It was only a matter of time before my return to Blighty resulted in a trip to London to discover what’s been happening on the culinary landscape since leaving the capital some 18 months ago. I had done my research and compiled a list of new(ish) restaurants focused on championing seasonal British produce, something close to my heart as a cook. Not only are these restaurants reviving British cooking and the way this style of food is perceived only a global scale but each of the kitchens are headed by a talented bunch of young and exciting homegrown chefs. So not wasting any time I’ll get on to talking about said restaurants.
Day 1 – Restaurant Story (lunch) and Caravan King’s Cross (dinner).
Not wasting any time upon arrival I headed straight to Restaurant Story, somewhere I had read endless amount of press since its opening in April 2013. Awarded a coveted michelin star within only five months of opening and ironically built on the former site of a Tower Bridge toilet block, I was intrigued to say the least. Not only this but the youthful Head Chef and owner, Tom Seller,s has quite the culinary background. Training under London heavyweight Tom Aikens (Restaurant Tom Aikens) at the tender age of 17 before spending time in the states with Thomas Keller (Per Se / The French Laundry) and Copenhagen with Rene Redzepi (Noma) and what’s more impressive Sellers achieved all this before opening Story at the age of 26. Story is located within a stand-alone building, something of a rarity these days in London, and is constructed from reclaimed stone, glass and wood. The dining room is light and airy without being overly clinical in its minimalism. Once sat at your table it’s not long before food is brought, and once it starts coming it doesn’t stop! Rounds of ‘snacks’ commence proceedings with cod skin and roe (crisped to an almost translucent wafer and dotted with smoked cod roe purée (basically taramasalata), carrot tops and gin botanicals), nasturtium flowers cradling oyster sabayon (ocean salty with a light floral finish), garden peas (served in the pod with an earthy black truffle purée), “storeos” a take on the classic Oreo biscuit (crumbly squid ink biscuit sandwiching a delicate smoked eel mouse), razor clam (served raw with puffed barley and a champagne granita) and finally rabbit croquette (topped with tarragon cream and slices of carrots pickled in bergamot). I should also mention that during this time a candle holder complete with lit candle is brought to your table, but more on this to follow… The first dish to follow the rounds of snacks (and might I mention we still hadn’t even glanced at the menu yet!) was a pre-starter of charred sweet corn accompanied with a hot and cold sabayon (light an airy with another decadent smattering of black summer truffle). And then came the time to avert our attention to the menu and choose between a set lunch (3 courses) or tasting menu (of either 6 or 10 course). Considering the amount of food that had already been brought to the table we opted for the 6 course taster menu. Now back to that candle… each menu begins with bread and dripping and with this everything is revealed. The candle is in fact beef dripping and during this time has gradually been melting and pooled conveniently in the holder for dipping with the accompanying dark poppyseed soda bread. Bread and dripping is partnered with a skillet filled with a tangy relish of cubed veal tongue, pickled celery and jellied chicken consommé. Piquant and earthy, sweet yet savoury, meaty and wobbly, crunchy, chewy… oh my word, sheer genius.
Next course was introduced by our waiter as onion, apple and old tom and the story theme begins to unfold. Conceived from Seller’s love of onions and gin sees varying textures of thyme infused charred onions, onion marmalade, onion crisp, onion flowers (lots and lots of onion) bathed in an onion heavy consommé flavoured with generous lashings of gin. Heritage potato, peas, broad beans and coal came with another tale, this time centred around new season potatoes chosen for their unique flavour and turned into an impossibly smooth and luxurious pomme purée with a black coal sauce. Pleasant enough but how much joy can you take from a dollop of mash with a coal (couldn’t taste coal, although not really sure what coal tastes like… cigarette ash or something maybe)? Our last savoury offering was lamb, grilled salad and sheep’s yoghurt, sounded straight forward enough but by now we knew the dish would be far more complex. Lamb was served three-ways; roasted loin, confit belly and slow roasted – all tasted sublime. Grilled lettuce stem provided bitterness, while wilted salad leaves were gently sweet, salad relish gave much needed acidity to cut through the rich confit belly and an intense green purée was rich in iron balanced by salty sheep’s yoghurt. Simply wow.
