Tom Sellers’ restaurant opened in a blaze of publicity in April 2013. Having trained at Tom Aikens for two and a half years, he was introduced to Thomas Keller and worked in New York at Per Se at the tender age of 18. He also worked at Trinity, hosted a successful pop-up restaurant in London and had a stint at Noma. Story is his first restaurant as head chef and part owner; rapid progress for a 26 year old. The restaurant is located in what used to be a public convenience in Tower Hill. It has had a smart makeover, the dining room having reasonably well spaced tables, with the kitchen partly open to view in one corner. There is no à la carte option here, just a shorter and longer tasting menu: a ten-course menu was priced at £75, a six course one at £55.
The wine list had just over 200 bottles, ranging in price from £24 to £700, with a median price of £74 a bottle. Example wines were Zarate 2012 Albariño from Rias Baixas at £40 for a wine that retails at £14, Donovan Rall 2011 ‘Rall White’ at £60 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £21, and Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon at £95 for a wine that will set you back £33 in a shop. The mark-up levels do not moderate much in the upper reaches of the list, with Château Pontet Canet 2005 at £280 for a wine that retails at £111, and Morey-St-Denis ‘Clos St Denis’ 2001 Domaine Dujac at £700 for a wine that will set you back around £368 in a shop.
A flurry of nibbles began the meal. Crisp cod skin was topped with carrot tops and “gin botanicals” i.e. juniper. The crisp was quite tough, the vegetables tasting simply odd in combination, the dish somehow reminiscent of gin flavoured grass on a crisp bread (11/20). Nasturtium flowers were filled with almond puree and bread crumbs, and these were harmless enough (13/20). Radishes were filled with a seaweed butter whose saltiness was quite jarring (11/20). A “Storeo”, a take on the US Oreo cookie, had squid ink wafers sandwiching smoked eel and vinegar powder. This was odd in that the eel, normally such a distinct taste, was hard to detect, though the overall effect was not unpleasant (12/20). Leek with mixed herb emulsion was decent enough, though the leek was of unexceptional quality (12/20). Small tempura shrimps were remarkably lacking in flavour; admittedly I had just returned from Japan, where the shrimps are spectacular, but these entirely lacked sweetness (12/20). The best of the nibbles was a “rabbit sandwich”, which came with tarragon emulsion and a carrot topping with three different carrots; this had reasonable bunny flavour, the tarragon a logical enough pairing (14/20).
At this point the candle on the table, which was actually made from beef fat, had partially melted. We were brought some curiously dense sourdough bread and a little dish of veal tongue, chicken consommé, celery and horseradish, the idea being to dip the sourdough into the beef dripping. Quite why anyone would want to eat this eludes me – I can admire the originality of having a candle that turns into food (well, just about) but that doesn’t mean that I want to tuck into a bowl of dripping. The veal tongue and celery was pleasant enough (12/20).
Burnt Roscoff onions came with chickweed, and a consommé of apple, gin and lemon thyme oil. Roscoff onions can have a lovely sweetness, but being charred to a cinder does not achieve an optimal flavour, while the consommé tasted extremely sharp (10/20).
Scallop slices had been marinated in meadowsweet, served with a dill vinaigrette and horseradish cream, with cucumber rolled in dill ash and nasturtium leaves. What I suspect was originally a quite good quality scallop had its flavour snuffed out by the marinade, the dill flavour too strong for the shellfish (11/20).
A nod to the famous Pierre Koffmann pig trotter dish now followed. Pig skin was braised in port and wine for six hours and wrapped around chicken mousse, charred langoustine, caramelised salsify, pickled wild cherries, parsley stems and a langoustine and pork broth. The sour cherry was the most absurdly sour thing I have ever tasted, which was a pity as the mousse was quite decent, though the overall effect was rather oily. If the cherry was removed then this dish would have scored 13/20, but with it as served I barely have a mark low enough to score it.
Mashed potato came with butter, baby turnips, turnip seedlings, dandelion butter and coal oil. This was a better dish, the potato having good flavour and was nicely buttery, though there was a sharp taste that detracted from the dish (14/20).
The best dish of the meal came with a £20 supplement. Inside a hollowed out apple was compressed apple on top of beef tartare, garnished with a white truffle mayonnaise, apple jelly and dehydrated rye grains. The beef was well seasoned and the apple nicely cut through its richness, the rye grains adding a pleasing crunchy texture contrast (15/20).
Next were prawns from Cornwall in brown butter with rapeseed oil, raw shaved chestnuts, rose petals marinated in cranberry juice with vinegar, butter emulsion, rapeseed oil and mustard cress. The shrimp lacked sweetness and flavour, the overall effect quite sharp (12/20).
Far better was venison with cauliflower purée, yeast foam and baby cauliflower. There was cabbage that had been prepared in three ways as confit, charred and pickled in elderberries, along with quinoa, wild rice, chicken stock, lovage stems and red cabbage sauce. The deer had good flavour and was properly seasoned, the cauliflower and cabbage going well with it, a dish that had a lot of elements but was coherent (15/20).
Rapeseed oil ice cream came with rapeseed oil biscuit and buckthorn snow, which was remarkably astringent (8/20). “Almond and dill” involved almond ice cream, almond crumb, dill snow, dill oil and violet flowers with salt. It was an incoherent cacophony of clashing flavours; dill is a fine ingredient, but not like this (7/20). Prune tea, lovage and milk comprised lovage oil, lovage ice cream and milk skin. By the standard of the previous two desserts this was almost pleasant, but not by any other standard (10/20).
English pear, artichoke and verbena was another surreal assembly: char grilled pear, pear gel, compressed pear and artichoke ice cream, with lemon verbena and rapeseed oil (10/20). Its main virtue was that it was the last dessert, and I could finally try and wash the taste of the dessert sequence away with some coffee.
Service was efficient enough, though dish after dish was removed, barely touched, without a word of inquiry. Perhaps this happens so often here that they have given up asking. If you found a dish unsatisfactory at even a basic high street chain like TGI Fridays then the staff would inquire about the problem and would try and rectify things – there was no such attitude to customers here.
What I found strange was that there were two really quite good dishes in this meal, the venison and beef tartare, and there was a remarkable contrast between these and the litany of culinary disaster that surrounded these genuinely nice plates of food. I can hardly recall a less pleasant set of desserts in my life, and things like the uber-sour cherry to end all sour tastes make me really wonder about the palate of the chef. On the positive side, dish presentation was quite pretty, but that is hardly enough to make a good overall experience. In case you think I am doomed to not “get” the brilliant artistic vision of modern chefs, please read my reviews of, for example, l’Enclume, Oud Sluis and Alinea. I am not against modernist cooking, but for me such cuisine still has to conform to the basics and feature high quality ingredients, good kitchen technique and above all be a pleasure to eat. I’m afraid that for me Story, except for the two dishes noted, failed lamentably to leap over this bar.
This meal, albeit with a supplementary dish and some pleasant wine, came to £166 a head for lunch. That is not a typo – I truly wish it was. I am at a loss to truly describe the sheer ineptness of design of some of these dishes in this sorry saga of plates, with flavours that were in many cases seriously unbalanced. This was a horror Story of a meal, a culinary tragedy with no coherent narrative.Book