Ron & Elva Laughton of the legendary Jasper Hill Winery in Heathcote, South Australia, both delighted and surprised us with their arrival in the UK the other day. They revealed that the reason for the secrecy was that they were celebrating their wedding anniversary and Christmas with a European tour and to quote ‘didn’t want to bloody work!’ In the end they could not resist giving us as call as we are both long standing importers as well as being good friends over the years.
Wanting to have a catch up about all things Jasper Hill, I arranged for the three of us to have lunch at one of our London accounts, Restaurant Story. This is Chef Tom Sellers’ first venture and gained a Michelin Star just 5 months after opening in April this year. Head Sommelier Fergus Muirhead has been a fan of Jasper Hill since meeting Ron at The Natural Wine Fair in Borough Market a couple of years ago. Although demand for tables is (unsurprisingly) high for this critically acclaimed restaurant, Fergus had managed to secure us spot at the bar (one of the few perks of being in the trade and a supplier to boot).
The menu is simple in choice (a set 6 courses or 10 courses) but not in execution. All you are asked once you have selected your number of courses is whether you have any allergies or dislikes, then it is just a question of sitting back and marvelling as dish after dish of Tom’s individual and exemplary cuisine are sent out from the open plan kitchen to your table.
Words and camera-phone photos will never do this level of dining justice. Every dish brought a new ‘wow’, exclamation, or simple guttural noises of approval from the three of us. There is theatre and fun on display with dishes like ‘Bread and dripping’ that had us dipping home baked sour dough into the melted ‘wax’ of candles that had been lit at the start of the meal (subsequently revealed to be pure beef dripping). There are beautiful twists on simple home staples including Tom’s take on the humble mashed potato, ‘Heritage potato, turnip and coal’. The most divinely creamy, mashed potato and turnip that is then elevated to another level entirely with a decadent, coal oil emulsion that left me seriously wondering if I would ever bother to mash at home again having tasted such perfection. The scallops, the shrimps, the venison that all lined up over the course of the meal were cooked to perfection and I can honestly say that there was not one dish that disappointed.
Be prepared to take some serious time when dining here. Our 10 courses (actually more like 16 with the diverse range of Amuse Bouche served ahead of the first course) took us a good few hours to taste and appreciate. As with a good novel you want to savour every moment. The service is exceptional with an attentive and knowledgeable front of house team to guide you through the courses. Fergus has put together a cracking wine list and we were in safe hands leaving it to him to suggest some glasses to go with the complex and varied food flavours. A Rasteau Vin doux Naturel 2006 from Domaine Gourt de Mautens slipped down particularly well with a smoked, rich intensity, stewed fruit and lovely smooth textured finish.
Some people are critical of this kind of establishment, in that you only go once in a kind of ‘been there done that’ frame of mind. But I feel that, as with all good books, you will want to revisit it on more than one occasion, to reacquaint yourself with the flavours and to delight in delving deeper into the taste sensations of individual courses now that the ‘plot’ has been revealed.
Tom Sellers' restaurant is a Story is that I would heartily recommend.