Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Return to EC1: The Modern Pantry

Following an exhausting but exhilarating schedule of press events, meetings, writing assignments and social activities, I still feel don't feel like my feet are touching the ground, nor my fingers touching these keys. Confusion and bewilderment, à la Stephen Dorff? Not quite, but I should know better and endeavour to blog throughout the whirlwind that has characterised (or engulfed) City Girl's recent diaries. So, where to start? How about the London I know best, for one of my fondest methods of relaxation and comfort. Brunch. At The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, EC1. 

The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
External view

The Modern Pantry sits comfortably but rather unassumingly on the edge of St John's Square: a characteristic-Clerkenwell mix of old and new, offices and historical monuments, hip hotels (The Zetter) and homely, restorative food, like The Modern Pantry fare. With cobbled streets on one side, a pristine and recently laid courtyard in-front, the restaurant's core philosophy centres on this contrast. It's name, devised by culinary creator and chef Anna Hansen, embodies "the desire to please and excite the palate by fusing everyday cooking with modern ingredients." And that, it does. There are two sections, the Café and Restaurant. The latter comprises two dining rooms upstairs and, overlooking the square, you can enjoy a more private eating experience. You can even hire both rooms out. But, after my tiring recent timetable, the more informal café was exactly what I craved.

Muffins and flapjacks, breakfast at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Breakfast at the Pantry
The chic cafe at The Modern Pantry
The Café
Visit for Sunday brunch, as I did, and encounter the traditional cooked breakfast that we all enjoy, but with an enticingly tastier and international twist. Fancy an omelette? Try 'Sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette, with spring onions, coriander and smoked chilli sambal'. How about waffles? Go for 'Danish potato and beer waffle, with bacon, pea shoots and maple syrup'. Or, if your palate prefers a reliably fond favourite, select (free-range and organic) eggs as you like them, with chunky, crispy homemade bread, smoky streaked bacon, slow-roast tomatoes and buttered mushrooms. Which is what I devoured, although it was incredibly difficult to choose. Testament to the originality of the menu and laid-back ambience, I wouldn't blame anyone for ordering more than one dish; tasting plates would certainly be a treat.

Lunch to take away, The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Lunch to take away
As for my chosen eggs and accompaniments, the extremely fresh ingredients were perfectly cooked and the balance between comfort-food and not-too-greasy-fry-up was spot on. Of course, this is no ordinary breakfast, so team yours with a Lychee Bellini (delicious) or a Japanese Mary (apparently, a Bloody Mary with wasabi); I wasn't looking for such a kick with my comfort food, but maybe next time I'll try it. The café houses one long, communal table and several smaller ones; you do need to arrive early to secure a table for two. The atmosphere was relaxed via minimalist surroundings, which managed to be both quaint and contemporary. A white-washed New England with rustic bread baskets, meets cocktails before noon, in Soho, New York.  

Miso marinated steak, The Modern Pantrym Clerkenwell
Miso Marinated Onglet Steak, Cassava Chips

To my delight, The Modern Pantry isn't only open for breakfast/brunch (see opening times here). I will surely return with a review of the restaurant at a later date, but for now I can only speak for the café. You can enjoy an all-day menu and share small plates with friends, such as rock oysters, roast chestnuts and date and feta fritters. Choose later from main courses and desserts that are equally creative and sound like they're infused with flavour (I must return to confirm). I particularly like how the main dishes are coupled with suggested wines and desserts are so freshly inventive, despite reasonable prices. On my return, I am eager to sample the 'Green tea and kaffir lime leaf meringue, poached feijoa, candied green chilli and vanilla cream' and the 'Baked lemon custard, cashew and cinnamon shortbread'. Palate-pleasing, indeed. 

Peanut pannacotta, The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Peanut Pannacotta, Kalamansi Lime & Wasabi Jelly

So, brunch is great. The rest sounds equally as appetising. And who to thank? Anna Hansen. You may know the Canadian-born, Australian-raised chef from her partnership with Peter Gordon at the award-winning Marylebone restaurant, The Providores. Previous to that, Anna worked in New Zealand, for Stephanie Alexander in Australia and at The Sugar Club in Soho. She first trained as a chef under Fergus Henderson, at The French House Dining Room, also in Soho. Henderson later founded the renowned St. John restaurant, around the corner from The Modern Pantry. Similar to St. John, The Modern Pantry boasts a separate store, well, 'Pantry', selling sandwiches, soups, pastries and cakes to take away. If you wish to pre-order for home/the office, call John on 020 7553 9210. The Mobile Pantry also offers a full service for coporate or private clients and includes a full menu: cocktails and canapes to buffets/banquets and matching wines. 

Private dining room, The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Private dining room
An extremely exciting venture, The Modern Pantry is a must-visit if you're in my part of town and well-worth the transport fare, if you're not. Open since 2008, it enjoys continued success and has gained two AA rosettes and a "Bib Gourmand" in the Michelin Guide 2009.

Images) Thank you to The Modern Pantry.


  1. Clerkenwell is lovely. I went there for a vintage fashion fair during London Fashion Week and it was nice to get away from the bustle of the city centre.

  2. Wow I am jealous of all these amazing places you have eaten!

  3. I know the place, but yet to try it. Your blog has convinced me it's definitely worth a visit. Have you tried Look Mum No Hands in Old Street? Lovely cafe with relaxed vibe


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