Story SE1
REVIEWS, June 7, 2013
Overall Value
out of 5
  • Food
  • Service
  • Ambience
Story, 199 Tooley St, London, SE1 2UE

Oddly situated on an island site near the south end of Tower Bridge, a singular first solo venture by a young chef who worked with Tom Aikens; it offers dishes as interesting and attractive as we have found in London in recent times, and very charming service too.

It’s fortunate that this island-site Borough restaurant, not far from Tower Bridge, has had some good early-days reviews, as it’s certainly not a destination that’s ever going to make much of a living from its passing pedestrian traffic! And those who do stroll by are hardly likely just to pop in for the entry-level menu – six courses for £45.

The interior of the newly-built structure is similarly a bit of a surprise. It felt a bit like a smart, Scandinavian-style ski-lodge, decorated with bookshelves (complete with artfully disorganised volumes) and G-Plan furniture. We never particularly warmed to this interior, perhaps largely because it seemed to be the sonic equivalent of a black hole – voices often just disappeared, even over distances where this would seem impossible.

The table appointments, however, are all rather charming – in an rough-hewn way – and all seemingly commissioned by the patron, Tom Sellers, himself. You soon learn that that’s the nature of things here – the Story is all about Tom Sellers, the still-young chef/patron, who used to work with Tom Aikens.

Like all good stories, the actual meal begins with the arrival of an old fashioned lighted candle. But in this story, you eat it; we won’t spoil it for you. And then the amuse-bouches arrive. If your meal is anything like ours, this is the point at which you may begin to believe that this is one story which will have a happy ending. The nibbles are all carefully-crafted, and not at all what they initially seem, such as a sliver of cod skin that’s been toasted to the consistency of a cracker. Or there’s an Oreo-style number that’s actually largely squid’s ink. Each item is not just a surprise, but a nice surprise too. And the meal hasn’t really begun yet.

What’s remarkable is that almost everything that follows similarly twins interesting presentation, often a real delight to the eye, with surprisingly good taste and texture. So often, experimental cooking is code for ‘not actually very nice’, but here the position is precisely the opposite – everything is very nice. Almost every dish you could eat again. That’s rare enough in any multi-course meal, and perhaps even rarer where, as here, the dishes aren’t in an entirely known and usual mould. In fact, the only thing we didn’t like from six courses was one of the dishes which make up the ‘Three Bears’ porridge’ – pretty much everything else was a triumph.

There are irritations of course. The whole ‘story’ story can grate. Fortunately, however, even if you really try, you usually can’t hear the staff – who are all very charming – presenting their dishes and the, er, stories supposedly behind them. So all you can do anyway is smile and nod. But that’s the only obvious problem. This really is a story you don’t want to end.

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