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)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...