Restaurant: Story, London SE1- a tale of one meal
(press on photos to enlarge)
“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”Vince Lombardi Jr. (June 11, 1913 – September 3, 1970)
Chef Tom Sellers strongly believes in the inner truth and beauty of this quote of an NFL legendary 1960’s American football coach, to a point that he had these lines tattooed onto his right arm, and strives continuously in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor, to emerge “victorious” at the end of a day’s work. This is probably the Motto of his story…
A Story or a narrative is any account that presents events which are directly or indirectly connected, and can be organized as a collection of anecdotes, sometimes legends or myths. It can be told as fiction, such as short stories or novels.
The word Narrative, derives from the Latin verb Narrare, “to tell”, and is related to the adjective gnarus, “knowing” or “skilled”. Narrative is found in all forms of human creativity and art, including writing, songs, film, photography, theater & visual arts amongst which I include a consumable art form: culinary art. They all describe literally or in an abstract form a sequence of events.(from wiki) The narrator always communicates directly to the reader in our case the diner, (the man who came to eat).
A meal with a “story” with a certain order (as in a tasting menu), recounts a sequence of events, or series of events, arranged in order, often with causality relationships among the items. A sequence of events can be presented in text, like our menu here. The description of the items or events may include glimpses into time with references to place or time, some information that describes a sequential path, childhood; professional experiences some by clues and some by association, as the STORY menu presents.
26-year-old Chef Tom Sellers has an impressive CV that includes: Noma, Per Se Thomas Keller’s NY Restaurant (at the age of 18) and later Tom Aikens. Tom Sellers is an experienced young chef who have seen and worked with the best of the rest, has an interesting concept: let me tell you my culinary memories and experiences but you are free to add your own interpretations and tales to them: “Our dream is to inspire people to take their own journeys – creating stories not just of food, but of everything that has played significance and holds a memory. We see food as our story books and want our guests to share this story, leaving their own stories with us along the way…“
Restaurant Story resides in a sort of a modern “Traffic Island Pavilion” close to Tower Bridge. A “Pavilion” is basically a free-standing structure, whose architecture makes it an object of pleasure. Large or small, there is usually a connection between the structure and the idea of relaxation and pleasure in its intended use (from Wikipedia), Restaurant Story follows the above architectural definition to the letter, including the fact that a pavilion is built to take advantage of the surrounding view glazed all around with the Shard in the background. The interiors feel warm and inviting, the open plan kitchen compact yet specious enough for all concerned, around the walls with 2 separated center “Islands” which surprisingly allows enough work space from all sides.
Sellers offers a choice of 2 tasting menus 6-course menu (£45) and inventive 10-course menu (£65) which tell a nostalgic story with amusing twists along the way, to read their story, a candle is lit in an old fashion bed side candle holder… and left to burn and drip and we suspect of nothing unusual…
We Ordered the house special Bloody Mary (we make it with yellow tomatoes says the sommelier cocktail master, triumphantly seeing the astonishment on spikes face at the sheer color of the drink, and after a sip announced he got what he described as the “best Bloody Mary ever!” In the meantime I ordered our wine: Jean Baptiste Ponsot, Rully Premier Cru Molesme 2010 (such a good vintage year in Bourgogne)
An array of stunningly beautiful and tasty amuse-bouche unfolded on our table, all exhibiting extremely high technical skills, good taste and pairing knowledge.
Crispy Cod skin, cod Roe and carrot tips
Radish stuffed with seaweed butter
Nasturtium flowers stuffed with oyster emulation zabaglione style
Oreo biscuits of calamari ink
“Fish fingers” of diced Rabbit meat topped with 3 different coloured carrots
These are sort of personal reminiscences of childhood with references to early “culinary” memories of home and school “delicacies” (only by shape and colour), like fish fingers, Oreo biscuits with a twist, cod and radishes all upgraded from their memory wonders to present time delicacies, the cod skin and touch of the melting Oreo biscuits to die for…
As the candle continues to melt down into the collecting dish at the base, the Ponsot, Rully Premier Cru Molesme 2010 is poured and our first course is presented:
Bread and dripping. (Tom’s dad fav.)
Dripping was used for cooking in the inter war years, especially in British cuisine, in the Midlands and Northern England (Tom Sellers is a Nottingham boy), Dripping was popular among poor families hit by unemployment for bread spreading instead of butter, a proper use of food leftovers that includes the byproducts of any meat they were lucky enough afford.. Dripping could also be bought at the butchers, for spreading on bread. Old-fashioned chip shops used to fry their chips in beef dripping.
Sumptuous Poppy seeds sourdough wholemeal bread accompanies a bowl of small cubes of veal tongue and celery bathing in a sour reduction of chicken consommé that balances the well seasoned fattiness of the collected drippings off the base of the candle. These will be left on the table for the entire meal as your butter substitute for spreading on your bread. I used to say that all you need is excellent bread and great butter, good quality well spiced dripping can be an equaled substitute.
