Tom Seller was talk of the town when he opened his Fairy-tale themed restaurant on Tooley Street. The winner of Young British Chef award has some of the world's most renowned restaurants on his CV at the age of 26 - oh nothing major, just Thomas Keller's Per Se in NY and Rene Redzepi's Noma in Copenhagen, you know the one that ranked No.1 on the list of World's Best Restaurant.
That said, I wasn't overly excited when I saw Story's website. Firstly menu wasn't giving much away, not enough to tickle my curiosity anyway; more importantly I thought the whole theme was a bit cliche, a bit amateurish and probably just trying a bit too hard. That said, I jumped on it when I was offered a last-minute lunch.
The location is rather unusual; bang in the middle of a road junction, right where the public loos used to be, was a standalone glasshouse with blooming roses across the front; much like an oasis in the urban jungle. There was an air of tranquility. Decor reminded me of Viajante with the kitchen on display and its Scandanavian simplicity. As I was sipping sparkling water and choosing between the 6- or 10-course menu, I was brought a torrent of nibbles:
Radishes filled with seaweed butter
Peas with truffle puree
Eel mousse "Oreos" (Storyeos?)
Rabbit "sandwiches" with pickles
There were an insane amount of things going on with these amuse bouche. The wafer thin skin was roasted to the a delicate fragility with subdued flavours from the roe cream; the flower was strong and peppery to suppress the metallic minerality from the oyster emulsion; the seaweed butter carried much umami, though I did not appreciate the crunch from the radish; Peas with truffle was my favourite with its nutty aroma. A very impressive start to show off the kitchen's creativity and skills.
I opted for the 6-course menu.
Bread and dripping
This was almost the signature of the restaurant. I have to say I was slightly put off by the introduction - pure beef fat with no addition shaped into a candle for dipping. This can't be good for arteries, but I have always thought there are dishes worth the risk. Unfortunately not this one.
Visually it's great, it even sets the mood for "story time", you know the dimly candle-lit wooden bungalow in the middle of the forest. There were, however, no flavours or fragrance to the dripping; when the fat grease cooled into white cloudy wax, I could't bring myself to smear the fat on my bread. I'd rather have freshly churned butter with the deliciously crusty warm bread.
The small cup of diced veal and veg was supposed to be eaten with the bread, but it was quite awkward to pile on the bread and the dripping without the cubes scattering back on the plate. It just felt like a lot of effort over bread and butter.
Burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme
Onions have taken the culinary world by storm; all the young and stylish chefs are serving up wedges of onions from different species as a course. My palate is not refined enough to distinguish between the three types of onions on the plate, but the focus for me was the cocktail broth poured at the table.
The infusion was made up of a concoction of strong liqueurs and boy it was strong. I was first hit by the bitterness which rapidly diffuses as the alcohol went straight to my head, leaving me with a sense of euphoria and a pleasant savoury broth. Yea I was taken to fairy tale land. I enjoyed the effect of dish, though in my humble opinion, I would prefer to have very very light touch of honey glaze on the onions to balance out the overall bitterness from the burnt slice.
Heritage potato, asparagus and barley grass
Again, full marks on visual impact. The smooth, indulgent mash, with swirls of nutty rapeseed oil infused with charcoal. It's not the rich, buttery mash like Heston's or Robuchon's; this one is more rustic and countryside, and actually tasted like potatoes. Apparently someone described this as a comfort hug - I wouldn't disagree.
Pigeon, summer truffle and pine
There was smoky tone to dish to create the sense of a misty forest scenery. The flavours were delicately balanced between the oaky, woody forage and aromatic pine jus and mild truffle. It was a perfect balance. The pigeon was beautifully cooked to medium, tender and succulent.
I'm so glad mushroom didn't make it to the ingredients list, it would have been too overpowering. This was perfection.
A refreshing pre-dessert; the lemon snow was particularly interesting.
Almond and dill
More snow, this time with dill. I have to say I am a fan of dill in desserts, think mint is too tried and tested, and of course sometimes toothpaste-like, so the distinctive fragrance from dill is a welcomed alternative.
Tom Seller's Story definitely belongs to the Viajante and Dabbous camp - experimental, daring and comtemporary. There was much attention to detail in each ensemble, but then there is also the risk that comes with creativity. I thought most of it paid off. As for the sense that Story was 'trying too hard'... I suppose it still stands, but when all the pretentious facade is backed up by food of this quality and calibre, he can do whatever he likes.
I have penciled in a return visit for 4 in September. There is no regular updates of the menu, it evolves with seasonal ingredients.That said I haven't seen significant changes in the last month, hopefully I'll be in for a new experience.
201 Tooley Street
Tel: 0207 183 2117