The restaurant however is very on trend: think Roganic, Dabbous, Viajante and Bubbledogs Kitchen Table (where like Knappett, Sellers has worked at both Per Se and Noma). Even at lunch, there's only a choice between a six course or a ten course tasting menu, something that has not always worked well with busy - must get back to the office - London diners but Restaurant Story is fully booked a good month ahead, so it's clearly working here. And during the meal, we're told that each dish has a story (of course), based upon nostalgia and childhood memories which seems to be the norm also these days. I wonder whether a 26 year old having nostalgia as a muse is a little odd while further reflecting that Tom's childhood is located in years when many of the diners would have been in their thirties, possibly with a child of their own.
But what an achievement. When I was 26, I think my responsibilities extended no further than the photocopying and I can only imagine the pressure of being so prominently thrust into the public gaze. But for all that, this is a very smart and competent restaurant with some amazing cooking taking place and can leave you only impressed at what he has assembled here. The place has an unmistakably youthful vibe that permeates all staff and there's an energy and enthusiasm that is only found in a deep seated belief of a common purpose and vision, a belief that this is the future. But with all that said, I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.
Ahead of our 10 course tasting menu, there's five snack items that arrive in such rapid succession that the description of the first dish is still rattling round your head when the last arrives resulting in you forgetting all of them. These are hit and miss for me though each feels very of the (food) moment. With so many chefs using nasturtiums on their food, why not make nasturtium itself the food and here, a whole flower has a an oyster emulsion piped straight in to it. An eel mousse Oreo cookie is excellent as is the rabbit sandwich, but the dehydrated cod skins, described by other reviewers as wafer thin, were on our service too thick and also far too large giving such a volume of fish skin that the experience more closely resembled a reality TV challenge.
The menu starts off with the beef dripping candle which is certainly an eye opener and in execution, we've seen nothing like it before on this blog. Then we move to the plated courses starting off with burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme which we're told is inspired by fairground hot dog onions and Tom's love of gin. And I really, really wanted not to write a sentence like this but I simply can't avoid it: at Noma it was onion, grape juice and thyme. I'll say no more.
Lots of clever stuff continues to go on over the coming courses. When I see heritage potatoes, asparagus and barley grass on the menu I admit that I'm thinking L'enclume but it's a very different take and the potatoes arrive super soft and buttery (though I read somewhere that there's no butter used so maybe it's yet more clever). I enjoyed this dish a lot, but at its heart is it more than simply great pommes puree? Beetroot, raspberry and horseradish is as described, while personally, I think beetroot on menus seems exhausted now and if the surprise here is simply to pair it with raspberry (as an earlier surprise was to pair mackerel with strawberry), it's deflating.
Desserts were among the favourites of the day with the 'lemon' in all its various textures cold and cleansing immediately following our main while the 'prune tea, lovage and milk' complete with a sugared edible twig (that alone takes seven days to prepare) could easily be on the table of any of the progressive two star restaurants in the country today. We are left baffled though by the porridge in three servings: one too salty, one too sweet, one 'just right'. Aside of a spoon that was hardly fit for purpose and a complaint by my friend at being served breakfast oats for dessert, we can't understand why a pudding is presented where two of the three bowls served are purposefully designed not to be to your taste. A too salty porridge served at dessert is a nasty thing to put in your mouth at the very final moments of the meal and highlights in our view where a clever idea has trumped the simple idea that food served should taste good. Fortunately, there was a final chocolate teacake allowing us to put the porridge tastes behind us.
A post dessert cup of coffee appropriately symbolised in a house of stories the risk they run: the cup was more interesting than the coffee itself, while the cup and saucer had been meticulously chosen to nail the style brief but was at times largely impracticable as the handle is for show only, not use. Everything and everyone it seems has to have a story these days, it makes for good copy and even diners are invited to leave a book at their table complete with inside cover inscription of your own story. Blah.
There's a lot of skill, energy and thought that has gone in to this restaurant and you have to be in awe of what Tom Sellers has achieved here, don't get me wrong. I simply don't want the story to get in the way of the food and eating smarts should rank above IQ smarts or media smarts to create a meal you want to eat again and again. The beef dripping candle is without doubt memorable, but elsewhere, will I be craving the food here in a month from now? Honestly no, but as the restaurant matures, it certainly has the potential to be very interesting indeed.