Burnt onion, apple gin and thyme(I love gin T.S)
This is a trio of onions: grilled / burnt, grilled / baked, on a base of confiture d’oignon, or sweet onion chutney, dresses with a Vinaigrette of apple gin thyme and olive oil with a nice spiced gin aftertaste and thyme aroma, simple, witty and quite delicious.
Scallops, cucumber and dill ash
This is spring on a plate, Carpaccio of scallops on a lightly dressing of lemony emulation, with ultra fresh cucumbers balls loaded with cucumber green scent and flavor, some rolled in dill ash for complexity and the spring signature of dwarf fiore de zucca (courgette flowers still attached to the tiny courgette) and Nasturtium (monks hat) leaves, so refreshing and green scented, light and beautiful.
Mackerel, salad root and strawberry
I’m not a great fan of oily mackerel, but I must admit the inner balance of the dish without the usual smoked mackerel smell was a delight with the cream fresh at the base and pale strawberries, even I can get used to mackerels after all…
Heritage potato, asparagus and barley green
There are not many dishes as comforting as well mashed potato with butter This mash is made to perfection Joël Robuchon style with the slightly nutty ratte potatoes, a 19th-century classic beloved by French chefs. This butter rich purée of heritage potato comes with asparagus curls and heads, fresh barley grass and inky-black ‘coal’ sauce. So simple yet so alluring for more, we finished the plate to the base the bit of coal sauce left on the plate allowed us to perform our very own “coffee reading” – Tasseography (for Chef Sellers) It is a fortune-telling method that interprets patterns at the base of a cup/dish of tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediments and left over coal sauce in this case… As you can very well see our young chef will burst triumphantly like a Volcano and slowly affect all at his lava flowing mountain sides…
Beetroot, raspberry and horseradish
Tucked in between two rich dishes (nothing is really too heavy about this pleasurable lunch) a refreshing combo of beet cubes, and sliced raspberries on a lightly sweet raspberry coulis with a strong horseradish powdered granita / sorbet. These are contrasting flavours that work so well together, NICE!
Pigeon, summer truffle and pine
The pigeon breast is hidden underneath the foliage and Broccolini (a green vegetable similar to broccoli with small florets and long, thin stalks) blanched broccolini, baby leaves, and broccolini purée con=ver (at first) the well prepped breast tender and gamy with a light pigeon jus. The “summer truffles” are hardly felt if at all and thankfully do not overpower the dish. Also finishe to the very last crumb (I love pigeon)
A palate cleanser of lemon and lime in varying degrees of sourness and four different consistencies, a cruncy lemon meringue “biscuit” lemon sorbet, lemon crème patissière and lime and yuzu ユズ, tasting jus. A perfect cleanser and palate refresher.
These are still part of the story with personal addition of Ms. Francesca Mossa the young pastry / desert chef.
Soaked Prunes, lovage infusion, and crepe of curdled boiled milk and a touch of salt flakes…
Three Bears Porridge
The finale is an amusing Goldilocks and the three bears inspired desert presented both on a card with each bear holding a bowl either too salty, too sweet or just right porridge.. followed by three bowls of oats porridge, fresh shaved Kentish cobnut which taste accordingly, spiced in turn with salted caramel; comb honey, condensed milk , fruits and flowers, in a set of fairytale dishes and handmade oven clay spoons.
They say: “We have created a personal journey through food, which has been crafted and inspired by the journeys of others and ourselves. Our dream is for all guests to leave a book at Story, which will remain there to evoke the inspiration in others that we hope our food will evoke in you. We look forward to sharing our stories”
And we say: Thanks for the stories and the memories, thanks for trying and succeeding to please us (and the other guests). You told us a story using the art of narrative which is by definition a highly aesthetic enterprise, with identifiable beginning, middle and end. The narrative is not in the cooking or the food, but in the plot imagined and constructed by the diners. This notion applied to storytelling through food was attempted here at “Restaurant Story”. Personally I got what I expect nowadays from a meal at a restaurant, I want the restaurant to excite me almost as a child, cooking properly is just not enough anymore an excellent meal cooked even to perfection may not be sufficient, and I do not mean I expect fireworks and odd tricks or paraphernalia, just good food which is also witty and FUN.
The meal at Story has the edge of excitement which goes hand in hand with cooking techniques, presentation, Visual and taste aesthetic values. Inner balance of each dish, correct product pairing within each dish, and between the various dishes on the menu. As their story unfolds into its climax, in the (only) dish that actually requires cooking skills (the pigeon), I was filled with the joy and satisfaction. You may say I was content, isn’t that what’s it all about?
The story of Tom Sellers of Nottingham and his “merry man” (a generic term for any follower or companion of an outlaw, knight, or leader/chef) is yet to be told, Tom Sellers still has a way to reach the NFL finals but he is certainly approaching a stand in the WCL (World culinary league) Playoffs, and this is a great start for an extremely talented chef as young as he is, he is a narrator – gnarus, has the knowhow and the skill required to head a successful kitchen Chapeau!
Restaurant Story: 201 Tooley Street, London SE1, 020-7183 2117.
Tues-Sat, lunch noon-2pm, dinner 6.30-9pm
Book well in advance!