“But he hasn’t got anything on” a little child said.
The booking confirmation for Restaurant Story states “Here at Story our dream is for all guests to bring a book to the restaurant and simply leave it behind with the reason why you chose that particular book. This will remain in the restaurant to help share not only our story, but yours too.”
The cynic in me wanted to take a copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales for Children. For there had been something a little too presumptive about the build up to Story’s opening: a “you’ll be lucky to get a seat at this starlet’s table” vibe, which made me wonder whether the young head chef, Tom Sellers, really was fit to be touted as an Emperor, and what his robes were actually made of.
But I didn’t. Because that would have been a bit twatish.
And, as previously mentioned, I eat out to have a good time, so try to avoid arriving with baggage.
In any case, such prejudice would have been misplaced, as we had a perfectly decent dinner: the kitchen has a delicate and precise touch; the food is light and relatively interesting; the room is calm, spacious and generally lovely; and the service pleasant, if maybe confusingly populated by a few too many characters. There’s some attempt at a geographical link with Dickens, but this is far removed from workhouse gruel.
Having said all that, I’m not convinced Story is a classic. Yet.
The room and its chattels really are nice; it’s perfectly poised for corporate and social occasions alike. They’ve clearly dumped loadsa money into what, apparently, was formerly a public convenience festering just south of Tower Bridge. Indeed, you know money has been of little object when bread arrives in bespoke leather ‘slips’, tables are generously spaced, and chairs, staff uniforms, crockery and the fishbowl kitchen are all things of beauty. So far so good.
Snacks arrived at a refreshingly startling pace: droplets of cod roe on crispy cod skins; oyster emulsion in a strip of courgette flower; polenta coated rabbit croquettes. All looked ace. But only the rabbit tasted great. The oyster / flower petal one really flattered to deceive.
From there we chose a six course menu. A ten course is also available.
A single candle was lit and, when the leather bound bread was brought to the table, was introduced as a beef dripping dip. Probably the best bread condiment I’ve had, and certainly the only one that’s made me smile.
The remaining five courses continued at a good speed – I haven’t had as well a paced long form menu as this for quite some time. Burnt Roscoff onions in gin, apple and thyme jus; raw slices of scallop with balls of cucumber, some coated in dill ‘ash’; lamb with wilting salad leaves and sheep yoghurt; rhubarb ‘soda’; and ‘three bears’ porridge’. All smartly presented, minimalist dishes.
But tempo and appearance are nothing without content. And only the tripartite tasters of salty, sweet and just right porridge were particularly moreish, memorable or novel. I liked the onion dish. But neither alliums in a clear jus nor burnt onions feels particularly innovative or technical. The scallop and lamb courses were pretty enough, but ultimately underwhelming. In other restaurants, I can imagine the rhubarb being a very welcome pre-dessert, rather than a listed item on the menu.
Sure, each course was pleasant. But as the meal progressed, I couldn’t help thinking that if you took away the beautiful plates, wild flowers and herbs, there really wasn’t much to the dishes. The menu that I had lacked punch and, whilst the porridge was a climax, the courses before that failed to build up to it. Overall it was a bit too lightweight, too subtle and too tepid. I noticed on the fuller ten course menu that there were three courses between the scallop and the lamb, and I wonder whether one of those instead of the scallop dish would have balanced our shorter menu better.
It’s worth noting that the wine list wasn’t particularly enjoyable – each section starts with a fairly anodyne tale (on the “we tasted this wine on a Tuesday” theme) but, really, the main story is that there are barely a handful of wines under £30, and most rise steeply from £40.
For completeness, I should also note that, like Upstairs at the Ten Bells, the Clove Club and Bubbledog’s Kitchen Table, Sellers and his crew craft a fine Tunnocks style tea cake as a petit four.
Look, it’s incorrect and unfair to liken Story to The Emperor’s New Clothes. There’s talent and will aplenty here. If you go you certainly won’t feel like you’ve had a bad meal – it’s a young but already highly competent restaurant.
But there’s something about this place that demands judgment by the highest standards, and I just didn’t get the impression that it is a ‘game changer’ at the moment. I suspect others might proclaim it to be; but if you’re looking for light, stylised dining with real flavour and impact, I’d head to Dabbous or Texture.
Story has the ingredients to be excellent, however there are a few little (but significant) niggles, which need to be ironed out. Princess and the Pea?
Story in 3 words
Wait for paperback
£45 for six courses. The ten course menu is £65. The wine list is a bit spenny.
restaurantstory.co.uk – 201, Tooley Street, SE1 2UE – 020 7183 2117