Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Let me tell you a Story

Restaurant Story (@Rest_Story)
201 Tooley Street, SE1 2UE

I wasn't even meant to go. It was a scheduling conflict on Owen's part (would you turn down conference networking on the top deck of Tower Bridge? Thought not!), that prevented him from going. Not wanting to miss out on such a hot London ticket (memories of Dabbous abounded), me and Nathalie fulfilled the reservation on his behalf.

The aesthetics of the place is very original - down to the lettering and illustrations on the menu and the cutlery. The location is very unusual too, as there aren't too many top restaurants operating on Tooley Street, in between the fairy tale-like Tower Bridge and London Bridge, the eponymous subject of that famous children's nursery rhyme. The design is a bit more on trend; all Scandinavian, sleek lines of wood - almost looking like it was ordered flat packed to order. We went for the 6 course menu on the night, as I didn't really fancy doing the full 10 course extravaganza.

Cod Skin with cod emulsion
Nasturtium flowers with oyster sabayon
Radish with Kelp Butter
''Fish and Chips''
Rabbit Sandwiches
First, as is becoming increasingly customary, we were brought a number of pre-starters ranging from the sublime (the tarragon-topped rabbit sandwiches, fish and chips) to the merely ok (I'm just not really into edible flowers truth be told). The rabbit sandwich was the definite highlight though, mainly due to the rich, meaty flavours being right at the forefront without excessively unnecessary elaboration.

Bread and Dripping
As we were deciding on which menu to go for, we were brought over the much discussed bread and dripping. It IS a visual treat as well. A wonderfully original idea (the ''Ahhh'' and ''Awww'' sounds were very much audible around the dining room) that lives up to the publicity surrounding the restaurant. I just can't say I was bowled over by the flavour of it. The bread was very nice but I didn't really pick up much flavour from the dripping. I'm not sure about the idea as bread as a course in meals too (I had the same problem with Ben Spalding at John Salt).

Burnt Onion, Gin and Thyme
This course was better. Whilst the use of onion in dishes is quite familiar (Dabbous had a similar dish with alliums), the combination with the gin and various herby emulsions was really original. The bitter gin balanced out the caramelisation of the onions really nicely. Having said that, I wouldn't necessarily say the quality of the ingredients immediately jumped out at me - my palate isn't really refined enough to differentiate between most onions I've tasted to be honest.

Beetroot, Raspberries and Horseradish
This was my least favourite of the courses. Whilst the difference in textures and temperatures (cold, powdered horseradish vs warm, gelatinous beetroot) was really interesting, I wouldn't say it wowed me as a course by itself. 

Pigeon, Summer Truffle and Pine
In contrast this was my favourite course of them all. Mainly due down to the fantastic pigeon to be honest. The other flavours were interesting as well, but the meat was clearly the star. Rich and meaty without being overwhelmingly game-y (a credit to whoever hung it), it was perfectly medium cooked on the charcoal barbecue ''egg'' outside.

This was a palate cleanser course before the ''guess the seasoning'' taste-testing of the next course. Again, it was more interesting from a texture and temperature contrast perspective than taste although I did enjoy those lime leafs, which added an interesting dimension taste-wise. It didn't really feel like it deserved a course out of the six on its own though. It was just a palate cleanser to me in the end.

Three Bears Porridge
The other famous dish of the evening - the Three Bears Porridge was again more interesting to me in terms of its originality and fun-factor rather than the taste. I only really enjoyed the sweet one out of the three (our neighbouring diners were more harsh: Diner 1: ''I think *points* this is the sweet...and this is the salty one'', Diner 2: ''I hated all of them!). The salty one was not a flavour I really enjoy (ask Owen how much I complain about overseasoning!), and the ''just right'' one was a bit bland if you ask me. 

I didn't really remember the petit fours course that followed. The stretchy chocolate taffy thing was kind of interesting but nothing really to write about.

Petit Fours
Coming to the end of the meal, we reflected that there was a certain spark missing to the experience, which was a shame because the concept promised so much. I think that spark was also down to our service on the night. We were very well received but often the dishes were brought the table without much enthusiasm. It's not a big deal really, but sometimes I think the dishes deserved a little more elaboration and theatre. Another small issue we had was how long it took to get a couple of glasses of wine. We initially decided not to order any, but changed our mind and had to spend a good deal of time trying to spot out the sommelier to get him to the table. It probably would have been better for one of the waiters to take our wine order, surely?

So, overall whilst I found Story to be inventive, witty and technically impressive (this is clearly the product of someone who's worked in highly skilled kitchens in the past - Noma, Fat Duck, French Laundry, Tom Aikens, Pied a Terre to count a few), the flavours didn't really do much for me in the end. The balance of flavours was sometimes a bit skewed, not allowing for proper appreciation for the quality of any of the ingredients used. Sometimes the ideas were better than the execution in other words.

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Square Meal

Photos by Nathalie.

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