The purpose of my trip to London is ostensibly to have my yearly dental check up. That I am able to breakfast, lunch and dinner with old friends is a bonus. And treating myself to Dinings, Yashin, La Fromagerie, Rose Bakery and ‘white hot‘ Restaurant Story is – who am I kidding? It’s the best.
Once I secure a lunch time reservation at Restaurant Story, I email my friend Paulina: “Wanna be my date for this?” Somehow she finds time in her crazy schedule (she’s the head pastry chef at Ottolenghi) and brings me along an epic goody bag that includes homemade cordial. (Yay!) Lucky for me because lunch with a nerd in arms is infinitely more enjoyable than dining alone or with someone who eats solely for sustenance or worse still someone on a…a diet. We nibble on radishes Peter Rabbit style and suddenly she whips out her iPhone to show me a picture of Daniel Patterson (Coi), Rene Redzepi (Noma), Alex Atala (D.O.M), when they were promoting “Cook it Raw.” in London. Like I said, nerds. Restaurant Story is unique in many ways. Its location, on a traffic island, means I walk past it without registering it. Once I am seated on one of the squat plush chairs, a table side candle is lit (a candle made of beef dripping which I will eat later) and before I’ve even figured out where the menu is (in the book on my table) tiny dishes start cluttering our table. The sweetest most succulent green peas I’ve ever eaten, interspersed with orbs of black truffle, savoury oreo style cookies, a flopsy flower with a blob of green mousse in its center. It’s strangely topsy turvy, even for a seasoned eater such as myself.With a later engagement looming, we order the 6 course menu (£45) which leaves me staring wistfully at the tables who are on the 10 course menu (£65) – there is no a la carte option. And it doesn’t matter at all because the place is at fever pitch. Eating for sport, for pleasure, for culture: it’s very London. A fact that the adjacent table of 6 men or the couple next to me, iPhone’s coming out with for every course – illustrate perfectly. If the young staff is irked by this, they don’t show it but continue to smile and explain the layers that make up the deceptively simple looking dishes. Sometimes one of the chefs comes out to give us even more anecdotes about our ingredients. Like our potato that has been grown by a man who has been growing tubers for 20 years and excels at making potatoes taste of: potatoes. There are miniature purple nasturtium leaves and many other herbs besides that have been foraged by the kitchen staff.
It’s the seasonal and local food that London does so well (because they have beautiful produce and specialist suppliers) but with a good dose of obscure foraged ingredients where you eat things you wouldn’t normally. Like pine in the pigeon dish or charcoal in the potato dish. It’s a journey where you put your afternoon or evening into the chef’ s hands and trust him to take you somewhere.
There are times when I think: “It’s not going to work.” Like when I read that dessert is almond and dill, I deflate a little because – for me – the beginning and end of these kind of meals are always and highlights and here I fear that a delicious dessert will be forfeited for this goofy combination. Surprisingly, besides being a treat to behold, it works. The green stuff in definitely dill but it all marries beautifully.
The afternoon whooshes past at break neck speed and before we know it, Paulina and I are sprinting to the tube and saying we can’t wait until next year.
201, Tooley Street,
London SE1 2UE