That may dazzle those who don’t understand what it means, so perhaps we ought to elucidate. Stageiaires are those who work for free in restaurants better than the one in which they work in order to gain wisdom and skills. Typically, a ‘stage’ lasts for a week, or less, and provides the visiting chef with knowledge that he can take back to his home kitchen.
There was a time when hooking up with Tom Aikens was not for the faint-hearted. The cook memorably became the youngest British chef to ever win two Michelin stars.
These days, however, Aikens has his sights set on different ambitions. Stars are no longer what makes him tick, instead he’s been slowly building an empire of high-quality bistros.
So his London restaurant, for instance, was refurbished in spring 2018, with a beautiful new design and updated menu. Popular starters from the a la carte include chicken liver foie gras parfait with cauliflower piccalilli, pickled onions, spiced mango purée and peanut, and treacle cured cod loin with lemon purée, sea vegetables and pickled baby beets.
Sounds good, doesn’t it. And it is. Aikens is a man who is all about hearty dishes from fresh, local produce, rather than chasing Michelin stars. My guess is that if Aikens were to walk into Henry Tudor House, in Shrewsbury, he’d probably be reasonably impressed with the food that Humphreys is serving.
Big on flavour, executed with precision and with minimal fuss, Henry Tudor House seems to be coming of age with him at the pass.
The restaurant has aimed high since its launch though, in truth, hasn’t always got it right. There have been chefs who didn’t cut the mustard, chefs who promised much but didn’t quite deliver and now Humphreys who, happily, is right on the money. A Friday lunch with a friend was the best food I’ve eaten at Henry Tudor House since it opened. All credit to the boys and girls in the kitchen.
Aikens had a restaurant at Birmingham’s Mailbox for some time, which closed at the start of this year after two years in business. It was located a stone’s throw from a restaurant by another former Michelin star, Marco Pierre White, though the latter held three stars rather than two.
Marco’s list of criteria for great dining experiences is relatively simple: The environment is most important, the service is next, the food follows.
By that yardstick, Henry Tudor House is in a pretty good place.
The environment is fabulous. An expensive makeover of one of Shrewsbury’s most historic restaurants has stood the test of time. It’s a little bit rock’n’roll, a little bit subversive.
There are inexpensively-bought but fabulously impactful paintings on the walls of rock stars in unlikely guise. The ground floor area is light and airy, with plenty of natural light flooding the eating space. The furnishings are just the right side of chintz. It dazzles without being overbearing and has more than a little wow.
So far so hunky dory. Service is pretty good, though there’s still room for improvement. A team of two were polished and professional when my friend and I ate, though could have been a little more engaged.
The food was exceptional. My starter, a slow cooked beef ragu with truffle linguine and parmesan, was delicious. The waiter described it as having been seasoned with salt and pepper when he placed it on the table – presumably, he’d mistaken the truffle and parmesan for the everyday condiments. Oh well. At least one of us was switched on. The flavours were terrific. It was autumn on a plate. The truffle was strong and punchy, the parmesan added an additional umami hit while the ragu was soft, rich and packed with flavour.
The linguine had been cooked with precision, so that it was nicely al dente, and the dish was served in generous proportion.
There’s a lot to be said about getting the basics right and that’s precisely what Chef Humphreys and his team had done.
Our mains were a step up. My friend ate bangers and mash, the perfect comfort food. It was a hug in a bowl.
Two plump, Shropshire bangers, cooked until they were golden brown and fit to burst, were placed on top of a wheel of deliciously creamy and outrageously buttery mash. Ah, bliss. There were more sides than you could shake a stick at, with just-cooked tenderstem broccoli; sweet, roasted heritage carrots, delicious roasted parsnips and a small pot of homemade baked beans in a delightful copper pot. There was more food than my friend could eat and all of it was of a high standard.
My short rib with parmesan fries was a revelation; so much so that I dashed home and ordered 3kg of short ribs so that I can have a go myself. The bone had been removed and the rib cooked brilliantly, so that it was simultaneously pink while falling apart under the knife.
The fatty, cheap cut of meat – and the best cuts are always fatty and cheap – had been cooked with precision. The fat had rendered through the meat, giving it bags of flavour, while a sticky beef jus was the stuff of Gods. The parmesan fries were pretty good and I also received a side order of millions of vegetables, just like my friend. They were pretty much all returned to the kitchen, more’s the pity, for the beef and fries was a meal in itself.
We skipped dessert, it would have been greedy to linger, but both of us were happy and replete, satisfied and content. Henry Tudor House has moved up a notch since my last visit.
There are no longer service issues, the kitchen is firing on all cylinders, it remains a thrilling and exciting space in which to eat and there really was little room for improvement. It’s moved up towards the top table of Shrewsbury’s independent restaurants and it knocked our socks off.