There’s something eerily quiet about The City at the weekend, the eastern quarter of London, sandwiched between trendy, rough-around-the-edges Shoreditch, and the sanitised and saturated high street of central Oxford Circus. Few cafés or shops choose to open, saving their hard work for the week, when the area is swarming with city slicker types who can order their soya-frappuccino-extra-shot-hold-the-cream quicker than you can say ‘hello’.
What a secret sanctuary, then, is The Modern Pantry’s latest outlet overlooking Finsbury Square (the first being much acclaimed, and Instagrammed, in Clerkenwell). Open during the week for the aforementioned workers who appreciate fine food and booze (amongst other things), it’s also one of the rare places to open over the weekend.
The brunch menu is served between 9am and 4pm on Saturday to Sunday, and (happily) is extensive. You can pop in for a swift espresso and a pain au chocolat (for a surprisingly reasonable couple of quid) or you can make yourself comfortable and work your way through ‘fruits, grains and seeds’, daily tapas or brunch proper.
Kick things off, like we did, with a particularly pokey Bloody Mary (the ultimate hangover cure) with locally made ELLC small-batch vodka, paprika, smoked chipotle chillies, oloroso sherry and pressed tomato. And then survey your surroundings. (What is brunch for if not lazily doing nothing?) The restaurant is housed in the impressive Grade-II-listed art deco Alphabeta building, with its whitewashed walls, tall ceilings, solid oak bar and walnut tables. It’s been decked out with hand-blown lamps and striking artwork from co-owner Anna Hansen MBE’s home country, NZ, too. Minimal but warm.
Then to the food: that’s why you’re here, after all. Start savoury. There are flavours on the brunch menu from all over the world, chef Anna’s trademark, from tamarind and krupuk-crusted soft shell crab with Shaoxing, citrus and sesame dipping sauce, to sweetcorn, feta, Medjool date and spring onion waffles and maple syrup with streaky bacon.
The dhansak-spiced veal omelette though is a real winner – mashing up a delicate, soft French-style eggs with Indian-spiced mince, fiery fried chillies and mellow shallots with puffed wild rice, fresh coriander and toast. (Natch, this is breakfast.) If you’d rather something slightly more traditional, the grilled smoky streaky bacon and choice of fried, poached or scrambled eggs more than delivers – particularly thanks to some fragrant lemongrass roasted vine tomatoes and coconut and soy-braised chestnut tomatoes sharing plate space.
The reason to start savoury, of course, is so that you can move, naturally, on to pudding. You could order one doughnut, but don’t. Order three. (They’re small, it’s fine, no-one’s judging.) Each pillowy, sugary and light, the pandan custard and pistachio is a vibrant and nutty green cream; lemon and turmeric marmalade is grown-up and dusted in a sour amchur sugar; while liquorice chocolate custard pairs beautifully with a punchy urfa chilli sugar.
Finish with a tea, if you like – there’s a sterling selection, a ‘bespoke tea library’ no less, from Lalani & Co – or try one of the hot chocolates which range from classic to chicory and wattleseed, and malt and caraway (the latter is particularly comforting).
The new Modern Pantry is an impressive space with a truly unique menu. Staff are well versed in all the lesser-known ingredients dotted throughout the dishes, and they’re a friendly bunch too, which always helps. Top choice for avoiding the crowds and lining the stomach.
The Alphabeta Building, 14 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1AH
By Laura Rowe
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