Dylan Jones: The rise of the gastropub

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The Independent Online

Pubs in London have been changing ever since The Eagle opened in Farringdon Road 15 years ago, when it was still largely patronised by Guardian senior management and postmen from nearby Mount Pleasant (and at that time few people could tell the difference). This was the capital's first gastropub, the first pub to be properly gutted, leaving the wooden floors, the ale and the wrought iron tables and chairs. They added an enormous blackboard on to which they scrawled the day's menu, bought in some serious wines, and created the template for the open kitchen (cooking, it goes without saying, fairly extraordinary pub grub, most of it Italian-based). I was working nearby at The Face at the time, and it was good sport watching the extravagantly dressed members of the fashion team sharing tables with people who didn't wear three-legged trousers as a matter of course.

And though the owners neglected to exploit the idea (gastropubs, not three-legged trousers), it was a blueprint that was copied all over town, to such an extent that in certain parts of London, if you haven't got a gastropub in your street, then estate agents won't really take you seriously. These days they're even patronised by brickies: "Mate, when you're ready, two glasses of ABC [Anything But Chardonnay] and a couple of steak sandwiches. Oh, a packet of Fruit & Nut while you're about it."

But things have moved on, and as gastropubs have slowly started to replace your local, pubs have started to move up a gear or two, usually by turning themselves into continental-style bars that also do food. One man who's been working on such a project for a while is Tom Aikens. Tom's Kitchen is an ambitious five-storey brasserie-cum-restaurant-cum-bar-cum-private dining room on the site of the old Blenheim Pub in Cale Street in Chelsea, just round the corner from Aikens' eponymous restaurant. The basement will have a proper cheese and wine room (the first of its kind in London), while the games room upstairs will have Dunhill livery. This is Aikens' own diffusion restaurant, with a slightly more egalitarian pricing structure than the flagship. Quality will not be forsaken though, and he claims that all his produce will be sourced from the UK. Given that he used to be the chef for the Bamfords, whose devotion to organic farming is fairly comprehensive, you have to conclude he means what he says.

Will it be any good? Well, the encouraging thing about this place is the fact that it's not - like most new ventures of this sort in London - going to be members-only, so that stockbrokers will be rubbing shoulders with occupants of the council flats opposite. And as Aikens' own restaurant is currently one of the best in London (even though the lighting is far too bright), I'd say it will. If it doesn't - and in six weeks we'll know - blame the chef.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