Tom Ilic’s (pronounced Ilitch – he’s Serbian) eponymous restaurant sits on Queenstown Road in Battersea, sandwiched between an Argentinian place which my dining partner described succinctly as ‘crap’ and a few carpet and lighting shops. A cheery cartoon pig’s head lurches forth from the ‘o’ in the ‘Tom’, giving it the air of a motorway service station or Little Chef. Plastic creepers line the walls and electric heaters blast out dry warmth in an already stuffy space. I keep my spirits up however, with memories of rave reviews: “hearty and generous,” ” excellent value,” “not for vegetarians.” I hope it’s one of those places that just bubbles away gently, quietly turning out consistent, delicious, unpretentious grub to the locals.
It isn’t. Sadly, our meal was mediocre and one element, inedible. Things started off OK I suppose. My tartare (it’s under the lettuce) and carpaccio of beef was fine, although frustratingly drowned by a cacophony of huge flavours: salad dressed liberally with truffle oil, sticky balsamic, bolshy parmesan. All lovely things but a powerful gang which swiftly beat the beef into submission. My friend’s starter of roast bone marrow (a single, squat stump) came with – you’ve guessed it – parsley, caper and shallot salad but no toast to spread it on and sat awkwardly alongside veal sweetbreads.
The ‘Degustation of Pork’ should have been great, seeing as Tom is considered something of an expert in cooking the swine; what I received was clunky, disjointed and disappointing. Two lobes of pink fillet appeared juicy and inviting, but were surprisingly dry. A rolled segment doused in gravy suffered from the same problem. A clumsy quinelle of mash was, surprise, surprise, dry and could be cut like a cake, each mealy slice working its way around the mouth before I washed it down with some of the (perfectly decent) house white. A kromeski was much better – excellent, even; crisp crumb encased soft shreds of flesh. I could have eaten a plateful. A supporting mound of lightly pickled cabbage was a pleasant foil to so much meat and black pudding had been treated well, boasting crunchy edges and soft fatty nuggets within. All redeeming features of the dish were overpowered however, by a bully of a spring roll (containing more of the shredded stuff) that was so sopping with grease it was simply inedible. My friend said it made him feel sick.
The time arrived to brave desserts and I was met with the familiar problem of wanting both cheese and ice cream. We shared cheese (nothing significant to report), and the only dish which had an ice cream element: a cheesecake and chocolate affair. The cheesecake was forgettable; was it vanilla? White chocolate? A scoop of black pepper ice cream on top was far more interesting, as were some poached baby pears. In fact, just those two elements together would make a confident and charming dessert.
The ethos of Tom Ilic is supposedly to produce unfussy, generous, boldly flavoured food at low prices but instead I found it confused. The number of elements on the plate is at odds with this approach and attempts at more complicated arrangements such as my degustation lacked finesse. Service was sweet, water was tap and the restaurant itself perfectly adequate, if a little dated. Without doubt the best thing about the meal though, was the fact that my friend, Chris, had bid £100 for it (considerably more than it was worth), as part of the recent Blaggers’ Banquet event, and so did a brilliant and generous thing by giving £100 to charity. Disappointing meal aside, that’s money well spent.