If Proust’s madeleine were a restaurant, it would be Muse. Inspired by his Norfolk childhood, Tom Aikens’s widely anticipated new offering introduces an elegant, autobiographical journey into Belgravia’s fine dining scene. Ranging from the balletic to the outlandishly creative, Muse is an undoubtedly masterful achievement, brimming with cleverly curated dishes that pay homage to the people, memories and dreams of Tom’s past.
Diners should expect the unexpected; indeed, as head chef speaks of his delight in ‘receiving a surprise that leaves one speechless’, he sounds more than a little like a modern Proust. Since its opening last month, Muse has been both criticised and praised as pretentious. Few can deny, however, that experiencing the food of Tom Aikens – who has two Michelin stars to his name – fails to inspire a new, sensory appreciation into the tantalising evocations of culinary memories.
Choice is pared back at Muse as Tom offers three carefully curated tasting menus. These ‘menus’ read more like storybooks-cum-scrapbooks, organic musings of food’s past and its place in the present. Elliptical subheadings sound more like poem titles (‘Wait & See’, ‘Neither black nor white’, ‘The essence’) to precede brief, dreamily descriptive introductions of each course, along with the names of starring ingredients which Aikens lists as pondering afterthoughts.
Whether guests opt for a spread of three, six or ten courses, each dish guarantees a dining experience that is absolutely first-rate. Plates range from homages to classics like steak and chips to adventurous treks into gastronomic invention. We explore Tom’s Norfolk roots through his food as the finest East Anglian produce takes us back to his earliest infant memories.
His likings and loves – a fascination with fire, a fondness for beetroot – tingle on our tongue and kindle the sleepy echoes of our own childhood memories as we taste the magic anticipation of dessert in ‘Wait & See’ or family trips to the seaside in ‘Muddy flats & bacon’. Dishes are bold, fun and teasing, but with a whiff of fragility, like they are still realising themselves from their founding memories.
This is a formal restaurant not without a sense of humour, where each dish plays a delectable melody with the senses. Diners can look forward to innovative combinations of locally sourced ingredients: honey jelly with Norfolk ricotta, Armagnac-braised langoustine with rosemary apples and, perhaps most visually stunning of all, a peony-purple dish of beetroot and pine. Aikens flexes his experimental wizardry with finesse: his savoury cauliflower ice cream, turbot bone sauce and home-scent fresh bread served with two butters – one chicken flavoured – are sure to impress.
The décor, likewise, is eclectic and intriguing. Muse is set in a converted Georgian mews house and stages a mismatch of styles designed by Rebecca Korner at Körner Interiors. The Ground Floor invites with warming autumnal tones and deep wood panelling. Bright-coloured furniture brings a touch of 1950s brilliance to the country pub interior, while features such as a fuchsia and turquoise entrance console create a dazzling, Willy Wonka-esque playfulness. On the First Floor, meanwhile, Korner has created the fresh feel of a Nordic fairy-tale with chalky tones that compliment the rose gold seating, bouclé fabric and softly lit, mirror-lined walls. Bizarre, uncanny yet indisputably beautiful.
Muse is unmissable. Refined, majestic and ingeniously clever, Tom Aikens creates a dining experience unlike any other.
Address: 38 Groom Place, Belgravia, London SW1X 7BA