Those Barbican residents who have enjoyed the food at Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry restaurant in St John’s Square will no doubt be pleased that a second Modern Pantry has now opened slightly nearer at hand – and also has added a tapas bar section for those who might prefer small dishes to accompany a glass or two of wine or even a cocktail. (While we say tapas, it is not traditional Spanish-style tapas dishes which are served but The Modern Pantry’s own version of fusion food-inspired small plates – and very good they are too by all accounts.)
The new restaurant is a part of the redevelopment of the spectacular art deco AlphaBeta building (formerly Triton Court) on the northeast corner of Finsbury Square where Finsbury Pavement becomes City Road and bounded by Worship Street to the north. The newly named building houses 220,000 square feet of office space and is a great redevelopment of a standout building – and in the second Modern Pantry it now boasts a standout restaurant to match.
On the Tuesday lunchtime we ate there the restaurant was full, so despite only being open for around five weeks, it has already generated a strong following. It is perhaps not quite as busy in the evenings, but apparently taking a chance on weekend opening in an area where everything used to close they have been doing really well with their Saturday and Sunday brunches too.
So what is special about this new venture for Anna Hansen and young business partner Rob McLeary, who is overseeing the kitchen at the new restaurant having come across from the St John’s Square original. The type of food served for one. Hansen was one of the pioneers of fusion food mixing the tastes of east and west to great effect. This worked very well indeed at the Clerkenwell original and she built up a strong dining following. Now this is being expanded into a bigger, and classier looking, space with a bigger kitchen plus the aforementioned tapas bar. While still concentrating on fusion dishes, the menu is different, and larger, than at the St John’s Square establishment.
Altogether the new restaurant seats 100, the tapas bar 20, but people may also eat standing up there. At the back of the restaurant section is a private dining area which can seat up to 40. This can also be used as a restaurant overflow if the private space isn’t booked.
Hansen brought in a U.S.design team, AvroKo, which she came across when working in New York, and they have done well creating a bright, and airy space with comfortable Scandinavian style furniture and a spectacular array of hand blown glass lighting globes hanging from the high ceiling. The décor and seating can be varied with some of the well-spaced tables being able to be folded out to seat six instead of up to four in their normal layout. When we were there tables were alternately tableclothed and plain and, of course, this can be varied as desired. There are comfortable looking banquettes along the south and west walls too. Overall the ambience is extremely welcoming.
And how about the food? Very good on our experience. The taste combinations are novel and add a different element to the dining experience.
We opened with a Seared diver caught scallop, burnt shallot puree, ponzu butter, caramelised shallot dusted wild rice (£8.50) and a Tamarind & krupuk crusted soft shell crab, Shaoxing, citrus & sesame dipping sauce (£9.50). My companion rated the scallop dish highly, although perhaps marginally overcooked, while the softshell crab’s delicate flavour was perhaps a little compromised by the marinade and the very crunchy coating – but still an excellent dish.
For mains we chose the Sambhar Masala roasted line caught wild sea bass, roast butternut squash, coconut laksa, pink peppercorn salsa (£22.00) and the Ginger & coriander seed marinated duck breast, port braised red cabbage, piccolo parsnip, radish relish (£20.50). Both very good indeed. The sea bass was perfectly cooked and prepared and delightfully flavoured. The duck breast was served rare and again a top rate dish. We ordered a side of Bombay potatoes – nicely flavoured with the right degree of spiciness.
At that point we had both probably had enough to eat, and went for the lightest of the desserts – a
strawberry sorbet with red peppercorns and a turmeric and Greek yoghurt sorbet (£3.50 each) – both more than acceptable.
Wine – there is a decent wine list, but those looking for low cost options should be aware that the ‘house wines’ only appear to be available by the glass or half litre carafe. We chose a carafe of an Argentinian Torrontes – not great but perfectly acceptable at £22.
The restaurant is open for breakfast weekdays from 7.00 am and for brunch at weekends from 9.00 am to 4pm. The latter is already proving extremely popular.
The tapas bar is also likely to prove well frequented with a good range of small dishes which may appeal to someone looking for a lighter option – although the plethora of flavours offered may lead to expensive over-indulgence!
This is yet another welcome addition to the ever-growing number of restaurants in close vicinity of the Barbican. As with most of the classier restaurants in the area it is not inexpensive, but offers an extremely interesting selection of unusually flavoured dishes for the discerning palate.
Opening hours are as follows: Dining Room: Monday: Breakfast 7 – 11.30 | Lunch 12 – 4 | Dinner 6 – 10; Tuesday – Friday: Breakfast 7 – 11.30 | Lunch 12 – 4 | Dinner 6 – 10.30; Saturday: Brunch 9 – 4 | Dinner 6 – 10.30; Sunday: Brunch 9 – 4
Tapas Bar: Monday: 12 – 10, Tuesday – Saturday: 12 until late; Sunday: 12 – 4
The new restaurant is at The Alphabeta Building, 14 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1AH
For reservations one can book online at www.themodernpantry.co.uk or call 020 3696 6565