In years past, there was a Chinese restaurant in a delightful corner of Cheshire called the Alderley Rose. My parents used to visit Alderley village especially in the days when Chinese restaurants had a special business lunch menu for a bargain price (usually sweet sour with fried rice, foo yung, curry, chow mein or fish and chips, you know the sort.) The Alderley Rose was nothing special but it was part of my childhood; on such moments are memories made.
However, in the intervening years Alderley village has changed markedly, soared upmarket and been filled with coffee shops, wine bars, swanky restaurants and the like, and the premises formerly occupied by said Chinese restaurant is now a quirky self-styled “burger joint & milk bar” called Tomfoolery at 34. Such is life. RIP Alderley Rose – it simply couldn’t keep pace after 35 years of churning out the sweet sours.
Tomfoolery is not based on the show of the same name about Tom Lehrer, but the comparison seem nonetheless apt. This is anything but a quiet cafe and burger joint: it screams for attention through decor and design that looks like nothing so much as an explosion in a kitsch factory. Even the website is deliberately zany.
The weird juxtapositions are beyond mere description – a quick glance at the pics below will give you a general idea, but two dimensions can never substitute for three. You honestly have to see it for yourself, though in my estimation it still fails to live up to the standard set by Les Trois Garçons, the excellent restaurant that practically invented junk shop chic. The thing about TF34 is that it’s all so self-consciously tongue-in-cheek. Look at us, says the premises, aren’t we cool?
Maybe not, but the visual stimulation alone is not cause to visit the place. If the grub isn’t up to scratch, it might be a gold-panelled palace and I still wouldn’t visit. Ah, but there is serious intent here behind all the flimflam. Witness this statement on the website:
“We are a Burger Joint and Milk Bar in Alderlery Edge, Cheshire…inspired by our little Village, passion for food & our childhood memories. Tomfoolery food is simple and honest. Everything is homemade – from freshly-squeezed juices to the brioche bread buns for the burgers. We use local suppliers, we go straight to the farm for produce and use free range meats ONLY!”
On this occasion I gave the TF34 two opportunities to shine on the same day – not my normal habit but needs must. The first was Sunday brunch en route for hospital visiting times in Macclesfield, and the second a quick evening feed for the same reason. In the morning I wandered through the comfy sofas, upside-down lampshades, old Star Wars comics and whatnot that populate the downstairs, and made my way into the cavernous upper tier.
First good sign was that brunch time was pretty packed out with families, several of whom were whiling away the waiting time by playing with the games thoughtfully left on each table (Top Trumps, Connect 4, Jenga, that sort of game.) Second good sign was humming and attentive service, which is much better than none. Third good sign was a menu geared to small and original plates of food priced sharply at a fiver, which is the right approach – though I expect some clients would have preferred a full English or an eggs Benedict.
The one I selected was labelled “up in smoke,” consisting of layers of hash browns (from the freezer to the frier, certainly not homemade), chopped smoked brisket with smoked onions, topped with a hollandaise-laden fried egg well past the runny stage – a shame, since the point of topping a hash with an egg is so the yolk can burst over the hash below. The brisket and onions were tasty, and full marks for them.
However, my customary coffee (served in a computer games mug, sat atop a dainty unmatched china saucer) was decidedly ordinary – my second unpleasant coffee drunk in Alderley Edge in two days. Here it was barely strong enough to crawl out of the mug; I should have complained, as a Frenchman, an Italian or an American (given that it was a black Americano) certainly would. Note to TF34: you need to improve the quality and intensity of coffee, such that it packs a caffeine punch.
Still hungry, I ordered toast with rarebit. This, like hash, is comfort food – grilled cheese sandwich with a Worcester sauce kick and other ingredients depending on your whim. At £3.50 this was also competitive, and the toast sourdough, so my order was met with keen anticipation. Alas, hopes were dashed again, for while the finished product was streaked with Lea & Perrins, the topping was more liquid gloop than authentic rarebit. It bore no signs of having been grilled, and did not taste deeply cheesy. Another opportunity missed.
I left a disappointed man, but all was not lost for several families were seen eating burger and fries that Sunday lunchtime. Regular readers will know I have become fascinated by the deconstruction of top class burgers, following several such tastings. If TF34 is a burger bar, I could not leave without sampling the burgers.
By evening the downstairs takes on a different hue, being shadowy and even a tad spooky – appropriate given this was just past Halloween. This time I sat downstairs and ordered a Cheshire Gold beer- good to see the brasserie tradition going strong with all-day eating and chilling followed by a glass of booze, albeit pricy at £4.50. As for my chosen burger, this is how it is described on the website:
What the title means is not clear to me, but the plate delivered was worthy of discussion. First things first, the homemade brioche bun was excellent, and clearly worth the effort. The fries were probably not homemade from scratch but were both reasonable and plentiful. I have no problem on this occasion with the cheese, which was melted and did indeed taste like proper cheese rather than the vile melted plastic many burger joints use to anoint their meat patties. Similarly, the green chilli sauce was tasty and the jalapeños (how can they be homemade?!) gave a welcome warm crunch.
In fact, the only sad part to the ensemble were the dry and overcooked burgers. If they are freshly assembled from minced steak, it would not have hurt to cook them medium-rare and leave some pinkness at the centre, but I was not even given the choice. Overcooked burger is apparently how the kitchen prefers to serve its prime product. Pity indeed.
For the enthusiasm and vigour, you can’t fault establishments like Tomfoolery at 34, but the attention to detail is lacking. It needs a manager and a chef prepared to shake up the process and to get it right in every minor particular. With changes this might be an excellent eating place, but on the strength of these two encounters the content does not live up to the decor.