The Modern Pantry: Exciting Dining In The Heart Of London

Tea-smoked salmon, miso marinaded steak and coconut rabbit are all on the menu at this intriguing Clerkenwell restaurant...
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Tea-smoked salmon, miso marinaded steak and coconut rabbit are all on the menu at this intriguing Clerkenwell restaurant...

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Having been away from my food blog for a good while, The Modern Pantry provided the perfect opportunity to get back in the game. I’d noticed it whilst visiting the Zetter Townhouse. It’s a very smart building sitting in the elegant charm of St John’s Square. A peek at the menu revealed dishes with great ingredients paired with interesting flavors: tea-smoked salmon, miso marinaded steak, coconut rabbit.

Mrs MBFBY? seemed especially excited about The Modern Pantry so I noted it down in my ‘stuff to impress the wife’ book. When Mrs MBFBY?’s birthday rolled around, I pulled out the book and found ‘Modern Pantry’ underlined 3 times in red pen, so I booked it.

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We rocked up on a freezing Wednesday night. First impressions? Very smart, VERY Clerkenwell. We were at the younger end of the clientele. The room was filled with people who looked like architects, creative directors, gallerists. Lots of black, lots of statement eyewear. These are people who own original Eames chairs and probably have a flat at the Barbican.

The Modern Pantry has a cafe downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. The room is simple, with bold typography screen prints on the wall, and huge white lampshades that you’d expect to see in the Guardian magazine for £3000 each. The perfect backdrop for a Clerkenwell product designer.

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The menu was genuinely difficult to choose from, in a good way. No highfalutin descriptions of dishes, just the ingredients listed in their intriguing combinations.  A crueler man than I would label this ‘fusion’ food but I’ll choose to believe chef Anna Hansen when she says “everyday cooking with modern ingredients and global inspiration”. Sounds fair enough to me. No ‘chicken tikka ramen in a pasty’ here. Actually, maybe they are missing a trick with that idea. They could call it ‘The Modern Pasty’.

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As this is a supposedly a food blog, I should probably talk about the food. To begin I ordered potted duck with red onion, fennel and caper salad, mustard cumquat marmalade and toasted sourdough. It was basically a take on duck and orange terrine, and a very successful one at that. The potted duck had a great gamey texture, the cumquat marmalade adding the necessary citrus zing. It was plentiful, and they gave you a little spoon so you could scrape the rest out when you inevitably run out of (lovely) sourdough bread. Why is it that you never get quite enough bread with pates, terrines etc? You’d think it would be the other way round. The same applies for biscuits on cheeseboards, there’s never enough and they are the cheapest element.

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For my main I went for the roasted monkfish with cavolo nero (kale, to you and I), red wine braised octopus, sesame, curry leaf and shallot. It was a great big hunk of tender monkfish fillet in a sauce with a flavour I just couldn’t put my finger on. It was a little bit sweet, tinged with the spice of curry leaves. It tasted familiar yet completely new. Chewy, springy bits of octopus lurked in the dark stock. A very satisfying dish, quite unusual.

For dessert we shared some truffles, and as it was Mrs MBFBY?s birthday (which I’d mentioned at the time of booking), they’d kindly gave us some birthday petits fours with the traditional birthday greeting iced onto the plate. Bless.

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We then hoovered up a cheeseboard, which was served with some amazing freshly baked biscuits. There wasn’t enough for the amount of cheese though, obviously.

Service was ‘OK’, dishes came out fast but it was a bit of a struggle to get the attention of the waiter. The dining room has a few different sections, and it seemed that if one section was busy then the staff couldn’t see what was going on in the other sections. One member of staff in particular was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the excellent (and well priced) wine list. As we chatted she mentioned they do off-sales too, at very reasonable prices so if you try a wine you like, you can take a bottle home: a lovely idea.

The Modern Pantry serves great ingredients in interesting ways. It’s the sort of restaurant that I can see still operating in 15 years, quietly serving inventive food (a bit like St. John, maybe). You can’t say that about a lot of places these days. Some recent openings won’t last next year, let alone next decade. Prices are fair for this standard of cooking - starters are £6-9, mains £15-22. You can get a decent bottle of wine for the low 30s. If I was to sum it up in a soundbite, I’d say The Modern Pantry is ‘quietly exciting’. Don’t quote me on that, though. I’ll sound like one of those bloody food bloggers, yah? Oh crap, hang on…

8/10

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