Whenever I go back home to visit the rentals and my mates, the first thing that pops into my mind when I touch down in Cheltenham is;
“I really, really need to eat some kangaroo meat”
Well, maybe it is not the first thing, but it’s good to know that deep in the West Cunry, cuisine-wise, you can keep your options open. Storyteller has been around for a while now, located just outside the town centre, occupying a seemingly innocuous whitewashed townhouse, with a ruddy great conservatory tagged on the back. Inside, the decor consistently upstages whatever colourful shirt I might be wearing, the white/bright blue/bright orange walls almost collapsing under the weight of maps of various regions of the New World, Aboriginal artworks, bison skulls and glorious multihued murals of wine bottles.
And on that note, they do like their wine here – if you’re not sat in the bright conservatory, a jungle of hanging baskets above your head, you’re either ensconced in a pretty bog-standard back room or a wine room – yes, sat in a wine room – where the wall decorations are alcoves and racks stacked with over a hundred bottles of vino, each colourfully described by people who may or may not know what they’re talking about, but who cares when they clearly write it from the heart.
So as you may imagined, Storyteller has a bit of a ‘faraway’ vibe going on. It’s difficult to pin down one theme (it’s challenging to think of many other places where eating Nachos and Skippy correlate with a genuinely pleasant wine offering), but by and large, the menu could be drummed down to ‘Tex-Mex-goes-Gap-Year’, with starters ranging from scallops to bruschetta, from Shellfish Po-Boy to hot wings.
We went for a brace of quesadillas, laden with either brie and beans, or duck. The latter seemed quite foreboding to order (in my experience, duck seems to be a little abused as a meat, with Duck and Waffle being the only exception, and in stark contrast to when my ex-housemate Nick served us burnt duck breast, chips and beans, after banging around in the kitchen for two hours). Despite misgivings, the quesadillas were well cooked and generously accompanied, the duck meat lending itself suspiciously too well to Mexican market eating (as Wahaca calls it).
Mains seem equally all over the place – burritos, ribs and bison burger seem the obvious choices – I have tried the ribs and they are a bit spesh – but I am relatively sure that bison might taste similar to beef. Those after more adulty offerings will be drawn to fish of the day and ‘mojito marinated chicken’, which sounds rambunctious. It all sounds either boring or haphazard, but the cooking cannot be faulted. The rump steak is well-cooked and tender and as for the kangaroo? Well, it is a tough old meat anyway, but again, was cooked medium-to-rare to perfection and offers a rich taste carried along with a spicy tomato and bean risotto. It all felt very civilised, in a very strange way. But go there for the meat and stay for the triple chocolate pudding, which almost rendered me speechless with chocotastic awe.
We were, rather fortuitously, sat in the middle of the wine room (itself only large enough for a couple of tables), which was akin to sitting in a mahoosive three-dimensional wine list. There is a healthy selection of cocktails, which, as far as I can remember from my previous visit here, were strong, but it would be a sin not to go for a bottle of wine or two. It may seem from the general concept of Storyteller that wines would be predominantly New World, but the reality is that the menu boasts most wine regions, Old and New, and bottles start as low as £eighteen, which is refreshing. Literally.
The general premise is that rather than commit the wines to an actual menu, you walk into the wine room and peruse the shelves, pick up bottles, read the descriptions, check the price and tell the waiters. Seeing as only about five people entered the room during the meal, it seems to me that this great idea hasn’t quite washed with the Cheltonians yet, but hey. We picked out a nice looking Rioja. It was perfect. Good with kangaroo, apparently.
Service is basic but ticks all the boxes, the restaurant being full of bright-eyed student servers. This, and the general buzziness of Storyteller, along with its general laid-back approach to food, gives a youthful feel to proceedings. We left there feeling good. This is a restaurant that seems to delight at looking after people who haven’t grown up – in their own head at least – but does so in a tasteful and mature way. This means that when you pay the surprisingly cheap bill and walk back out into the real world, you do so with the feeling of “Yes, I’ve had a nice and sophisticated meal with wine and everything, but now I need to sit in a bar with sand on the floor and drink neat rum”.
Which is exactly what we did. But hey, if Sundays aren’t for watching the Formula One semi-hungover then what are they for? Eddie Jordan and his shirt rocked onto the screen. He’s a visual metaphor for Storyteller. Young at heart, well-established, full of wanderlust, cool and very, very colourful.
Mains around £fifteen to £twenty, meal for three with three courses and wine and service around £hundred and twenty
www.storyteller.co.uk | @StorytellerRest | 01242 250343 | 11 North Place, Cheltenham, GL50 4DW