Chef who disappeared after knife burn incident triumphs in Tatler awards

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A chef who left a leading restaurant after allegedly branding an errant member of staff with a hot knife has made a spectacular comeback.

Tom Aikens has been showered with awards and feted by reviewers since he opened his eponymous restaurant in Chelsea last May, serving modern French cuisine with a twist. Yesterday the chef, aged 34, received another accolade on top of his recently awarded Michelin star: Restaurant of the Year.

Tatler, the society magazine, bestowed the title on the sleek glass and black-wood emporium off Chelsea Green, built on what was once the site of a pub. The restaurant's Gearoid Devaney was named best sommelier.

Among the other winners were Marcus Wareing of the Savoy Grill, who was named Restaurateur of the Year, and the ever-popular River Café in Hammersmith, west London, won the award for Most Consistently Excellent Restaurant of the Year.

But it is Mr Aikens's achievement at the Tatler awards that stands out. He had been a rising star on the London restaurant scene before the branding incident that stalled his career. At the London restaurant Pied à Terre, he had achieved two Michelin stars by the age of 26 ­ the youngest chef in Britain to do so.

He left Pied à Terrefour years ago, shortly after he was alleged to have burnt the arm of Marcus Donaldson, 19, for making a mistake in the kitchen. According to sources at the restaurant, there was a staff rebellion against the chef.

Mr Aikens later said he had been sacked unfairly. He sued for loss of earnings, and the restaurant settled out of court. Mr Aikens took up an opportunity at the Berkeley Hotel and then became a private chef for wealthy clients such as the industrialist Sir Anthony Bamford and the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Last summer he and his wife finally completed a £1m project to convert a former pub, The Marlborough Arms, into a modern restaurant.

"What we have done here is very individual. We are not a restaurant that is a copy of another restaurant," Mr Aikens said yesterday. "A lot of restaurants are in a similar mould in what they are trying to do ­ reproduce, either in the service or the food. We are trying to be different and to stand out and stand above everyone else. What people get here more than anywhere else is that the taste and flavours of each ingredient comes through in all the dishes."

Restaurant reviewers appreciate his sophisticated use of flavour, praising the "top-class cooking and crisply efficient service" which one critic said seemed to have been created by "straightforward magic".

On the menu last night were such mouthwatering dishes as roast scallops with leek and hazelnut boudain, leek and chervil jelly and hazelnut emulsion, and roast langoustine with braised wings and pork belly. A meal for two with wine costs about £100.

Yesterday, Mr Aikens said he had become a calmer person since leaving the kitchens of Pied à Terre, where he had been overworked.

But anyone thinking that the once volatile chef had become timid would be wrong. "I would say I am a calmer person within but there are obviously things that go wrong and I get upset," he said. "When a £50 plate gets broken someone has made a mistake. It's not just 'oh dearie me'. Of course you get upset, but you carry on."


Restaurant of the Year: Tom Aikens

Restaurateur of the Year: Marcus Wareing

Best Room: The Wolseley

Best Maître D': Louis Abdilla at the Belvedere

Best Newcomer: East@West

Best Sommelier: Gearoid Devaney at Tom Aikens

Most Consistently Excellent Restaurant: River Café

Best Kitchen: Foliage

Best out of London Restaurant: The Fat Duck