After a quick scan of the menu, a certain someone and I collectively, and subconsciously, let out a little yelp of surprise. Here we were at a brand-spanking new restaurant and there were no freakazoid multi-patty burgers on offer, nothing that could magically turn into a made-for-instagram rainbow in a bowl, and we didn’t have to google any obscure ingredients from far flung corners of the world. We also didn’t have to strain our voices conversing with each other across the table or strain our eyes trying to read the menu in the first place. My dear friends, I cannot express enough what a luxury that was! That’s not to say that the new Tom Simmons in Tower Bridge isn’t chic; it’s quite a sleek affair, it’s just not foolishly trying too hard.
Perhaps the only on-trend aspect is that Simmons’ heritage, Welsh in this case, is brazenly displayed throughout the publicity and communications surrounding the restaurant – this seems to be a key element in marketing these days and it often works. Personally, I like a chef who knows their roots, and thankfully, Simmons also knows how to be subtle about it in the dishes. Welsh ingredients infiltrate the menu, but even so, at no point did it feel like a gimmick. In light of all the aforementioned food fads littering restaurant menus all over London, it was nice to see a new player executing some old tricks with their own flair for a change.
We decided to skip the snacks, though I’ve heard some very complimentary reports about the cockle popcorn, and go straight to the Brixham crab and heritage tomatoes starters. My ears couldn’t quite believe it; a certain someone ordering a dish consisting of only slices of plump red tomatoes, a creamy splodge of burrata, and a dusting of black olive crumbs? Not an ounce of meat in sight, and there were still no regrets – some would be swooning over the burrata, but it was the tomatoes which drew him to the dish and their intensity in flavour did not disappoint. I may have had the tiniest bit of plate envy but my predictability paid off; I liked everything about the combination of sweet crab, the cool crispness of cucumber, and the injections of tanginess from the granny smith apple. I’ve eaten this dish in a number of guises and it almost always hits the mark; just goes to show that some classic combinations are timeless.
Then, as if the universe knew a certain someone needed to readjust his meat equilibrium, a hefty short rib graced the table with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer. The glistening slab of beef was adorned with sweet roasted onions, and needed barely any prodding before collapsing into the pommes puree. It may have a fancy name, but to us it was just mashed potato, and an impeccable one at that. I also thought the pancetta seemed like overkill, but a certain someone would chastise me for such a view… in his humble opinion, there’s no such thing as too much meat, especially if it derives from the pig family. But getting through the whole dish was a labour of love; there was a lot of it, but all the elements came together in such a comforting, tasty package that it seemed criminal to waste even a slither of it.
My wild sea bass was not as much of a jaw-dropper, but it wasn’t exactly a slouch in the size department either. Oh how I long for the skills required to fillet and pan-fry a piece of fish as beautifully as this. I’ve almost mastered the timing for moist, just cooked flesh but that perfect, evenly crisp skin still alludes me. As with the pancetta in the short rib, I thought the slice of pork belly here seemed a little too adventurous, but then again, it’s sort of what intrigued me about this dish in the first place. My suspicion was that it would overwhelm the sea bass, but the saltiness and fat in the pork was an enhancement rather than a hindrance. It was all tied together nicely with an artichoke and carrot barigoule, a sweet wholesome broth that really warmed my cockles.
I often know I’m going to have dessert before I’ve touched my starter, but this time I went one step further and knew exactly which dessert I was going to have before anything else even passed my lips. Pineapple tarte tatin; I love pastry, caramel and pineapples so it seemed like fate. The only sticking point? It was billed as a dish for two, and we were both limited in stomach space after the first two courses. I was torn, but sometimes a lady just has to go with her gut as it were, and be prepared to go it alone. I ordered, ate, didn’t quite conquer , but had no regrets. I didn’t regret almost singlehanded demolishing that dish, or any of the others… this was a good, solid meal. We would call it gussied up gastropub grub but I fear that would be taken the wrong way by Simmons and his team. Far from being demeaning, we say this with a smile, like a term of endearment. This is food people want to eat and there’s no shame in delivering well-balanced, cleverly-conceived, classic dishes. It was obvious Tom Simmons’ has the skills and finesse of a good chef, but it was nice to see he also has the sense and restraint to be a great one.
What are your favourite or most hated food trends of the moment?
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