Eat Here: The Modern Pantry, ClerkenwellBy Angelica Malin
Everyone has tried The Modern Pantry, so I thought it was about time I did. Its founder Anna Hansen, a New Zealand-born chef who’s behind gems such as The Providores and PUBLIC in New York, certainly knows how to create a buzz. Since opening in 2008, the restaurant’s globally-inspired modern cuisine has earned Hansen a cookbook, an MBE and an epic reputation.
The Modern Pantry Review: The Lowdown
The restaurant is truly beautiful. You can’t help but fall in love with the place; light, airy, clean-feeling, it’s what you’d imagine Martha Stewart’s house to look like at Thanksgiving, minus the tribunal papers. I loved their wooden floors – I literally could not stop looking at them – how did they manage to make the wood look so distressed and polished at the same time? The crowd is as clean-looking as the interiors; wear your best shirt, you’ll thank me later.
It’s not only the interiors that make you drool – the menu itself is a work of art; though beautifully presented and deliciously enticing, it needs an encyclopedia to navigate. The descriptions are their own challenge; Yuzu features heavily, as do unusual ingredients, such as urfa, caciotta, umeboshi, sorrel and morcilla. Go with someone who won’t judge for your ignorance, I say, or keep your phone close by.
The Modern Pantry Review: The Food
Once you’ve stopped sweating over the intricacies of the menu, relax into the harmonious dining setting with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Australia (£6.75) and the spiced nuts (£2.80) which are coated with sesame seeds, chilli and spicy cumin. I’m fascinated by how they’ve managed to pack so much flavour into the humble pecan, I’m sure its witchcraft.
For starters, I’ve got it on good authority that the smoked mozzarella with blood orange and liquorice dressing (£8.50) and sugar-cured prawn omelette are fantastic (£9.20), but we dive into the main event. I opt for the pan-fried Grey Mullet (£18.50) with golden beetroot, cauliflower, black garlic and raisin and coriander ‘cous-cous’ because alternative colour versions of vegetables excite me (case in point: purple potatoes). There’s an awful lot of ingredients listed; I wonder whether it’s going to be a mess. I ponder this as I eat more pecans.
I’m impressed; the dish is complex, yet not overly so. The fish is perfectly executed; soft, almost translucent, it literally melts in the mouth. It’s served on a bed of crushed almonds, raisins and zesty coriander – beautifully sweet, crumbly and adding a Moroccan warmth to the entire palate. It needs a squeeze of lemon- then it would be sheer perfection in Clerkenwell.
Fish is the order of the day; my guests choose the mussels steamed in ginger and white wine with saffron aioli (£14) and the tempura crab with coconut and tamarind laska (£17.50). The mussels are delightfully fresh but the sauce a little watery, and the aioli tastes overwhelmingly of olive-oil, masking the flavour of the saffron. The dish feels a little rushed; it needs some decorative herbs, and, I wonder again if someone’s hidden the lemon in the kitchen. The crab is delicious, cooked in a light tempura batter, although for £17.50 I’d want a few more noodles for my pennies.
When it comes to the sweet stuff, the menu is another array of unusual flavour pairings and delicious descriptions. We try the raspberry and pink peppercorn sorbet and the malt ice cream (both £4.50 a scoop) – the latter tastes like a high-end trip to the cinema with caramel popcorn flavours, and it’s bloody delicious. The olive oil and orange cake (£7.20) is saved in moisture by its accompanying saffron cream – but perhaps it could do with a pinch more saffron. The plate is visually enticing and, as usual, we gobble with glee before we’ve even got a chance to Instagram it.
The Modern Pantry Review: Our Verdict
I come away from The Modern Pantry feeling satiated and pleasantly surprised; it’s hard when you know so much about a restaurant before arriving – but the place is exciting and different. It’s the kind of atmosphere you simply want to luxuriate in; and I found myself walking very, very slowly back to the office. Come for the spicy pecans, stay for the people watching, and you might just be surprised too.
For more information and to book, see here.