Aikens makes fine dining more intimate than ever before
Tom Aikens, once the enfant prodige – and terrible – of the British food scene, has come back to the fine-dining circle. Six years after closing his flagship restaurant in Chelsea, he has now joined the even more exclusive neighbourhood of Belgravia with Muse, a tiny two-storey, private club-like affair.
If you pass by without knowing there’s a restaurant there, you won’t notice it. A glossy black door bears no sign or name. The windows are half covered, the lights warm and soft. Stepping in, you enter a tiny house decorated in pink and beige palettes. It resembles a posh tea house. On the ground floor there’s the bar-cum-dessert kitchen, with a big marble counter where diners can enjoy their meal, and also a few seats to sip cocktails and liquors. Upstairs, a cosy dining room hosts 20 guests, including another marbled counter, shared with the restaurant’s kitchen.
It feels intimate and exclusive. It must not be easy for a temperamental chef to be working right in front of his guests, with no filter: a continuous exercise in self-control and discreet whispering. The menu opens like a pop-up storybook for kids, recreating the building’s shape in a very charming (and Instagrammable) fashion. It’s set, with the option of either six (£95) or ten (£145) courses. The price point is quite high, but it’s mostly justified by the personal nature of the experience.
The amuse-bouches are brought to the table while we read through the menu. Rather than being defined by the ingredients, the dishes appear as a series of anecdotes that inspired the chef. Most of them refer to childhood memories, a food-world narrative that is becoming a bit clichéd.
Each dish comes on a different plate, mostly earthenware or handmade. Glasses are of the best kind, Zalto. A venison tartare is too little to fully enjoy, but the rest of the snacks – with chestnut, mushroom and cheese – make up for this. The first course, Just Down the Road, celebrates Aikens’s roots in Norfolk, where Old Hall Farm provides them with the milk used to produce a ricotta completed with burnt shallots, honey and black truffle. Sourdough bread, made from three different grains (barley, wheat and malted wheat flakes; one of which is milled on site), is served with two different kinds of butter: unpasteurised and chicken.
Sea Lavender is the name of the boat that the chef’s father used in Devon to catch mackerel, a fish Aikens initially disliked. Here it comes with daikon and a delicious broth, a testament to his change of heart towards it. The Essence wants to celebrate a single ingredient, in this case beetroot, which they proudly source from Bagthorpe Farm, again in Norfolk. Three kinds of beetroot, in different shapes and forms – also yoghurt – turn the spotlight on this vegetable, with the help of fermented cucumber and orange purée. It’s a technical course but the flavours are the real drive. Conquering the Beech Tree is arguably Muse’s more complex dish. For the chef, it represents challenging himself (they will tell you about when he used to climb a copper beech tree as a child), but I don’t see this as a daring plate, it’s just very good: a langoustine, cooked with lardo di colonnata and served in a crystal-clear apple broth, made from Granny Smith (acidic) and Pink Lady (sweet) varieties.
Dining at the counter is wonderful because, contrary to most restaurants, here you actually share the worktop with the chefs. To preserve the marble, they use a number of pretty iron pan protectors. Playing with Fire is the meat dish and yes, we know Aikens enjoys playing with it, “for good and bad reasons” (as stated on the menu). They use retired dairy cows, who are taken back to pastures to be turned into beef cattle. Topped with crispy shallots, onion ash and smoked marrowbone, this sirloin is quite amazing and it tastes properly aged. Finally, we also enjoy a piece of turbot, served on Joël Robuchon-inspired mashed potatoes, with a Pierre Koffmann-style duck confit, dubbed The Love Affair Continues (a reference to France and his mentors).
The dessert Wait and See is set to be the course changing the most. It’s not described on the menu, it simply refers to the fact you – just like him as a child – should wait and see what it is. Today, it’s a rhubarb pudding, and the fruit is transformed three ways: liquid, ice cream and tiny sticks. Petits-fours complete the meal, the highlight being a succulent, alcohol-free baba.
Rich with nostalgia and charm, Muse adds something new to London’s fine-dining restaurants’ lineup. Aikens’s personal – even whimsical – touch gives a new flavour to his already celebrated cuisine. If you sit at the counter, the dining is immersive, with direct interaction with the chefs who cook on the same surface where you eat. It’s almost a private dining service, which, in our present-day striving for unique experiences, is a hell of an asset. Considering this is the first new opening of the decade, we may be on the right path.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Muse, 38 Groom Place London SW1X 7BA, call 0792 133 5922 or visit their website here.