When I travel overseas for work, I generally have a long list of restaurants to visit; but I’ve been to the UK so regularly over the last three years, the list of must-visit restaurants has diminished quite significantly.
So, for my most recent trip, I limited my fine dining experiences to two establishments; one that’s new, and the other, one that’s been around for a while.
This is a Story about the latter.
You’ve probably guessed by my bad pun (and the title of this post) that I went to the highly acclaimed restaurant of Tom Sellers; the aptly named Restaurant Story. A dream of the prodigious talent from the age of 19; it wasn’t until the age of 26 that the dream became a reality….
That journey saw Tom working in some of the worlds most recognisable names in dining; Per Se in New York and Copenhagen’s Noma.
I’d been thinking about getting to Restaurant Story for so long, it was almost anticlimactic as I finally made my way to the rather understated London address. From a distance, the building was hard to identify, but as I made my way to the entrance, I noticed the nuances of the restaurant. It was almost like wandering through a forest, only to come to an opening to a meadow; revealing a warm and inviting cottage.
Of course, it was freezing outside, so I made my way inside and unwrapped from the multiple layers of clothing that were keeping me alive in the sub-arctic weather (OK, that’s maybe an embellishment). Handing my pile of clothing to the team at the door, I noticed the warmth seep into my bones and my senses settling into the very warm and inviting interior. Bookcases lined the walls, the open kitchen a hive of activity and the tables already mostly filled.
I was shown to my seat, which was right next to one of the many bookcases; the natural wood of the table and the bookcase, as well as that wonderful smell of books intermingled with aromas from the kitchen sending me to a happy place.
In keeping with the name of the restaurant, I was presented with a storybook, which opened to reveal the tale (menu) for the evening. Written like chapters in a book, each course represented a tale from the life of Tom Sellers.
The Foreword was the intro to the meal; a series of snacks that were utterly delicious and quite beautiful to behold… I loved the accuracy and intricacy of my first bite, the crispy cod skin was delicately presented on a napkin and quickly devoured. A tin with an ‘oreo’ biscuit created a sweet savoury juxtaposition; sweet acidity from pickled carrot danced willingly with a block of duck rillette….
Moving to a delicate pile of shredded truffle sitting atop a shredded puree of sweet onion, the earthy truffle enhancing the onion; theatrics of dry ice accompanied the oyster with horseradish, the ‘smoke’ wafting across the table… Oh, the smooth creaminess of the oyster and the bite of the horseradish playing a magical tune together.
The plethora of small bites over, we moved swiftly onto Chapter 1 and a beguiling look into the Childhood of Tom Sellers. In what was one of the most unique dishes I’ve had the pleasure of consuming, I was presented with a platter of warm bread, a candle already alight and dripping into a base container, as well as jars containing beef extract and pickled celeriac.
I was a bit stumped…
But it became clear (once explained)… The wax was actually edible beef fat, and as it melted, it became dripping to be smeared on the crusty bread; beef extract and celeriac for flavour. Oh-my, what an indulgence…. My fingers slick with fat, I struggled to spread the accompaniments onto the bread, eventually giving up and just dripping the bread directly into the fat.
Where could you go after such a dish? Well, Fairground Onions continued the chapter, the beautifully presented dish was reminiscent of gin and tonic (or so the story went from my waiter). There were bold flavours in play here, the rich deep sauce was filled with tapioca, the sauce and sweet onions balancing really well. The dish was surprising to me in a way that’s hard to explain; I normally hate those deep wintery flavours, but this dish really opened me to the possibilities that wintery dishes had never done before!
Turning the page onto Chapter 2, we travelled to the Garden and a dish of snail ravioli… A puree that included Dorset Snails was wrapped in a lettuce leave and surrounded by a foam made from fresh chervil. The delicate flavours danced on the palate, superbly contrasting from the previous dish, there was a lightness that reminded me of Spring days transitioning into summer. Delicious of course, but it was more, it was a feeling that put a smile on my face.
There was more than a smile on my face as my next course (a supplement), in fact, it was a song in my heart as I devoured the risotto made from celeriac and ceps then covered with lashings of Perigord truffle. Without doubt one of the most delicious plates of food I’ve had in living memory, it was a risotto that easily entered my ‘top 5’ list of dishes to try before you die….
We were back to the Story of the night, and up to Chapter 3; a tale of the sea… Now, it’s at this point that I will highlight a cardinal sin… I was so captivated by the Lobster, apple and lavender, that I forgot to take a photo. You will just have to take my word for this, but it was beautiful, delicious and unforgettable. Of course, there was a story about the dish, about an Apple-Maple vinegar that was the key component of the sauce, which ensured that the dish tasted like toffee-apple…
A relatively benign looking dish was out next, scallops with cucumber and ash, the centrepiece of the dish being a bright yellow cucumber flower; while understated in presentation, there was a subtlety to the dish that was quite different from the previous ‘pow’ dishes; it was a welcome relief from the palate busting deliciousness. Fresh, simple and very Nordic in its composition, it was an ode to Tom’s time at Noma.
I was filling up, no doubt due to the punchy start that was beef fat and bread… But once I saw Chapter 4, this time an adventure from the Land that saw a plate with an ‘antler’ design co-existing with a beautifully rare piece of venison… One of my favourite game animals, the exquisitely cooked venison was tender and seasoned to perfection…
It was at this time that I was called to the kitchen; I was to get an up close and personal demonstration of Paddington Bear…. I watched and listened (poorly as it turns out) as the dish was constructed in front of me; a parfait of a limoncello like substance (that was the poor listening part!) was covered with shaved frozen foie gras. The whole concoction taking shape before me took minutes, but it only took a second to devour the concoction… I loved the use of different textures and temperatues to great effect – warm and cold playing out to perfection.
My meal rounded out with Chapter 5, unsurprisingly called The End; starting with a palate cleanser of different textures and flavours of lemon; different levels of sweetness and tartness played out, one bite mouth puckering sour, the next jaw-droppingly sweet – the balance playing out to my tune depending on the elements I chose to add to my spoon; my favourite was the curd, the balance of sweet-sour wonderfully rolled into one.
Chocolate and Honey was intensely flavoured, the slightly bitter chocolate pieces were well accompanied by a sweet honey ice cream that was drizzled with fresh honey on top. Crunch was provided by chunks of honeycomb, ensuring that my second last bite of food was insanely sweet.
Which was offset by my last dessert, a savour dessert consisting of toasted almonds and dill granita; of course it would be oversimplifying it by saying that the contrast between my last two dishes was extreme, but the sweetness of the honey chocolate was stark when compared to my final bite. Interestingly, an unusual way to finish dessert; usually the sweetest bite coming last….
Well, the story wasn’t quite over; my petite four was that super sweet ending to the meal that you’d normally expect; my favourite being a soft caramel in an edible wrapper.
Given I was dining solo, I raced through my meal much faster than the other tables, but I was still inside Tom Seller’s Story for well over three hours. But like a good story, I barely noticed the passage of time.
What I loved about the meal was the regular visit by the kitchen to explain the story of each meal; which I’ve purposefully kept light so as not to spoil the story for anyone else. Service was excellent, the meal divine and the night enjoyable.
Unfortunately and ultimately ironic, Tom Sellers was on a night off for my visit; I’d have loved to have met and talked to the creative genius of Restaurant Story; the Michelin Starred chefs tale very much worth talking about…..
But I guess it will give me cause to go back for a second telling.. In fact, I’m quite fond of reading a story repetitively; especially when it’s so engaging and memorable….