199 Tooley Street,
London SE1 2JX
Tel. 0207 183 2117
Food type: Modern Eclectic
Nearest tube: London Bridge
Website: Restaurant Story
When I asked my fiancée after her meal at Story what her favourite part of the meal was, her response was ‘the wine’. The bottle of Ponsot ‘Clos de Vougeot’ 2002 was probably the only part of the meal where the chef had no involvement with. After our meal here, we did wonder whether this was hands down the worst meal we have ever eaten, fine dining or otherwise. Maybe not. There were at least some sparks of greatness within the meal. But like a plot which you think is leading somewhere, all too often the flow is interrupted by some non-sensical twist that leaves you wondering is this Dan Brown on crack?
I used to live in London some many moons ago when I went to university. My campus was around London Bridge and I loved walking down the Thames, often along Shed Thames where there are plenty of restaurants around. Restaurant Story was but a (not in use) public toilet. Yep, the design team have done well to convert the Victorian public convenience into a restaurant. The dining room is kitted out to look like a library or someone’s study with plenty of books on the shelves. On each table, there is a book of some sorts. We visited for Saturday lunch, where there was only one tasting menu, priced at £80 on offer.
Like all stories, our tale begins with an introduction. A series of canapés were brought to us in quick succession. Cod skin with taramasalata was fine – the cod skin was crisp albeit had a rather tough, leathery texture. The problem is that this canapé is commonly served in various restaurants in London. The Square, Typing Room and Pied-a-Terre are but a few restaurants that I have visited in the last year where they have some form of this canapé and all three execute it better. Next we moved on to Storeo – a canapé designed to replicate a Oreo biscuit. Smoked eel mousse is sandwiched between squid ink cookies and dusted with vinegar powder. This is a concept that should work, except it didn’t. Smoked eel has a distinctive, strong taste but the amount of acidity coming from the vinegar powder completely drown every other flavour. Nasturtium flower with oyster mayonnaise was decent enough although I am not quite sure what the flower actually brought to the overall composition of the dish other than being a pretty looking vessel for the mayonnaise. The next two bites were very tasty and at this point I thought the cooking was starting to get serious. First a rabbit fritter with heritage carrot and tarragon had good flavour of the rabbit while remaining moist. The fritter shaped to look like a polenta chip benefitted from the little hit of anise-seed note from the tarragon. Last was a homemade black pudding with pineapple. I absolutely loved the deep, earthy flavours from the black pudding and the combination with the juicy pineapple was interesting.
Stuck in a Narrative Loop
At this point, our tasting menu officially began. Except it really didn’t. Brought on a bed of razor clam shells were razor clams, all three slivers of it, served with the most acidic champagne vinegar granita. If the objective of the chef was to create a granita so tart that you could not taste anything else, then mission accomplished. The clams were relegated to a mere texture – one which was soft and melted in the mouth. Next was a crab salad – also best described as a teaspoonful of picked crab meat wrapped around four slivers of avocado. Seriously, the portion sizing was a complete joke. It reminded me of those pretentious nouvelle cuisine plates that I thought were left in the 80s. Perhaps it was the chef’s intentions to take us back to a time when British cooking was awful.
Bread was now served. Presented in a leather bag with a cloth peg (a nod to the French Laundry), the bread was a) warm b) really good. Instead of butter, there was a candle made from beef dripping which we were encouraged to dip our bread into. Once the novelty of the melting candle had worn off, we were thinking – yep that’s absolutely what we want every morning, to dip our bread into cow fat. On the side were some condiments. Some veal tongue with pickled vegetables were very tasty and proved a much-needed distraction. I’m not sure about the ‘beef extract’ (in essence a beef stock jelly) which we were told to add to the beef dripping for added flavour.
