The schtick behind Restaurant Story is that the largely British, seasonal food, invokes a memory and that the menu & each dish has a narrative. The menu is certainly structured in that way, there being several 'Chapters' such as 'Garden' and 'Land'. The real question for me, though, is not whether the concept works, but how good the food is. With Chef Tom Sellers having earned a michelin star 5 months after opening, my expectations were riding high!
The menu is of the set, tasting variety, in order to tell the narrative the Chef has designed, although the names don't give away much, with some hidden plots within each chapter. First up was:
Foreword - Snacks
Crispy Fish Skin with Cod's Roe and Baby Carrot Tops
Ash Biscuit with Souffle Vinegar Dust (foreground) and Rabbit wrapped in Polenta (background)
Fried Onion, Truffle & Cheese
Oyster with macerated Rhubarb & Horseradish Snow
Of the (numerous!) snacks, the stand outs were the fish skin and the fried onion, truffle & cheese. The only disappointment was the oyster, which got a bit lost in the horseradish snow, although it was probably the most visually pleasing with the dry ice.
Chapter I - Childhood
After all that, the first course was only about to begin! This was when Story started to get seriously clever. The first course in this chapter was 'Bread and dripping'.
Bread and dripping
The dripping had been molded into a candle which was then lit, melting the animal fat into the container below in which to dip the bread. As Ms R is rather fussy and didn't want animal fat, the restaurant had custom made her candle out of butter. Along with the dripping were some celery relish & beef extract to give either extra umami or an acidic balance to the fat. This is the kind of glorious dish that makes you want to give the chef a big hug and a high five. I loved it. My accompanying drink for this dish was the 'Winston Churchill', a double distilled (with banana & butter!) brandy, then mixed with a smoked ale. It was the kind of drink that made me imagine I was smoking a cigar, sitting in a Chesterfield in front of an open fire, which is no bad thing, although (sadly) not particularly reminiscent of my childhood!
Next up was the fairground onions, which was burnt onions with lovage oil and had the deep, sweet flavour of a great French onion soup, designed to make you remember the fried onions at a hot dog stall at the fair. Cider a la Champagne went alongside the onions and cut through the savoury-sweetness of the onions nicely.
Chapter II - Garden
The Snail ravioli was presented wrapped in a cos lettuce leaf and with a chervil veloute, and whilst I've seen similar looking concoctions made by the kids in our back yard, this was thankfully nothing of the like. Fresh, vibrant and a delight.
I was taken even more with the Snail tale martini, apparently made with crushed snail shells (not quite sure how that worked) with Rose vermouth and an autumn gin flavoured with pea shoots. Not the rocket fuel I've tasted whenever I've drunk martini's before, but a refreshing and apt accompaniment to the ravioli in an awesome glass!
Snail tale martini
Because 9 courses are never enough, we added the cheeky & supplemental truffle, celeriac & ceps 'risotto'. A dish with no rice, the celeriac having been produced in a way to mimic the risotto rice, with lashings of truffle shavings just to show off. I really liked the texture and taste of the celeriac 'rice', although I bet it isn't particularly easy to make yourself. Let's hope the supermarkets catch on and do the same thing they've done with courgetti & the like, to save me the bother.
Perigord truffle, celeriac & ceps
Chapter III - Sea
The first of the marine dishes was a deconstructed Langoustine, presented as though it had been neatly dissected by a veterinary student. Served with a burnt apple sauce, a lavender sauce and an apple & syrup vinegar, I thought the sweet & sour worked well (despite being told by Ms R that the burnt apple sauce is basically an apple mousse that's fed to babies in Holland. That kind of removed some of the sophistication of the dish!), but I'm not a big fan of lavender with food. One of the few flavours I'm not keen on. A buttery 2010 Chateau Montelena chardonnay was the matched drink.
Langoustine, lavender & apple
The second of the Sea dishes was Scallop, cucumber & ash. Whilst the ash, made from burnt cucumber skins, made for an aesthetically pleasing colour on the plate, I'm not entirely sure how much it added from a purely taste point of view. The 'Rum Diary' drink, whilst looking rather lethal in a bottle which looked part pharmaceutical and part like the bottle the free milk used to come in from (many, many) school days gone by, wasn't quite as potent as it looked. Made with white rum, dill & cucumber, it was fairly mild tasting and I have to admit, I did get a kick out of drinking straight from the bottle in a fancy restaurant!
Scallop, cucumber & ash
Chapter IV - Land
Moving to drier climes, the Venison, cauliflower & yeast provided a more robust dish. The deer was served four ways; loin, belly, a pancake and sausage, with an earthy Montepulciano (2001 Emidio Pepe). It was another outstanding plate of food, the cauliflower & yeast lifting the venison's spicy meatiness with the blueberry sauce adding some bite.
The surprise course was surprising, although not quite as surprising as being served bear, the dish of course having an element of marmalade involved. A warm pain perdu with clementine marmalade and a pile of melting shaved foie gras was delightful, although what really blew my mind was the accompanying 'Mariuccia's Clemencello'. I have never smelled such an intense flavour of clementine in my life and the sweet, fruity alcohol tasted equally as good. Our charming sommelier explained that one year when she went back to Italy, she brought one of her friend's bottles of clemencello back with her. Once the chef had tasted it, he demanded it had to go on the menu and it hasn't been taken off since. And I'm very glad it hasn't.
Chapter V - The end
The final three dishes were all of the sweet variety. First up was 'lemon' consisting of curd, snow, parfait and a milk tweel. As sharp & zesty as you would expect and a timely palate cleanser for the really sweet stuff to come.
Next up was Chocolate & honey, which was insanely sweet, but even to someone like me who doesn't have a particularly sweet tooth, still fantastic (see the 'honey shot' below). Perfectly matched was a honey mead.
Chocolate & Honey
Finally, the story was coming to a conclusion, with one of the very few dishes I thought didn't quite work. 'Almond and dill' was last up, with everything white on the plate being almond and everything green, dill. I still enjoyed it, but it didn't reach the heady heights of some of the other dishes.
Almond and Dill
Restaurant Story is the kind of place I love. Mixing innovative methods, creativity and whilst there is a theme, the dishes back up the schtick. One of the things I really enjoyed was the matching of the drinks, being a lot more creative with the matches rather than relying purely on the grape. I think it absolutely deserves it's michelin star and could quite easily add another in the near future. A real treat and I'm already sorting my second mortgage for the next visit!
199 Tooley St