The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell EC1

Hello. How are you? It’s been a while. Time to get back on the blogging horse. Truth be told, I’d become rather bored and irritated with food blogging. The blogger/chef/PR cliques, the arse kissing, the frequent foodie smugness of my Twitter feed (inevitable when you follow so many food-related people), seeing dozens of reviews of the same places within days of opening and the fact that bloggers can take themselves so ridiculously, embarrassingly seriously was beginning to grind me down. I wanted no part of it. And the whole ‘XXXX was invited to review XXXX’ thing. I’m sorry, but if you aren’t paying for your meal, and the restaurant know you are there, your review isn’t as worthy as an anonymous review you’ve paid for yourself. You can’t have it both ways. In my naivety I’ve done 2 reviews on MBFBY? that were comped by the restaurant and that’s going to be it. I don’t have much to offer so I might as well make sure I’m getting the same experience you are. 

This is what I don’t understand about Jay Rayner. How is he getting the same service as the average punter? There surely can be very few people in food who don’t know who he is. I know he doesn’t take freebies, and that’s great, but come on. It’s Jay Fucking Rayner, sat in your restaurant like a dour, chubby musketeer eating all YOUR food. You are going to try and impress. Having said that, if Jay Fucking Rayner is sat in your restaurant and you still manage to mess it up and he slates you, then you probably deserve it. 

Reviewing restaurants is an inherently daft activity. Sure, it’s moderately useful if someone is choosing where to dine, and blogs can be entertaining to read, but that’s pretty much it. I still get some nice positive comments about the blog and I do enjoy doing it so I’m going to carry on as before, chucking out a few reviews every month, hopefully unswayed by hype and offers of free meals. Now, has anyone seen that horse I’m getting back on? It’s easy to spot, it’s really, really high…

Which brings me to my visit to The Modern Pantry. 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. 

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 back drop for a Clerkenwell product designer. 

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 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’.

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, a very successful one. 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.

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. 

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, 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…


The Modern Pantry
47-48 St John’s Square

020 7553 9210

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