The WORST Dish 2016
We are only in April and I can safely say that the next dish Onion and Gin is hands down the worst dish in 2016. In fact, this may easily be one of the absolute worst dish I have ever eaten, McDonald’s included. Raw onions which were charred on the outside was served with the most horrible tasting, acidic, tart, soul-destroying gin-infused consommé. Your eyes do not deceive you – three slivers of onions is what a chef calls a dish these days. I love charred onions. When done properly, you get a sweet, smoky note. Phil Howard, when he was cooking at the Square (now sold to MARC) did it very well. Here? Enjoy biting into raw, burnt onion. Because raw onions is what I enjoy eating the most. NOT!
Overcomplicating The Plot Twist
When our waitress brought us the next course – scallops marinated with elderflower vinegar with carrots and nasturtium, she explained to us that the chef had decided to marinate the scallops with vinegar to get rid of the fishy smell of the scallops. Wait! What? Since when do scallops have a fishy smell, unless of course they are you know not fresh? The scallops were actually of very good quality but the whole dish was masked once again by stupid amounts of acidity. Once again, like the razor clam, the scallops were relegated to being a mere texture. An awful, awful way to treat such a lovely ingredient.
Please Sir! Can I Have More Bread?
We were brought an unannounced course – brioche with ‘4 layer butter’. In essence, the 4 layer butter cleverly hid some foie gras parfait. Once again, the bread was sensational, the brioche light and airy. However my suspicions with regards to why we were served more bread was confirmed at the end of the meal. The portion sizes for the meal were downright mean. ’14 canapés’ was what a friend of mine described the meal as when he looked at the photos I posted on Facebook. To ensure the customer leaves at least not starving, the restaurant sneakily pops in plenty of bread during the meal.
More Plot Holes
Now we were closing in on our main course. The big climax of the meal you would hope. First though, we were brought a dish of heritage potato. Described to us as being one of the staff’s favourite dishes, I would urge said staff to perhaps, try other restaurants. Maybe even Robuchon. I love mash potato, pomme puree. Call it what you want. What I do not like however is gummy mash. Mash that can be moulded into a cylinder. Mash that has the texture of Play-Doh. I’m pretty sure it was the chef’s intention to serve mash of this consistency. Perhaps, he also uses the leftovers to plaster his walls. Oh and how could I not forget the sauce served with it. Yet another acid bomb in the form of an Alexander emulsion.
Is This The Climax?
And now, ladies and gentleman, we have our main course. For once, this was a plate I really enjoyed eating. Lamb served four ways with seasonal wild garlic. Amongst all the wacky combinations and jarring flavours, the best dish of the day was something that was classical. If anything it shows that the chef, when he wants to, can put out some amazing food. If he wants to. If he is not too busy showing off how unique raw onions and gin can be.
An Unsatisfactory Ending
After the brief highs of our main course we were served cheese from a Picnic basket, complete with a Swiss army knife to eat it with. The cheese was fine and with it was an excellent baguette. Seriously, whoever makes the bread deserves a raise. Or at least be paid more than everyone else cooking the rest of the meal. Finally with desserts, we were first serve a lemon composition which was harmless enough before finishing with a dill & almond combination which was like shoving a huge bunch of dill in your mouth. When I visited Typing Room, I was really impressed with their dill inspired dessert. The amount of dill was kept well controlled so that the flavour was present, but it didn’t smack you in the face like a gravlaxed trout.
When a restaurant is named Story and the menu is inspired by the stories of the chef, this was never conveyed to the diner by the wait staff. To be fair, they needed more than the 4 people on the floor who were completely overworked. Would the meal have been more magical with a bit of info breathing life into the chef’s creative mine? I very much doubt so. The restaurant is often compared to the Fat Duck, but with the later, behind every creative process was a purpose with the ultimate goal to achieve a tasty plate of food. Aside from the bread and the lamb main course, the dishes here were anything but. The portion sizes were insulting but to be honest, I was very grateful because I doubt I could have eaten anymore of the overly acidic dishes. For me, this story has no fairytale ending.