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

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment