The Modern Pantry

Ah! A sunny day in London! More often that not, an exclamation such as that often invokes disbelief. Nevertheless, the laser beam of sunlight striking my face at the ungodly hour of 10am confirmed that this was truly a rare day and, boy, was I glad I wasn’t going to be steaming in a kitchen during Sunday lunch service. When I worked at the Cinnamon Club, one summer we clocked 52 degrees centigrade in the kitchen. It was like being in Central India in the month of June with winter warmers on. Great for weight loss, pretty rubbish for everything else.

Sunday brunch on a fine summers day – what a good idea and where better than a restaurant with fantastic reviews, probably the most extensive brunch menu I’ve ever seen and a cookbook to fame? The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, London had, during my last employment been one of our competitors, amongst others such as The Well, Bruno Loubet, Moro and St. John, and fit the bill for said Sunday requirements.

We’d initially booked for 1pm and were told that the table had to be returned by 230pm as it was booked, so on the day, I rang up to change the time to 230pm and was told that the restaurant would see what they could do as it ‘shouldn’t’ be a problem. It was, therefore, to my surprise when at 230pm we turned up to find the place half-empty! Putting this minor detail aside, we scanned the menu with feverish excitement, wishing we could have everything on the brunch menu. We thought that a Japanese Mary would help us decide – what a delicious cocktail, comprising of vodka, yuzu, soy, tabasco, wasabi, szechuan pepper and a sake float. I want one of these everywhere I go!

After much deliberation, I decided on Poached eggs, chorizo, plantain fritters, roast tomato and M went for Poached eggs, smoked streaky bacon, mushrooms, roast tomato and Sweetcorn, feta and date fritters with rose yoghurt to share. A prompt minute later our waitress came to inform us that as the kitchen had run out of plantain fritters, would mushrooms be a suitable replacement, to which I begrudgingly nodded – I guess we were having a fritter anyway, so shouldn’t really matter.

I like open kitchens – mostly when I’m on the other side of the pass. It’s an insightful declaration of the professionalism, emotions and attitudes that have been passed on to the food. In this case, the chef in charge was clearly in a strop, vocalising in various expletives that wafted across the pass and towards the customers sitting within earshot. The manager/senior waiter attending to the table next to us apologised for the chefs behaviour and remarked that she was leaving the restaurant soon, much to his delight. And sure enough, that attitude, labelled ‘leavititus’ hung over our lunch.

Our breakfasts soon turned up and my ‘mmmmm’s’ were quickly terminated when the waitress set down our fritters. Three nearly blackened quenelles of whatever it seemed we’d ordered. I immediately said to M that they looked quite burnt and a ‘I wish I hadn’t eaten that’ bite clearly confirmed that whilst the middle was fine, the thick crust on each fritter was clearly black, burnt bitterness. Anyone with half a taste bud wouldn’t eat that. As our waiter came over to our table, I had barely finished telling him that the fritters were burnt when he rolled his eyes, shook his head and took our plate away without making a single sound! M and I looked at each other in shocked amazement, and then a second later, even more surprise as our waiter emerged from the kitchen and walked straight by us. How incredibly rude!

The breakfast, however, was…unimpressive and a little underseasoned. Well, completely unseasoned eggs and mushrooms and M’s streaky bacon was a flaccid, fatty and sweaty piece of piggy, not the crisp and caramelised delicacy any cook worthy of their skill would dish up. The waiter soon returned to tell us that the fritters were not burnt, and that they come like that – if they were cooked any less, they would be raw and that they were doing us another portion. At this point, I said that if they came like that, we did not want another plate of the same and if they could please cancel them. And on cue, our man shook his head and disappeared without a word. Out of the corner of her eye, M saw our waiter whispering to his colleague and pointing at our table and as she looked up and got noticed, the company moved around the corner and carried on talking, occasionally glancing out our table. At this point, we were bereft of any appetite and with half our food left on the plate, we asked for the bill. All plates cleared, bill presented, not a word of ‘Was everything alright?’ came from the waitress.

The manager/senior waiter who came with the card machine then proceeded to apologise for the fritters to which we replied it wasn’t the fritters that was such a problem, but the rude, dismissive and patronising behaviour of the waiter that made us want to leave half way through our meal. Nonchalantly the man said, ‘oh. do you want to cancel the service charge.’ We nearly burst into hysterics. No, we don’t cancel the £4 service charge because the waitress who served us for the better part of the meal was lovely. And that was it! £40 paid for rude, couldn’t care less, slap in the face lunch. Charming! As M said, they must be doing extremely well to be not care a toss about their customers.

Clearly, the fritters don’t come like that – any fellow Indian will attest to the perfect colour, texture and taste of a crispy fried snack! Onion bhaji’s come beautifully golden and delicious, so why can’t sweetcorn bhajis do the same!? The waiter had go back to the kitchen and confront an irate and stroppy chef who probably said to him, ‘don’t care. tell them they come like that.’

A shame indeed, as the food has been known to be very good and Anna Hansen is a very good cook and chef. Pity her waiting staff can take the liberty to downgrade her efforts so easily. M’s thoughts on lunch can be found here.

Overall Experience: 1
Recommend you to go? 1
Food: 4
Wine: n/a

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