What: Located in a former Italian restaurant in Belgravia, Muse is a tiny 25-cover two-storey restaurant that opened last month.
Who: It’s the brainchild of Tom Aikens who has made a return to the London fine dining scene following the closure of his eponymous Chelsea restaurant back in 2014. Muse marks the next chapter in what has been a turbulent career for Aikens with ups and down that have included him winning two Michelin stars at Chelsea and putting his restaurant business into pre-pack administration, leaving his creditors out of pocket.
The food: Notably considerably smaller than anything Aikens has done before, Muse is also a very personal project for the chef. Here Aikens takes a very nostalgic approach to his menu that has been inspired by nostalgia and the pivotal moments and key people from his personal life and career, and is driven by the idea of bringing something different to the table. A hallmark of the restaurant is its esoteric dish descriptions that give diners little idea as to what each dish in either the six or 10-course (£95/£145) tasting menu might be - names include ‘Neither black nor white’ and ‘The love affair continues’. In the beginning it was Aikens’ intention to give no clues as to what diners may be eating but he has acquiesced and now provides a few dish details. What comes is a succession of well thought out dishes that are prepared in front of guests in the upstairs open kitchen (there is a second open kitchen on the ground floor for pastry, larder and snacks). Aikens’ cooking is precise and clever; a combination of three kinds of beetroot zips and zings while the meat dish, a slice of old dairy cow served with an onion filled with diced beef and grains and served with a single but generously-sized triple cooked chip, is an excellent way to underscore the savoury part of proceedings.
The vibe: The two-storey former townhouse location is quirky and intimate; the diminutive ground floor bar area channels an Austin Powers/Barbarella meets art deco vibe with an impressive space-age style drinks cabinet and burgundy and light blue striped stools, while upstairs is calmer and more restrained with a more neutral colour palette. As Aikens himself admits, having two open kitchens in a 950sq ft building is “a bit ridiculous” but the restaurant does feel very different from anywhere else in the capital as a result.
And another thing: Restaurants can be a divisive business, and Muse is the latest in a number of new openings that have divided opinion. The first was Davies and Brook, Daniel Humm’s Claridge’s restaurant, which elicited a rare five-star review from Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard only to be shot down in The Times by Giles Coren weeks later. Then came Silo, Douglas McMaster’s Hackney venue, which was afforded glowing praise by The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Laughlin but which then felt the heavy criticism of Grace Dent in the The Guardian shortly after. Muse got a savaging by Jan Moir in The Daily Mail last month, (having earlier been branded the most pretentious restaurant ever) only for David Sexton in the Evening Standard to pen a glowing review a few days later awarding it five stars.
38 Groom Place, Belgravia, London