REVIEW - RESTAURANT STORY
Nothing is what it seems in this page-turner of a restaurant
Our story begins with a candle being lit at the table. But this is Restaurant Story, so in keeping with the other ten courses in our four-hour feast, it was not what it seemed.
The signature dish is a candle made from beef dripping, which pools into a saucer and is presented with Parker House, beef fat balls to mop it up. It’s a nod to the father of Story's Chef Patron Tom Sellers - who would eat bread and dripping every Sunday - and a reminder of the chef's proud, working class roots in Nottingham, within the narrative of this very different, fine dining world he now dominates.
There are no menus in this unique, Bermondsey restaurant, which gained its first Michelin star within five months of opening in 2013 - when Sellers was 26 - and its second in 2021. And the ever-evolving, seasonal tasting menus tell Sellers’ own stories as well as the tales of British food in eccentric, creative and (crucially) delicious ways.
The experience starts with a series of ’Foreword Snacks,’ but we’re not talking Doritos and salty nuts. These were some of my favourite dishes and included the now-famous ’Storeos’ - smoked eel mousse, sandwiched between squid ink biscuits, dusted in vinegar powder and presented as perfect little Oreos in branded tins. They reference Sellers' obsession with Oreos while working at the three-Michelin-starred Per Se in New York.
Other memorable ’snacks’ included the rabbit sandwich - pressed rabbit legs, coated in polenta and fried with pickled carrots and tarragon emulsion - harking back to his memories of rabbit hunting with Daddy Sellers and cooking up bunny stews. And we can’t omit the Paddington Bear, a slightly more progressive take on the Peruvian bear’s favourite sarnie - cardamom-scented French toast with clementine marmalade and an avalanche of melting, foie gras shavings.
What follows are a series of ‘Chapters’ - Childhood, Garden, Sea, Land and The End. We won’t spoilt the surprise or talk you through verse and chapter of each, endless dish. But stand-outs included the sashimi grade, raw scallop slices in elderflower vinegar with horseradish milk, dill oil and dill ash coated cucumber balls.
Desserts always bring out the childlike playfulness and nostalgia in Sellers as well as his diners - from soft toffees in edible ‘plastic wrappers,’ fizzing candy-floss filled with frozen custard, miniature milk bottles in a tiny crate filled with rhubarb, custard and sherbet, to the ‘three bears porridge’ - one is too sweet, one too salty, and one just right.
The restaurant itself is a £2 million new-build on the site of a Victorian public lavatory and Sellers’ time in Copenhagen clearly had a huge influence on the warm, Nordic interiors. It was recently refurbished, with a dazzling ceiling feature of swallows taking flight by Michelle McKinney, alongside new marble, with damask, Timorous Beasties wallpaper, which distract from its unusual location, on an island, between two busy roads.
Sellers recently asked 14 celebrity friends (including Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton and Angela Hartnett) to provide songs that inspire them, and Rudimental arranged them into a playlist that moves from Bowie and Elton John to MGMT, Stormzy and Massive Attack, for an unexpected soundtrack to the experience.
There have been gimmicks, which push the boundaries of the story concept a little too far - like inviting customers to bring and inscribe a book of their own to become a part of the 'Story' themselves.
But we can forgive this, along with the eye-watering bill - £185 for a 10 course taster menu - because the experience genuinely is a delicious story that you retell to anybody with ears (and a game stomach) and we look forward to his next chapter.