Restaurant Story, 201 Tooley Street, London SE1

 

Can you judge a book by its cover? Not in the case of Story, the white-hot new restaurant housed in what looks like a garden centre on a traffic island just south of the Thames in Bermondsey.

During opening week, the here-be-dragons territory at the scruffier end of Tower Bridge rang to the keening of disoriented restaurant critics and bloggers, whose desperate attempts to be first through the doors of Story were endangered by their inability to find it.

So why have foodish early-adopters got so frothed up about this new kid on the block? (Or, actually, toilet block – the garden centre has risen on the site of a demolished Victorian public convenience.) Because Story's young chef, Tom Sellers, is a rising star, with a CV that reads like a directory of the world's best restaurants: he trained with Tom Aikens and went on to work at Per Se, Noma and with Adam Byatt of Trinity.

Sellers is clearly a cerebral sort of chap, given to galvanising his staff with daily-changing mantras. His mission statement here 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". Story's website encourages diners to bring a book, and leave it behind to "evoke inspiration in others". In short, if you could slap a restaurant in the face, it would be this one. But hold hard. It sounds pretentious, hell it is pretentious. But Story is a lot more fun than it sounds.

Lunch was a thrill-a-minute experience. A succession of showstopping dishes began with a couple of insanely delicious pre-starters. First a wafer of translucent cod skin, dusted with 'gin botanicals' (powdered juniper berries) and dotted with whipped cod roe. Then a rabbit 'sandwich', a crisp, breaded parcel containing a superb, rillette-like confit of shredded meat.

Bread, a dense apple-based sourdough, came to the table in a leather pouch, possibly a repurposed book-cover. But it's what comes with the bread that's the story – an edible candle, made from beef dripping which melts into a dippable pool as it's heated by the flame. It's a dish that has got more newspaper coverage than Labour's deficit reduction plan, and it sets the tone for a meal which is designed to be talked about, as well as enjoyed.

Take the fairytale-ish dessert, cutely titled 'Three bears porridge'. A trio of distinctively flavoured oatmeals; one sweet, one salty, one 'just right'. It sounds ludicrous, but it left us grinning like kids. Sellers, like Heston Blumenthal, loves to play around with all that childhood stuff. And though his food is tricked up in modernist trappings, under the flowers, leaves and dustings of ash or yeast, there's a real precision to his flavour combinations, with bursts of acidity and sourness punching through.

Raw scallops, marinated in meadowsweet to leave them with a succulent milky texture, came with balls of cucumber rolled in dill ash, and oils which melted together like a psychedelic light show. More substantial, and the most satisfying dish of the meal, was a meltingly soft hunk of beef cheek cooked in hay, served with roasted cauliflower and stout sauce.

The trio of sweet dishes that closed our meal offered pure fun. First, mini milk bottles containing layers of rhubarb compote, custard and foamed egg-white, to be slurped up through candy-striped straws. Then the Goldilocks porridge combo. And, finally, a Tunnock's-like teacake, the marshmallow flavoured with rosewater.

Service is rat-a-tat-tat, with dishes coming out every few minutes, leaving our table-talk with more dangling narratives than Cloud Atlas. And there's the rub. As a food experience, Story is amazing. As a restaurant experience, it's… tricky. Story is not the place to go for a comfortable night out. It's certainly not a place to take your elderly parents, unless they happen to be modernist architects who enjoy eating ash and petals.

The plain, Nordic-styled room, with its enormous picture window filled with a view of the Shard, is not a relaxing environment. Chefs and waiters outnumber diners by a factor of 2:1. It was apparently without irony that our menu came to the table folded into a handsome old copy of A Tale of Two Cities; apt as we sat deliberating between a six or 10-course tasting menu, under the curious gaze of bemused passing locals.

Still, Sellers is a serious talent, and his achievement in launching a restaurant this fine at the age of 26 is worth celebrating. Like a good book, Restaurant Story left me feeling stimulated, satisfied, and wanting to tell my friends about it. It also left me with a suspicion that, much as I'd enjoyed it, I would probably never need to return.

Food *****
Ambience ***
Service ****

Restaurant Story, 201 Tooley Street London SE1 (020-7183 2117). Six courses £45, 12 courses £65, before wine and service

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'