The Modern Pantry, EC1 London
Had lunch here last Sunday after cycling past a number of times.
The food was awesome.
I started with English muffins with honey. I can't understand why the English serve their toast and muffins cold, and this was the owner downer to what was a large, fluffy delicious English muffin. Which reminds me, isn't it a bit weird that they are still known as English muffins in England. Surely everybody knows this??
I followed that with a sensational dish that was essentially two large gourmet felafel balls with a simple green salad. It was a really great dish. As I go back to jog my memory I notice that this Sunday's menu is quite different, which is great to see. While not that seasonal they certainly vary their menu.
Other members of our group had the eggs, soup, salads and the salmon.
The only query was with the salmon which was pretty good only.
By the highlight by far, the Ricotta pancakes, crème fraiche, green plum & gooseberry compote... man they were incredible. The pancakes were light and fluffy and the ricotta gave them a creamy and slightly sour taste and also a lightness that you don't usually associate with American style pancakes.
The three levels of the restaurant were absolutely packed all afternoon.
The Modern Pantry
48 Saint John's Square
London, EC1V 4JJ
020 7553 9210
Unfortunately I had a terrible experience at the Modern Pantry about a year ago, not long after it opened. I really wanted to love it, but it was just awful - my boyfriend ordered pork belly which was the texture of a sponge - we raised this with the waitress, who was very gracious about it and admitted it should have never come out of the kitchen (so points for the service). They served another and it was just as bad. My starter and main was ok but certainly didn't reflect the rave reviews the place was getting at the time. I hope it was just an 'off night' for them but unfortunately the experience was bad enough not to give them a second chance.
Texture of a sponge? That sounds horrible, but nevertheless an amazing achievement. I''m not sure how they must've done it!
And now you made my doubts return! I'm always dubious about a restaurant which has something like this on its menu:
Chestnut, spiced Manouri & fenugreek roast sweet potato brique, cavolo nero, pickled shimeji, tomato & lemongrass dressing
How many ingredients is that? And what a wholly bizarre combination. Who knows, maybe it's a moment of inspiration, but somehow I doubt it. But then again, other than your experience, I've heard noting but great things about it. Meh, there's literally dozens of restaurants of a similar price I'm dying to try, I think I'll leave it.
A good friend and long time St John fan went last year and loved it, I thought it was interesting because he loves his simple food but thought this was really exciting food.
Obviously Anna Hansen's style is fusion, and with having a NZ pedigree, plus working with Peter Gordon, there is a good chance she can pull it off (she has been cooking this way for 15 years), hence the "wholly bizarre combinations". "Fusion" food is often poorly executed and much misunderstood, especially by chefs, but Anna has had a pretty strong reputation as one of the few who pulls it off, after all it was pretty much the standard in Aus/NZ in the late '90's and given our proximity to Japan and Asia there are lots of influences.
Do you really think a pie with chestnuts, cheese, and sweet potato flavoured with fenugreek, accompanied by greens and mushrooms and a dressing has too many ingredients?
In all fairness, that's not really too many ingredients when I think about it. I reckon its the strangeness of the collection that baffled me. In there you've got a bit of French, Italian, Japanese, Greek, and South East Asian ingredients and flavours. Just sounds a bit too mad to me. I like some experimentation, but within a classic framework. I always feel classic dishes are classic for a reason.
Really I shouldn't be too hard, the place is almost certainly very nice. I just feel uncomfortable with that kind of cooking I suppose. But then again, what the hell does my opinion matter?! I'm sure Anna Hansen won't have any sleepless nights about what I've got to say.
PS. Even having been many times, if I were to go for an evening meal round those parts, I'd find it very hard to lure myself away from St John!
I was really looking forward to the fusion aspect of the cooking, having eaten at Peter Gordon's gaff in the past (and being Antipodean, love the Asia/Pacific fusion style of cooking) so it wasnt that there were 'too many ingredients' - I just thought the cooking that night was incompetent. But I would still give it a go if I were you - I think my experience may have, unfortunately for me, been rare. I guess we were doubly disappointed based on the rave reviews the place was getting at the time - I must learn to manage my expectations!
I went here last year, and I had a really lovely meal. This was with the boyfriend's parents, so all the fears about fusion/crazy ingredient combos could have escalated, but everyone enjoyed their meal. It's a lovely space and I think they pull off the fusion aspect really well. And, just for the record, that sweet potato, cheese, cavolo nero and fenugreek is really gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact that a version of this is making an appearance on my wedding menu!
Not long ago I was looking for some breakfast around there. I came across the Modern Pantry and thought the menu looked too eclectic to my tastes. I'm really not a fan of fusion and all that. In the end I popped next door to the Zetter and had a pretty good eggs Benedict.
On reflection and further research it seems I made the wrong decision. I've heard only great things about the Modern Pantry since. Think I'm gonna have to make a return visit. Perhaps some of those pancakes for breakfast!