Friday, 30 May 2014

Story

Basically, the other night I went out and had a 21 course meal.

That's not a typo.  I actually did.  There were 21 dishes brought to our table, put down, left and removed when we'd eaten them.  21.  Twenty-one.  Seriously.

OK, so some of them were pretty small, I can’t deny that.  Some of them were basically bitesize.  Others less so.  But there were (I don’t know if I've mentioned this) TWENTY ONE OF THEM.

And they were all bloody brilliant. 

Basically, we spent the evening at Story, Tom Sellers's restaurant set in a converted public lavatory near Tower Bridge. 


Before tucking in – indeed, before ordering – we kicked off with a round of Vespers.  Good start.


Then the first 'course' came.  Which was odd, because we hadn’t ordered anything.  In fact, I tried at this point to order, and they said no.  You have to wait until you've had the appetisers before you order.

1. Crispy cod skin, cod roe mousse, botanicals and carrot tops.  A snack, it was fishy (to be expected) but also sweet and fragrant (presumably the botanicals) and smelled more of fish than the taste. 


2. Nasturium flower stuffed with oyster cream and breadcrumbs.


Who thinks of this shit, really?  My granny used to have a phrase: "life's too short to stuff a mushroom".  I'm sure it is.  But if so, it's definitely too short to stuff a flower.  But thank God they have.  Because this is 100% over-the-top incredible.  First, taste wise it's damned clever – sweet, almost buttery oyster cream, salty breadcrumbs, peppery nasturtium.  Second – and the really standout point – texture.  I don’t think of texture too often – who has the time? – but it's important, and I know that now because of this dish.  The flower petals are soft and velveteen.  The crumbs are hard and crunchy.  The mousse is smooth.  I'm basically in love.

3. The signature 'Storeo': two squid ink biscuits, sandwiching smoked eel mouse and dusted with vinegar powder.  Another triumph.  Smokey eel offset beautifully by slightly sweet biscuit.  Delicate and lovely.  Eat in one, though, otherwise you end up with a disaster of shards all over your plate.


4. Roasted razor clam, champagne snow and barley grains, decorated with a forage flower.


5. Rabbit sandwich with tarragon crème, topped with carrots cured in bergamot.  What is a sandwich?  Who knows – that's too long of a philosophical point for just now.  All I know is that this is not really a sandwich.  But I don't care, because it's yums. 


6. Sticky barbequed chicken skewer wrapped with wild leek and served with an umami sauce dipping sauce.  Nice.  Not a highlight, but nice.  Perfectly cooked.


Oh look, a nice candle has been put on our table.  Isn’t that nice?


7. English cherry tomato stuffed with avocado and raw tuna served on a shiso leaf.  The shiso leaf adds absolutely nothing at all, I only mention it because I now know what it is and want to show off. 


8. English asparagus with English caviar.  I have to say that I have only really been aware of English asparagus – I think?  Do I cheek where my asparagus comes from? It seems highly seasonal so I assume Kent (where everything seems to grow).  As for caviar – either this isn’t caviar (it isn’t) or it isn’t English (I assume it is) because beluga whales simply don’t live round these parts.


9. Beetroot, raspberry snow and sheep yoghurt, decorated with a pickled rose petal.  Seriously amazingly brilliant.  This remained GrusbterGirl's favourite dish all round.  Which is a bit awkward because we are STILL IN THE APPETISERS BIT.  I am half tempted to agree with her, though, to be honest.  Because this was truly incredible.


NOW you order, by the way.  And there's basically two options: big or massive – six courses or ten courses.  We had already decided on ten courses (my 30th birthday...) and just went for it.  Without prejudicing the awesomeness of what followed, I will say this: it was a bit of an error.  Whilst everything was good (even the worst thing must still be fairly described as good) it was just too much, too long.  But that's it, folks: my only gripe of this post.

10. The first course (ha!) is described as 'bread and dripping', which sounds a bit old fashioned.  It was, but not in the way one might think.

You remember that candle that I said arrived at our table?  It wasn't because it was getting dark out.  No.  it was a tallow candle.  Made out of beef dripping.  This then melts into a beautiful sludge that you dip your bread in.  GENIUS.  I'll bet that when Heston read about that he kicked himself for not think of it.  Hard.

The bread itself comes in a beautiful soft leather satchel – like the plates, glasses, cutlery, everything here is designed to have a tactile, interactive feel.


It's also served up with a veal tongue salsa.  This is an incredible accompaniment to the dripping – it's meaty, which is a natural bedfellow of fatty, as well as vinegary and sharp, which is the perfect foil to the grease. 



11. Onion, apple and Old Tom. 


I totally did not know what to expect.  It wasn't this – onion cooked three ways: onion compote on the bottom on which grilled and charred cups of onion sit, each holding a roasted baby onion.  Then they pour over a beautiful hot apply and gin (Old Tom gin, to be precise – see what I did there?!) consommé.  Now, I'm actually not wild about onions – at least not on their own – but holy cow, Batman.  This. Is. It. 

Old Tom Gin is a brand product these days, but it used to be a style of gin – sweeter than London, dryer than Jenever, it was the tipple of choice for alkies of the 1700s – a bit like a olden days Buckfast...  It's making some of a resurgence now. Also, by the end of the dish I was pretty pissed, which is always a bonus.

12. Scallops, cucumber and dill ash. Decorated with nasturtium leaves and flowers – the bitterness and pepperiness of which work well together.  My only criticism is the cucumber balls – not wise, I came very close to flicking a few down GrubsterGirl's top in my attempt to skewer them.


13. Heritage potato, turnip and coal.  Topped with a wee English asparagus head.


So... This is embarrassing.  I knew when I set up a food blog it would happen at some point.  I would have to admit my dark secret. 