Moving from savoury to sweet and textures of lemon used various techniques of lemon manipulation (crisp tuile, sorbet, crumb, snow, confit peel and bon bon) and served as a delicate palate cleanser for the real sweet stuff to arrive. English strawberry, camomile and sweet cicely matched a strawberry ice cream and tuile (so intense in strawberry flavour) with a light camomile sponge cake and sweet cicly (a herb I’d never encountered previously and lands somewhere between anise and mint – rather lovely). Another dessert was bitter chocolate, wild berries and buttermilk and finally the eyebrow raising almond and dill that saw various preparations of almond paired with a delicate dill snow. This course gently melted in the mouth and was a triumph in flavour pairing – slightly nutty and creamy with a light floral, almost freshly cut grass aroma. Lastly we were treated with a final sweet treat farewell of dark chocolate and marshmallow teacake flavoured with rose and raspberry. You can’t help but morn a little when the final morsel of food is ingested and the realisation that no more food will arrive after such a gastronomic masterclass. Simply wonderful experience and what excites me most about Story is Seller’s focus on British produce and cooking, ingredient-led with nods to his country’s culinary history. Simplistic concept, yet technical in execution and delivery by the youthful kitchen team that adds a large measure of fun and freshness into the mix.
Thankfully, considering the length of time it takes to complete a taster lunch at Story I didn’t have to wait long until my next meal. After boozing the afternoon away I headed to the restored Granary Building in King’s Cross that house St. Martin’s College and Caravan. King’s Cross Caravan is the second location for the popular restaurant and coffee roaster after first opening at Exmouth Market in early 2010. Caravan label their concept “well-travelled” food using seasonal ingredients to create dishes that draw influence and flavours from around the world – basically a license to cook anything and everything, which Caravan takes full advantage.
Caravan’s menu is broken down into various sections that surely everyone and anyone can find something they desire; Bread, Cheese and Meat, Small Plates, Large Plates, Pizza and Pudding. There’s also a well constructed cocktail menu including rotating daily specials, sparkling prosecco (on tap!), local craft beer (Camden Town Brewery) and plenty of wine to choose from. Not to mention the coffee menu that Caravan are rightly proud of, considering it’s roasted in-house and ethically sourced from around the globe. But anyway onto the food, I decided to steer clear of the large plate and pizza sections in favour of tapas style, small plate dining. Dishes I opted for (or rather were chosen for me as a friend has been working at Caravan for some time now) included the ever on-trend burrata cheese with peach, hazelnuts and sherry vinegar dressing, jalapeño corn bread with chipotle butter (both pictured above), pork carnitas croquettes with chipotle lime mayonnaise and pale ale and miso lamb ribs with radish and crispy shallots (both pictured below). All washed down with a couple of masterfully mixed old fashions and negronis.
Despite filling up fast and feeling the effects of continuous daytime drinking there was mention of dessert and before I knew it two dishes arrived at the space of bar I was perched/propping myself up at. First offerings were cinnamon doughnut fingers with crushed pistachios, honey and turkish delight, as well as poached meringues (think the classic floating islands) accompanied with blackberry sorbet, blueberries and violet flowers.
Caravan is a great, buzzy restaurant with a rotating food and drinks menu that’s well worth returning for, not to mention the excellent range of in-house roasted coffee. Caravan offers a breakfast, brunch and all-day menu and you’ll find that during any of these times it’s always bustling with an absolute hive of activity. Wether you’re simply after a light bite and cup of coffee or instead a full-blown dinner extravaganza, Caravan has got you covered. I’m sure I’ll be back, propping up the bar, on my next trip to London, in fact who am I kidding, I’m already planning my return.
Restaurant Story – 201 Tooley Street, London (1 michelin star)
Caravan King’s Cross – Granary Building, 1 Granary Square, London