Five minutes with… Tom Aikens

The leading chef on his new fine-dining restaurant Muse, his love of horseriding, and cooking roast chicken for Winston Churchill

Food and Drink 17 Jan 2020

Tom Aikens, photographed by James McDonald
Always Playing with Fire - beef, Norfolk grains, Barsham Stout Robin beer; photography by Thomas Alexander
Conquering the "Beech Tree" - langoustine, pork fat, burnt apple; photography by Thomas Alexander
Just Down The Road - milk, honey, truffle; photography by Thomas Alexander
Ground floor at Muse in Belgravia, photography by James McDonald

What can we expect from your new restaurant, Muse?

Muse had a soft opening before Christmas and we’ve just had our first proper service – it was really nice to have an extended run-up to iron the kinks out and now we’re fully up and running. It’s a 25-seat restaurant and we want it to feel like a home from home, it’s so important to me that you feel the personality of the place from the moment you walk in. We wanted to get away from the feeling of a conveyor-belt restaurant, so our customers feel special and have a memorable and magical journey. It’s hard to remember what we did last week, so I wanted to create something that stands out with a truly original concept.

The experience of dining at Muse should be full of little extra things that the customer will remember. So we started with the menu and made it more about a story and thought process rather than listing ingredients and dishes. It’s authentically linked to my life and experience and we hope will appeal to the inquisitive.

Muse in Belgravia
Muse in Belgravia; photography by James McDonald

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

In this business, which is really tough, you have to have goals and ambitions of where you want to go. If you don’t have those then working that hard 15 hours a day is a bit pointless. You have to work your arse off and it pays off – if you have spirit, drive and ambition you can achieve anything. It’s advice I give out all the time to chefs I work with.

Who is your role model?

I have a few but there are two chefs I’ve learned the most from: Pierre Koffmann and Joël Robuchon. Koffmann taught me soul and heart. He’s from Gascony and his food is all about taste and flavour. Robuchon was the opposite – he was all about taste too, but his attention to detail was second to none, everything had to be precise and exact, millimetre by millimetre. He was so particular that he’d measure our mise en place and throw it out if it wasn’t millimetre-perfect.

I’ve taken a lot from the two of them and in fact I’ve created a dish at Muse that’s a mixture of their influences. It’s called “The love affair continues”, because it’s inspired by my experiences in France learning from the two chefs. Joël Rubuchon was known for his mashed potato, so the dish features a mash made with milk infused with hay. I wanted to serve it with fish, so the dish features turbot but it’s cooked in duck fat and comes with a duck sausage in tribute to Koffmann and his roots in Gascony.

What ingredient can you not live without?

Maldon sea salt – I use it like a fashion accessory.

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

I always take my gym kit and exercise equipment with me. I’m a bit of a gym nut so I fill my suitcase with fitness stuff – it doesn’t matter where I am, I’ll always do a workout.

Where are your favourite places to eat out in London?

I visited Brat and Perilla recently and really enjoyed both of those places. I also really like A Wong in Victoria and Lorne, which is next door, and I’ve been quite a few times.

What do you like to do on a day off?

Lots of family time, if time permits. I have two girls, who are six and eight, and they take up a lot of my energy on the weekend. I spend as much time with them as possible – we enjoy cooking together.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

My wife – we have very similar likes and dislikes and a very strong bond and relationship. Apart from her it would be fitness and going to the gym. I also really enjoy horseriding, but I like to go as fast as possible so it’s a challenge finding a horse that is crazy enough for me.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

Winston Churchill I think and then some sports people I admire. I want to talk to anyone who is at the top of their game in fitness and sport, such as Jessica Ennis-Hill or Alex Ferguson. I’m really interested in the character and mental toughness of those who can persevere through tricky times. I’d make them something simple but delicious like a roast chicken and mash. I’ve cracked how to cook the best roast chicken – it’s a very cheffy way to cook it, but I’ve figured out how to make it perfect.

Muse is now open at 38 Groom Place, Belgravia, SW1X 7BA,