I’ve been following The Modern Pantry on social media for some time now. The restaurant’s ethos of fusing store-cupboard ingredients with global flavours to create something special is one that speaks to my heart (and stomach), and it seems I’m not the only one, as the venue celebrates its 10th year of success. Since opening, The Modern Pantry has enjoyed two AA rosettes and a feature in the Michelin Guide, while creator Anna Hansen has also been showcased as one of the world’s top up and coming chefs.
The venue is nearby the Zetter Townhouse (one of my favourite places for cocktails) on St John’s Square and it’s a nice, homely size with seating over two floors and a private dining room on the third floor. The décor is modern, but also welcoming and cosy. Staff are friendly and particularly helpful while we are the only patrons, though it wouldn’t be unfair to admit their attentiveness falls by the wayside as the restaurant begins to fill.
To start, we follow our waiter’s recommendation and order sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette (£10.50), plus salmon sashimi (£8.50). Both dishes arrive quickly (as does all our food throughout the evening). The sashimi is fresh, served with ginger wasabi dressing, spiced jelly and okra salsa. It’s not the best sashimi I’ve ever had, but it’s a well-balanced and well-prepared dish.
The omelette, served with smoked chilli sambal, green chilli, spring onion and coriander is the type of dish I had expected from The Modern Pantry: one that takes ingredients we all know and likely have in our own kitchen and puts them together in a way most of us are likely to only dream of.
For mains, we pick braised beef featherblade (£19.50) and Cornish pollock (£21.50). Pollock is not my favourite fish, mainly for its texture. That said, this dish goes a long way in persuading me to re-think my opinion. The fish is simply pan fried, letting it speak for itself, and stands up nicely against its accompaniments: braised salsify, pickled girolles, crispy sweetbreads and a red pepper dressing.
The beef, braised in ginger, chilli, soy and hoi sin sauces is slow-cooked to perfection, but what really makes this dish are both the horseradish croquettes and zingy green papaya and fennel salad. While the croquettes (still slightly oozing in the centre) lend a little heat to the dish, the fresh salad balances the rich flavours with its freshness. While neither dish delivered anything particularly surprising, both were cooked well – and, in hindsight, I think that’s the point at The Modern Pantry.
Fine cooking aside, I left The Modern Pantry a little underwhelmed and have been trying to put my finger on why ever since. A part of it was indeed the service. While actual food service was quick, our little table was often left to its own devices, regardless of the fact it was filled with empty plates and glasses. The food itself was generally delicious, but I’d say I should rethink my expectations of it before any future visits. Yes, it’s true that The Modern Pantry combines ingredients we know and love, but the results are often familiar – and on second thought, that’s completely fine. If you’re after a venue that delivers flavours you know, cooked well, The Modern Pantry is there for you.
The Modern Pantry can be found at 47-48 St John’s Square, London, EC1V 4JJ.