Chefs honour 'fabulous' Chelsea restaurateur

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The Independent Online

With his signature dish of braised pig's head, stuffed trotters and shards of pig's ear, Tom Aikens' menu is not to every diner's taste.

With his signature dish of braised pig's head, stuffed trotters and shards of pig's ear, Tom Aikens' menu is not to every diner's taste.

However, his culinary standards continue to impress his peers, who have just made Aikens' eponymous eatery offering modern French cuisine the Restaurateurs' Restaurant of the Year.

Yesterday Aikens said he was surprised by the industry award, voted for by 250 chefs, which he received on top of the prize for best new restaurant - the same two categories he won last year shortly after the London venture opened.

He said: "I've been working in restaurants for 15 years now and I have got a good idea of what works. It's good to have a place that is well received by the food critics but it is very special having an award from people in your own business because they know what goes into running a good restaurant."

The 60-seat restaurant opened early last year in Chel-sea, signalling Aikens' return to the London restaurant scene.

The chef, who at 34 is the youngest winner of two Michelin stars, had departed his former restaurant, Pied a Terre, after being accused of "branding" a trainee with a hot palette knife. In the meantime Aikens worked as a private chef for Andrew Lloyd Webber among others while making plans for his own restaurant.

Amid eager anticipation from the rest of the industry the restaurant - now a hit with expense-account diners and the local area's affluent residents - opened after the conversion of a pub to a 1980s-style black and white interior with hardwood floors and wooden shutters.

On opening the cost of a three-course meal was £40, but with the plaudits, the prices have risen to about £130 for two, including wine. Aikens has proved a hit among most reviewers, who have described his food as "sometimes fabulous" or "understated complex". Among his tricks is to present an ingredient twice on a plate, both as itself and its purée, so that it is reflected across textures. Marinated artichoke on its own acidulated purée and fresh peas on their own mousse are regulars on the menu.

"The team I have believe thoroughly in what they do," said Aikens. "We are not trying to prove anything, we are just running a restaurant. It is hard work but we are aiming to be one of London's top restaurants - we've only been going for one and a half years."

Aikens has had a remarkable year, picking up 10 awards at the same time as he split from his wife of seven years, Laura, 33, who helped him to set up the restaurant where she remains general manager. "It's been a difficult year but who knows what the future holds? I hope to maybe get another restaurant up and running and I'm probably going to write a book as well."

Other winners in the competition, run since 1998 by Hotel & Restaurant magazine, included the Tamarind restaurant in Mayfair as Indian restaurant of the year and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for London Restaurant of the Year.

THE WINNING RESTAURANTS

* Restaurateur's Restaurant of the Year/New Restaurant of the Year: Aikens

* French Restaurant of the Year: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

* Seafood Restaurant of the Year: The Seafood Restaurant

* Modern European Restaurant of the Year: The Fat Duck

* Oriental Restaurant of the Year: Hakkasan

* Italian Restaurant of the Year: Locanda Locatelli

* Wine Restaurant of the Year: The Vineyard

* Design Restaurant of the Year: Sketch

* Hotel Restaurant of the Year: The Capital Hotel

* London Restaurant of the Year: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

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