Tom’s Kitchen: a verdict on the newcomer

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The Mailbox is a forlorn place seemingly aimed at a generation that regards Harry Enfield’s ‘I’m considerably richer than yow’ character as a role model rather than comedic exposure of worthless consumerism and avarice.

Thus the location of the latest restaurant carrying the branding of the talented chef Tom Aitkens poses, for me at least, a problem.

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Especially since it opens out into the shopping centre, gazing upon an entrance to Harvey Nichols, rather than being discretely separate.
Prices at Tom’s Kitchen are high, too.
Why would I wish to spend not an insubstantial sum of loot sitting in what seemed essentially a soulless shopping mall eaterie when Birmingham has so many fine independent restaurants?

Is it worth it?

At the price we paid, I wouldn’t hurry back.
A bill of over £100 for two people – comprising two courses, a measly portion of cabbage as an extra and a bottle of merely pleasant cabernet franc – made me wince.
There’s a sense that this is a place with profit margins closely controlled by accountants.
Bread can be ordered for £3 a basket.

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Sides dishes such as spuds and veg in various forms cost £4 a pop.
How bleakly this apparent lack of generosity contrasts with, say, Harborne Kitchen, where our bill was similar but which delighted us with all manner of extra snacks and unexpected twists to dishes.
It feels like part of a chain. I left feeling underwhelmed.

The food

The menu is all about classic dishes and comfort food.
Expect steak tartare, fish pie, steaks, grilled sole and sticky toffee pudding.
The provenance of the ingredients is displayed and their quality is good.
They’re treated with respect and the food is substantial and tasty.

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There’s a lot of skill in the kitchen and the dishes we ate were almost flawless.
The pork terrine with which I started was a little too firm to spread easily on the excellent lightly toasted sourdough with which it came, but the flavour was great.
A scattering of pickled shallots, tangy apple chutney and small gherkins added zing.

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My wife’s scorched mackerel, served with leaves and herbs, was also well received.
We shared – for £50 – a shoulder of Cumbrian lamb that had been slow-cooked for seven hours and was superb.
The meat had depth of flavour and fell from the bones.
Glazed onions alongside were seductive and rich gravy added even more umami oomph to a mighty mound of meat.

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The mashed potato that came with the dish was silky smooth and buttery.
The cabbage we ordered as a side was slightly over-seasoned.
This was hearty food and neither of us managed desserts.

Service good?

There was a sense that the staff were still settling into their roles, but all those with whom we came into contact were friendly and efficient.
There’s a real sense of professionalism about the place.

Need to know

You’d need to be careful to spend less than £50 a head to eat and drink.
The bar menu represents good value.
There’s also a deli situated just outside.
The place as a good children’s menu.
It’s accessible to the disabled.
Car parking is available at The Mailbox.

Tom’s Kitchen
7 Commercial St, The Mailbox, Birmingham B1 1RS. 0121 632 1000.
http://www.tomskitchen.co.uk