Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting in the soft grass of Parson’s Green on a sunny day in July. You are sipping on a cold glass of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc while munching on deep fried squid prepared by Tom Aiken’s in a vintage Airstream caravan called The Cloudy Bay Shack. In the background, a jazz trio plays. Sounds good doesn’t it? That’s exactly what’s happening at Parson’s Green on the weekend of 25 and 26 July from 11am to 8pm and I got to help choose the menu for the Cloudy Bay Shack at a special dinner at Tom’s Kitchen in Kensington along with Luiz, Niamh, Denise and Isabelle.
We had to close our eyes as well and imagine we were in the park rather than the private dining room on the top floor of Tom’s Kitchen looking out over leafy Chelsea. Given it was pouring rain I was rather glad we weren’t in the park. Gotta love the British summer. We sampled eight “small plates” of which four will be served at The Cloudy Bay Shack. Each plate is going to cost £8.50 each and will include a glass of Cloudy Bay wine which I think is pretty good value given that a large glass of wine by itself does not cost much less in many places in London. The Sloaney Pony had better look out that weekend.
It was hard to pick dishes not to include – I am still reminiscing about the creamy tomato gazpacho served in a shot glass which failed to make the cut. Instead, the selected menu kicks off with tomato in a different guise, a small cup of tomato salad with crayfish tails. The salad also contained watermelon chunks and mint which played with your mind a little as the melon looked like tomato until you bit into it.
The hits of the night included a plump crab cake with a deep tan which revealed pale crab meat inside and packed a real punch with a hit of spices. It was served with a vibrant tomato salsa. There was more crab on offer in the flaked Dorset crab cupped in a lettuce leaf to give some added crunch to the tender crab meat. Deep fried paprika squid was perfect soak-up-the-booze fried food, topped with fresh chilli the heat came from the topping rather than the batter itself. They home made mayonnaise it was served with was so good that we resorted to eating the mayo by itself.
The highlight though was clearly the seven hour lamb which is one of the signature dishes at Tom’s Kitchen. The lamb is slow cooked for so long that it attains a sweetness while also falling apart at a mere hint of a fork. At the restaurant it is served for two and barely fits on the table. For the Cloudy Bay Crab Shack it will be served in small cups and topped with a layer of fluffy mashed potato. A veritable hug in a mug.
For me, of the dishes we tried, there was really only one miss, the hand dived scallops which were sliced thinly and “cooked” in oil, chilli, mint and lemon grass like a ceviche. I enjoyed the flavours but the dish was really just one scallop, divvied up rather than “scallops” and so was a little stingy in comparison to the other dishes on offer. Don’t worry that dish hasn’t been included in the offering for the crab shack.
As for the wine, it’s almost impossible to be a 30 year old female living in London and not have drunk several bottles of Cloudy Bay’s light and dry sauvignon blanc. There is a reason for its omnipresence, it’s good stuff but perhaps I have drunk too much of it as I was more interested in trying some of the other varieties on offer. I discovered the Cloudy Bay makes an excellent pinot noir (although in New Zealand, the winery is still cold climate) and the limited edition reisling with its flavours of tropical fruit was a real winner, although with only 250 cases of it in the UK I had better not form too much of a liking to it.
After helping choose the dishes I can vouch for the fact the food at the crab shack will be light, sunny and straight forward. It’s a great opportunity to try out Tom Aiken’s comfort style food on a plate in a park (hopefully) in the sunshine if the current good weather lasts. If you can’t make it to the crab shack, Tom’s Kitchen is offering the same summer menu matched with Cloudy Bay wines during August.
Details: Cloudy Bay Crab Shack will be in Parson’s Green on 25 and 26 July. If you want the full Tom Aiken’s experience Tom’s Kitchen is at 27 Cale Street, Chelsea SW3 3QP (Ph 020 7349 0202) Tube: South Kensington
Damage: Reasonable at the crab shack, pricey at Tom’s Kitchen
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Cloudy Bay and Tom’s Kitchen.
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of the nearby gastro pub The Cadogan Arms or Gallery Mess for afternoon tea.