DINING OWL AWARD: 1st – canapés
When I visited: Winter 2014
Location: London, near London Bridge
Team: Tom Sellers (founder), Sam (Head Chef), Patrick (Head Sommelier)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 1 star … I think it will get 3
What to wear: Men – could go with smart jeans or smart trousers and a shirt; women – smart jeans / trousers and top; both could probably get away with more casual dress
Ambience: Edgy, casual, books on the shelves
Course of the meal: “Tale of a quail”
If I could change one thing: Some slightly lighter dishes
Every once in a while, I land my talons upon a restaurant which only has either a ‘Bib gourmand’ or 1 star in the Michelin Guide, but is so obviously pushing for higher ratings and has all the makings of becoming legendary. Examples include Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Restaurant Story. It feels like it could already almost be a 3-star restaurant. Its London Bridge setting is unusual for a restaurant of this calibre and its young head chef (Tom Sellers) has plenty of fun ideas. The setting is almost like a communal dining room, with books scattered among the tables and shelves and an almost casual atmosphere where the food speaks for itself.
The 10-course lunch tasting menu that my partner Owl and I ate cost £85 per person – extremely good value for a restaurant of this calibre (especially due to the sheer number of ‘bonus’ courses – pre-meal snacks, cheese, palate cleanser and petits fours – that we were given for ‘free’ on top of the listed menu).
We started with an ‘Angelo’ cocktail (vermouth, rum and pineapple) and selected a Chardonnay blend white wine to accompany the meal. We were immediately presented with a dazzling amount of pre-meal snacks: cod crisp with a carrot topping; squid ink biscuit with veal filling; Japanese egg roll with salmon roe on top; rabbit sandwich; chicken and soy skewer; lobster; bedevilled crab; scallop and apple; razor clam and Champagne with dry ice; cottage pie with the pastry. This wasn’t a case of quantity over quality, though – each snack was impeccable and suitably tiny so that we weren’t too full before we started the actual meal (!).
The listed courses began with bread and dripping, in keeping with Story’s old-school ‘English’ feel, followed by onion, apple and old tom. The next course, of scallops, cucumber and dill ash, was one of my favourites; you’ll get to know that scallops are one of this Owl’s favourite foods and done well, they always ruffle my feathers. We were then given Heritage potato, radish and coal before swopping into what is perhaps the signature course of this restaurant: “Tale of a quail”. This consists of quail served in a variety of ways – you are even shown some whole quails with names and the waiter ‘jokes’ that they will be immediately prepared fresh for you.
The quality meat didn’t end there, with a course of raw beef, apple and suffer truffle (with a £15 supplement). Truffle is one of those foods that is always associated with high-end dining, probably fairly due to its hefty price tag, but the fact is it’s bloody delicious. Squid and stem tartare was then served with another accompanying story, followed by fallow deer, yeast and dandelion, and then foie gras, apple and blackberry. I particularly enjoyed the use of flowers and fruit to supplement these meat courses.
There was a ‘bonus interlude’ before dessert(s), consisting of a cheese course and then a lemon-themed ‘snow’ palate cleanser. ‘Snow’ is a beautiful light sprinkling of food that I have never seen done badly; perhaps the best restaurant at snow is Texture.
Desserts consisted of bitter chocolate with wild berries and buttermilk, followed by almond and dill. Both delicious and not too heavy (a good thing as it’s not like I had much room at this point …).
My usual green tea (of a Jade Sword variety here) was accompanied by delicious petits fours: chocolates with rose petal tea inside.
I must emphasise that if you want to see a restaurant on the rise that people will talk about to years to come, get yourself to Story at the first opportunity.