I don’t like potatoes.  And I hate mashed potato.

Sorry, I just don't.  There, I've said it.  That's me.  So don’t go round this blog looking for potato recipes – they're boring, taste of fluff, and the world could get by just fine without them.

So I wasn't especially looking forward to this course.  But holy hell it was good.  Like, I have no idea what went into it, but that was just jaw-achingly delicious.  You see, if all mash was like that, I'd eat it.

14. Crab and wild leeks, with green peas.  Love crab.  Wasn't disappointed.  Had to be told not to lick the plate.


15. Foraged wild greens and langoustine. 

OK, so this came to our table first.  Lawrence the Langoustine was alive too.  If you don’t like that sort of thing then... well, I don’t know what to say.  Don’t eat this thing, I guess. 


Five minutes later, the basket (or rather its entire contents) is transformed to this:


It was lovely – and as fresh as you can get, too – wild, foraged greens, picked that afternoon and changing day-to-day (plate-to-plate, even), served up with a fresh, grilled langoustine.  I love this kind of a crustacean, and it wasn't a disappointment.  Lawrence didn’t die in vain – au contraire, he made me very happy in his final moment. 

The dish was served with a clam consommé which – like the apple-gin consommé above (see 11).  Again, this was a fantastic addition.  It was light but nevertheless full of flavour – of shellfish and the sea and (just a little) bit sweet – which was a wonderful balance to the bitterness of the wild greens.

16. Lamb threeway.  Roast loin, belly ballotine and head rillettes.  The 'main course', if you like.  Decorated with little garlic flowers which (at the time of eating) were absolutely in season - a beautiful waft of garlic added to the dish.


We got offered cheese at this stage.  LOLZ!  No, really, someone honestly thought that I'd want to eat mountains of solidified milk fat IN ADDITION to the twenty-one other things I was eating.  I have never been known to refuse cheese in my life – but I didn’t hesitate this time.

Ah, pudding time.  Just what the doctor ordered.  Actually, I'm certain he didn’t order this...

17. Foie gras crème brule with English pears. 


Now, if you'd told me in advance that I was going to have foie gras crème brule, I would have said – Michelin or no Michelin, that's going too far.  Certainly when it's being served up, unabashedly, as a pudding.

Of course, it wasn't.  On the contrary, it only just went far enough.  Because I could have eaten ten plates of that.  It was one of those dishes that's just so well, done, so well balanced, that it makes me stop and think 'now, why can’t I think of this?'.

The pear was another threeway: frozen (why-oh-why?), in gel form (OK…) and pickled (The best, obviously.  Sweet and sharp and spicy all at the same time. Yes yes yes.) all of which, in their own way, matched the supreme richness of the liver.

Oh, and there was something else. A rapeseed sweet.  Casual.

Basically, I reckon this was a tiny sugar blister filled with rapeseed oil.  AS YOU DO.  Totally unnecessary, but in exactly the same way that foie gras itself is totally unnecessary – it's brilliant because it's over indulgent and because it tastes amazeballs. 

18. All the lemons: Lemon snow, lemon compote, lemon parfait, lemon dust with white chocolate parfait and crisp.  Brilliant.  No words.  A pre-pudding palate cleanser that deserves to be a dish in its own right – deserves to be a dish writ large, all over the menu.


19. Hay, prunes and milk.


Nearly there, friends.  You've done well to get this far.  So had we, trust me.  This was actually milk, milk ice cream (sprinkled with what I assume is hay), poached prune and puffed wheat.  GrubsterGirl wasn't keen, and I could have taken it or left it.  It was quite a clever take on pudding – both in its playful nature (like kid's cereal in a posh restaurant) and in being an almost savoury desert – but it didn’t blow me away.  I reckon if I were given it in any other situation I'd probably think it was very nice, but surrounded by 20 other fantastic dishes it was always going to suffer a little by comparison.

20. Final course, and the only one with nuts - which GrubsterGirl can’t eat.  They're actually fantastic about allergies – which is impressive given the vast quantities of different dishes they have to prepare (and remember, the menu changes constantly).  So they gave her raspberry sorbet and chocolate soil instead.


I had almond and dill – almond ice cream and candied ground almonds with dill sauce and dill snow.  Lots of people aren’t crazy about dill.  I'm one of them.  All I can say is don’t let that put you off.  Because it turns out that the combination of dill and almonds, pluss a little sugar, is magic.


21. OH NO WAIT THERE'S MORE.  Chocolate covered marshmallow puds.  With a little biscuit base.  Actually, I basically can’t remember these – I'd eaten way too many different things to notice / care.  Bit of a shame to leave it there, but there you go.


To be honest, if I was asked to invest two-million quid so that a relatively unheard of 26 year old could set up a poncy restaurant with loads of courses and not many covers south of the river in a disused bog, I'd probably laugh.  Then I'd tell the person asking to piss off.  But that's exactly why I have to work for a living and not sit around on yachts quaffing champagne and remarking on what a fantastic financial investor I was.  Because what Sellars has set up in Story is pure, unadulterated genius.  It's one of those restaurants I am going to keep coming back to, in my mind, for years to come.  Sure, it wasn't cheap - by a long chalk - I don’t know if this is the Michelin star effect (oh, did I not say, it's go one of those? Frankly, you might have figured it out – they serve dill snow, accompany dishes with coal and make table decorations out of cow fat).  Nor was it speedy – it took us nearly FOUR HOURS to have dinner – which is a mite too long, alas.  But I already want to go again.  Really want to go back.  In fact, I wanted to go again before I'd got out of the taxi home.  It's just that bloody good. 

- GrubsterBoy -

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