Everyone loves a good story. And Tom Sellers has a sexy one of culinary stardom.
“I always wanted a restaurant and always wanted to call it Story, because I was going to tell what I was all about. My story, my life, everything I’ve worked for,” says the 35-year-old, the son of a welder from Nottingham. At 16 he traded school for the kitchen, at 19 dreamed of opening a restaurant, and by 26 had earned his first star.
Such is the tale of success for Restaurant Story, the now two-star establishment from London that will occupy what is typically Flutes Restaurant on the ground floor of the National Museum, until April 29.
“The ten-table restaurant [in London] is typically fully booked six months in advance,” declares the press release, a self-fulfilling prophecy that people will, in fact, also be jostling for spots at Flutes.
Sellers’ presence in the city-state is thanks to Chef Residence, a platform rotating in top chefs from around the world for exclusive pop-ups at local establishments. The last edition saw Koks’ Poul Andrias bring his Faroe Islands nordic cuisine to the Grand Hyatt.
Now, it’s the Brit’s turn to experience the roasting tropical heat (“I’m sweating just brushing my teeth”) at his first first full-length Asian residency, where he serves up a menu of memories from his native land.
Sellers is hardly the first chef to translate his personal journey into cuisine. But if Story’s lineup is his experience in a nutshell, it certainly is a mesmerising coalescence of lessons, drawn in equal parts from childhood and transformative education under names including Tom Aikens, Thomas Keller and René Redzepi.
For starters, it’s hard not to be captivated by the lovely playfulness of the amuse bouche (dubbed “Snacks”). There are two, the first which speaks of hunting trips with dad. What we get is not the elder Mr Seller’s rabbit stew, but the son’s gourmet interpretation: pressed rabbit leg in a polenta skin, fried with citrus-pickled carrots and a tarragon emulsion till just a whisper of gaminess remains. It’s presented as a traffic light-like rectangle, warm to the touch, atop a tactile snippet of fresh moss.
The second, an exemplary tuna tart of bluefin belly and loin tartare, seasoned with tomato ponzu, is housed in a stunningly thin yet sturdy fluted case of dried tomato and nori seaweed leather.
Continuing this interactive bent, the second course of creamy but small-ish rock oysters from Normandy come warm on black pebbles, barbecued in an unctuous blend of chicken fat and XO sauce brightened with finger limes. It’s an Asian take on Oysters Rockefeller, one of Seller’s favourite dishes.
Following that is an inspired composition of thin sliced Japanese scallops lightly pickled in homemade elderflower vinegar. The faintly briny notes of quality mollusc, plus a small quantity of caviar, play to greatly refreshing effect with crunchy spheres of cucumber. Together with globs of sweet apple gel and horseradish cream split with dill oil, the plate is herby and bright, singing of spring meadows by the sea and Sellers’ stint at Noma.
If you can, opt for the beef. A5 wagyu loin, marinated an hour with shio koji till tender and barbecued to perfection with the thinnest crunchy crust, it boasts marbling beyond belief and fun accompaniments to match. Think tangles of crispy white kombu, half a sake-poached plum, shavings of ox tongue pastrami, and blobs of tart sauce Japonaise made from a recipe picked up from three-star Per Se.
Diners at dinner benefit from a taste of Paddington Bear, a transitory course before the sweets. Marmalade sandwich – a favourite of the beloved children’s character – gets a sophisticated makeover into a small layered flower of spiced cardamom parfait and bitter orange marmalade on french toast. It’s covered in a confetti of spiced breadcrumb and grated frozen foie gras, for a sweet yet umami nibble that’s quite unique.
If there was ever a lull in this performance, it might be during dessert. Here, two quenelles of strawberry sorbet and Parma Violet ice cream sit amid slices of red and white Saitama strawberry, strawberry consommé, and a thick disk of white chocolate fellutine. The purple-hued ice cream, flavoured like its namesake pastille – child Sellers’ favourite sweet – boasts an interesting floral whiff, but sweet notes dominate the dish, which longs for the playfulness of its predecessors.
The symphony swells back in the petit fours (or “Treats”) of deconstructed carrot cake and chocolate. The cake, housed in another of Sellers’ fascinating tart cases – this time made of carrot – contains spiced carrot cake sponge, carrot gel, cream cheese, grated walnut, and dehydrated carrot.
As for the chocolate, it’s made by restaurant Zen (the Singapore offshoot of three-star Frantzén in Sweden) filled with citrusy yuzu caramel, and decorated with abstract splatters in a nod to the painting on Flutes’ wall. “It was the first thing we saw when we came in,” Sellers gestures.
So concludes the experience, which begins with the chef’s boyhood and finishes with his arrival at the museum. It’s an edible journey of personal development, translated via a deftness with ingredients and inventive combinations.
Seller’s reception too, is perhaps a sign of how much an attraction fine food is to the Singaporean. Amid the Covid-triggered maelstrom ravaging the F&B scene, that a Michelin-star chef in town for a month can secure, before opening day, bookings for 80% of available tastings – the most affordable of which costs $268 for six courses – is both a testament to people’s insatiable desire for gourmet dining, and Restaurant Story’s own popularity. If this is the story of Toms’ life, then front row seats could not be more palatable.
Restaurant Story’s residency will run from March 29 to April 29.
Reserve at https://chefresidence.com.