I don’t know about you, but the merest rumour of sunshine and eating outdoors suddenly becomes an absolute priority. This sounds great in theory, if you’re in Hampstead say, or in a nice patch of green, but let’s face it, here in le smoke you’re more often than not going to find your plate attacked by some anabolic pigeon and your bag pilfered by that soap-dodging type who’s been surreptitiously loitering around all evening. The chorus of sirens wailing in every direction generally renders any thoughts of conversation to little more than lip reading and that rogue gust of wind means its pretty much game over before the waiter has even started offering your starter to the wrong table. Suddenly, locking yourself indoors with a nice valium sandwich starts to seem like a champion idea. When I was invited to check out Tom’s Terrace, a pretty little spot in the majestic grounds of Somerset House I was relieved to note that it harboured absolutely none of these elements.
Presented with a table denting spread cooked by Mr. Aitkens himself on a golden summer’s evening I was prepared to be thoroughly spoilt and not reminded of just how spoilt I have become.
But taste – well it’s a funny old thing isn’t it? One minute there you are merrily guzzling Dr Oetker’s pizzas and the odd hunk of Asda Dale cheddar and the next thing you’re unable to insult your pampered palate with anything less than the finest wild basmati, watered exclusively with the desalinated tears of blind, socialist Himalayan orphans.
There was a time when I could quite easily lob a bag of supermarket sliced wholemeal into my basket. There was even a time when I dined regularly at Abduls. But now like a proper food loser, in the same way that most addicts need harder and harder hits, I seem to need more and more “special” foods. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the odd dirty burger avec processed cheese and there will always be a place in my heart for Fererro Rochers. But cheap basics gouda? Tropicana? Eggs that aren’t Mabel Burford’s finest blues? I would rather chew my own foot off.
I wonder if there’s an actual medical term for this. It’s close cousins with orthorexia and is a lot more complicated than simple snobbery or elitism. Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical but I’ve never trusted our supermarket food manufacturing processes and books like “The End of Food” made me realise I was dead right not to. But rather than getting all smugged up about it, I find myself envying my friends who are able to quite happily tuck in to a box of Halal fried chicken or Dolmio and pasta.
Anyway, so at Tom’s Terrace I was given the sort of food that most, non-foodie types I know would have happily eaten and happily paid for and happily had a really, really good time over. A chicken liver and foie gras pate was as airwhipped as a Bourjois blusher, the perfect savoury cream and a lovely contrast to some crisp, vinegary cornichons. Heavenly stuff. But sadly, it all went wrong as my spoilt brat of a palate took over thereafter. Coronation crab was a clever concept and super fresh, but the curry notes were far too muted for my liking. Chunky truffle chips were well cooked, but I’m more of a shoestring fries kind of person. Smothering everything in rocket (I detest rocket) did little to hide the fundamental blandness of the steak sarnie, the burger, the grilled chicken and the hot smoked salmon; mains which cost between £14.50-£17.50 each and which were respectively tough, greasy, dry and flabby. I probably need to get my tastebuds tested but they could have done with a bucket load of salt at the very least. I didn’t hang about for dessert, but did get to sample some of the most magnificent non-alcoholic cocktails I’ve ever had the delectation of supping, the equivalent of drinking ice-cream and parma violets. I would definitely give my palate a good talking to and go back for those. That, and the fact that there’s not a pigeon in sight.
Many thanks to Emma Wayman for the kind invitation.