Last week, a friend sent me this Evening Standard review about the Modern Pantry, which just opened in Clerkenwell. I liked the review’s invocation of Fergus Henderson (if you’re a fan of pig, you know what I’m talking about); the fact that the chef-owner, Anna Hansen, is a woman; and the restaurant’s location about a mile from my flat.
A few days after we made our booking for this Saturday, TimeOut added to the buzz with this review, saying that “(for) vibe and novelty factor, this is most exciting place to eat in Clerkenwell right now.”
So off we went last night with two friends. Right now, only the ground-floor cafe is open, and it’s a simple, cheerful space lined with windows. It’s dominated by a super-long table, which you share with other diners, but the places are set far enough apart that the effect is convivial rather than cramped.
The menu (which I suspect will become the restaurant menu once that floor opens) is divided into four sections: snacks, starters, mains and desserts, with starters being slightly larger and a quid or two pricier than the snacks.
I couldn’t resist ordering the chorizo, date and feta fritters, and you know, all the other reviews are spot on: they’re hot and crispy and appealing in that fried-food way, but I didn’t taste chorizo, date or feta. In fact, all I tasted was the oniony dip that accompanied the fritters.
My dining companions enjoyed the octopus cooked in its own juices, and true, it was tender with no hint of rubberiness, but there’s only one way I enjoy octopus, and that’s sizzling right off a plancha. So I wasn’t as wowed by the room-temperature serving with arugula. I felt similarly about the eggplant with miso, expecting it to be hot and intensely smoky-sweet, and feeling a little disappointed that it was served room temperature with a very (very) light hint of miso.
There was at least a 45-minute gap between our starters and mains, but when our mains finally came out, they were worth the wait. [Or maybe it’s inevitable we’d find the mains so delish after feeling so hungry and downing wine with little in our stomachs?]
My friend’s beetroot, fennel and leek gratin, served with a tahini dressing, was the surprise treat of the evening. Beets are something I usually just tolerate, but in this dish, the color and crunch were wonderful; the fennel added a flavor kick; and the tahini’s nutty creaminess blended all the flavors.
Jon’s hanger steak (onglet) was rare and melt-in-your-mouth juicy; my Middlewhite pork belly could have been a lot warmer, but its crackling was all crisp, fatty, piggy yumminess, as were the puy lentils on the side.
The wine list offered lots for around £20, though the restaurant had run out of two choices we wanted. Starters and snacks were £3-£5; mains were £15-20. Our four appetizers, four mains, three desserts and three bottles of wine set us back about £50 a person. If we’d taken it easier on the wine, I guess a more ‘normal’ bill for starter, main and dessert would come to about £35 a person.
Overall, I loved the energy in the room (it’s a great place to meet friends), and the food, particularly the mains, had enough high notes that I’d go back. But I’ll wait a few weeks to let the service and the menu get into a groove.
The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St. John’s Square, 0207 250 0833; closest tube: Farringdon.