Global a go-go: The Modern Pantry

At what point did the prefix "designer" stop connoting desirability, and become shorthand for pretentious and ridiculous? Would you rush to eat somewhere that described itself as a "designer restaurant"? No – you'd rightly figure it to be an over-styled place serving silly food to would-be Wags. And as for "designer food", absurdly accessorised, mismatched and overpriced (just like designer fashion) – what could be less in tune with the mood of the times?

The fashion for designer food, featuring ingredients apparently collected by an anhedonic chef on a gap-year tour of Asia, started with The Sugar Club, where Peter Gordon's dazzling combinations of esoteric pan-global ingredients introduced a new style of cooking to this country. Inevitably, less talented chefs got in on the act, and fusion descended into confusion. Meanwhile Peter Gordon and his fellow New Zealander Anna Hansen left The Sugar Club to continue their exploration of the culinary outer limits at Providores in Marylebone.

Now Ms Hansen has set up on her own, a cassava chip off the old block. Her new restaurant, café and traiteur occupies a handsome pair of converted Georgian buildings in the design heartland of Clerkenwell, where the old watch-makers have long since been driven out by web-builders and Street-Porters.

The Modern Pantry is a clever name; the "modern" promising freshness and originality, while the "pantry", with its whiff of stored spices and dry goods, carries the reassurance of old-fashioned values. That duality is reflected in the design; the downstairs café has good Georgian bone structure, emphasised by a trad grey paint job, candles guttering in tall windows and down-lights modelled on fluted copper moulds. But the chairs – spindly and white – and the central, shared table that dominates the L-shaped room, are regulation modern canteen. Perched on a bare wooden chair at a bare wooden table by the zinc bar, my friend took one look at the menu and observed, "At these prices, I expect upholstery."

When the food arrived, though, all was forgiven. The three smaller dishes we started with had little in common, but each was perfect in itself. Crisp fritters, mined with tiny nubs of chorizo, feta and sweet explosions of date, were like falafels given a sybaritic makeover. The unpromising-sounding sugar-cured prawn omelette was a fabulous, Orientally inspired flavour riot, zinging with lashings of green chilli, Thai basil and fresh coriander. And there was plenty of interest in a virtuous salad that combined wild rice, charred sweetcorn, spiced pecans, avocado and ... I could go on, but let's just use the Radio 4 formula and say "other parts were played by the cast".

You'll notice the absence from the above of the kind of weird and wonderful ingredients that characterised The Sugar Club and Providores, where each menu should have come equipped with its own Google toolbar. Hansen is here playing it relatively straight and while certain ingredients have certainly been taken from the dustier upper shelves of her Pantry, such as krupuk (crushed prawn crackers from Indonesia), manouri (Greek ewes' cheese) and tamarillo (oh, Google it yourself...), she has cleverly absorbed elements of new-Brit cooking and thriftier meat cuts into her repertoire. OK, so her roast Middle White pork belly comes with saffron and currant chutney, and her grilled ox tongue with pan-fried manouri bruschetta, but the wackiness level has definitely been turned down.

The Pantry's take on steak and chips was let down by the undercooking of the miso-marinated onglet, requested medium rare but served practically blue, so that it was all about slippery texture rather than taste. Thank goodness there was a bit of crunch to the cassava chips, a Providores staple, which stood in admirably for pommes frites. More elaborate, and more enjoyable, was a perfectly cooked tranche of crisp-skinned sea-bass, served with a salad of preserved lemon, tomatillo and quinoa, a grain my healthy living friend eulogised as a "cunning little minx – it looks like a carbohydrate but it's really a protein".

There's plenty on this menu for healthy-eaters (vegetarians will also find a wide range of options), but the pudding list offers scope for gluttons too, including an elegant pannacotta, flavoured with Earl Grey and tipped with a violet jelly made with Maury wine.

Service, from a nearly all-female team (plus one mesmerisingly tight-trousered man), is personable and pretty competent, though we sat by the bar far too long waiting for a top-up while the bartender polished glasses. Hasn't anyone told the staff that shifting wine and water is where restaurants make their profit? If not, the message will no doubt get through soon, as Hansen's backers are the D&D London group, formerly Conran Restaurants, not known for subsidising cute and quirky ventures that don't make money.

The more formal restaurant upstairs should be open any day now, and on the strength of my visit to the café, I'll definitely be going back. Too often these days, a restaurant meal tends to be interrupted by elaborate introductions from waiters who insist on talking you through every ingredient on your plate. At the Modern Pantry, it's the food itself that stops the conversation, a reminder that in skilled hands, this kind of fusion food can transcend passing fashion to be a design classic.

The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St John's Square, London EC1 (020 7553 9210)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 3 stars

Around £30 a head for three courses, without wine

Tipping policy

"There is a 12.5 per cent discretionary service charge, all of which goes to the staff. All tips are split equally among the staff"

Side orders: Design central
By Madeleine Lim

Skylon
Try Helena Puolakka's light and innovative cooking at this stunningly revamped Royal Festival Hall centrepiece.
Southbank Centre, London SE1 (020-7654 7800)

The second floor
Fashionistas and foodies flock to Manchester's Harvey Nichols for impeccable food in cutting-edge surroundings.
21 New Cathedral Street, Manchester (0161 828 8898)

Blue Bar And Grill
Try the excellent fusion cuisine at this hip restaurant and bar with sensational views over the dock.
17 Edward Pavilion, Albert Dock, Liverpool (0151 702 5831)

Blanch House
This minimalist restaurant in a quiet Georgian terrace serves eclectic cuisine using carefully sourced local ingredients.
17 Atlingworth Street, Brighton (01273 603504)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum