Modern Pantry Finsbury Square (CLOSED)
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A second branch of the successful Modern Pantry fusion restaurant in Clerkenwell.
Please note, Modern Pantry Finsbury Square has now closed. Time Out Food editors, December 2017.
Spot quiz: how many of the following ingredients can you identify? Ajowan, amchur, hijiki, moromi, puffball, wattleseed. If you scored more than two, you’ll do well at the new Modern Pantry, as the menu is peppered with them. (Pepper: there’s one you’ll know.)
‘But that’s just like the first Modern Pantry!’ I hear you cry. Ah yes, but what works in one location doesn’t always translate to a second. At the airy Clerkenwell restaurant from Providores co-founder Anna Hansen, the pricey fusion menu is manageable (around 20 dishes including snacks and sides), and the atmosphere lighthearted, so if you ask for help deciphering the dishes, you don’t feel too stupid.
This second outpost is an altogether different kettle of squid ink-battered fish. Though there’s a swish tapas bar in the entrance, it’s dwarfed by the main dining room: an imposing space of high ceilings, designer furnishings, and more expensive oak than in your local Conran shop. Linens are crisp, glassware immaculate. Yet in this more formal setting, with a menu that’s twice the size, the what-the-f*ck-is-that factor ceases to be fun. It’s like turning up to someone’s house expecting dinner and being asked to sit an A-level.
Once the food finally arrives, much it is excellent. Slices of tender pig’s cheek (marinated in paprika and coriander seed) were nicely offset by a zingy salad of fennel, red cabbage and coriander; a garnish of lotus root crisps added crunch. Succulent red mullet came with a moist coriander and fennel bhaji, both sitting on a puddle of creamy, fragrant coconut laksa. Pink-middled lamb marinated in fenugreek and amchur (a powder made from unripe mangoes) came with a full-flavoured jus, a smear of delicate leek purée and grilled, smoked baby gems.
But other dishes showed what can happen when you over-gild the lily: the strong flavours of lemon and cumin doing battle in a side dish of braised chard; the dominating aniseed notes of a port-and-liquorice poached pear in a dessert that also included a too-dry ‘garam masala’ sponge and a subtle coriander seed ice-cream that never stood a chance; a not-tart-enough yuzu curd tart. (Next time just stick with lemon, guys.) The pricey wine list plays it safe; more interesting is the selection of sherry ‘liveners’.
There’s one final oddity. The site occupies prime real estate in the Square Mile, and everything about its menus, professional service, and slightly-too-bright lighting suggests it’s pitched at the business diner. Yet there is no express lunch, a must for the tick-tock-against-the-clock City crowd. As for fun, the best place to find that is in the loos, where you can play with the space-age Dyson-designed taps, and google ingredient names with impunity.
14-18 Finsbury Square
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