There’s nothing more modern than multiculturalism, at least if The Modern Pantry Finsbury Square is anything to go by. The London-born restaurant’s take on contemporary cuisine draws influence (and ingredients) from across the globe, smashing them together in a sort of intercontinental hodgepodge that works far more often than it has any right to.
The restaurant’s geographically confused menu veers rapidly between cuisines without much warning. Masala and miso sit hand in hand with hollandaise in one dish, while lamb ramp is accompanied by lemon and pinenut salsa. Navigating the menu is the sort of dizzying experience that leaves you unsure exactly what might end up on your plate or how it will taste, bringing some welcome guesswork and interpretation into the ordering process.
The good news is, for every ‘can those things possibly go together?’ risk you might take, there’s an equal reward. Tender coils of grilled squid with chilli, coriander and lime were paired with sweet potato mash, the spicing underlining the sugary base. Velvety slices of bloody venison were cut through by a vibrant carrot and miso purée, grounded by crisp grilled hispi cabbage.
The standout dish was sambar masala marinated monkfish, the fleshy fillets balanced atop jet black squid ink mash, scattered with crisp samphire and a punchy fennel kimchi. There was a lot going on for a single plate, but the flavours were balanced, the variety serving to create harmony rather than dissonance across the palate.
The restaurant itself shows more restraint than its menu, perhaps in deference to its City setting. Whitewashed walls are interrupted only by simple leather banquettes, the minimalist décor doing little to draw attention to itself. An arresting array of hand-blown lampshades hanging from the high ceiling are the only concession to the adventurousness of the culinary offerings, suffice to say the space wasn’t as memorable as its food.
Fortunately, the dessert menu offers a welcome reminder of the diverse influences that give the kitchen its claim on modernity. The humble lemon meringue pie was reinvented with yuzu and a striking slash of sesame seed paste, blobs of browned meringue and yuzu curd scattering the surface – though the limp biscuit base was slightly lost in the mix. Meanwhile the mince pie was given a tonka bean twist, though it was the accompanying scoop of cinder toffee ice cream that was the real star here, oozing honeyed sweetness.
The Modern Pantry Finsbury Square’s bold, sophisticated food is as consistently rewarding as it is surprising, and it’s certainly a worthy sister venue to The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.
Words by Dom Preston