Restaurant Review: The Modern Pantry, EC1

Dan Jestico stops for a traditional afternoon tea with a modern twist at a Clerkenwell hotspot

CLERKENWELL can be an odd mix sometimes.

Between the rich history of the Smithfield meat market and the City, dwell web designers, media types and, of course, many fine eateries.

So perhaps it is appropriate that Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry has decided to dish up a modern take on that quintessentially English repast – afternoon tea, served on weekdays between 3 and 5pm.

I am intrigued to see the Antipodean Hansen’s take on fine bone china, Earl Grey and scones that could be a stern challenge in the eyes of the traditionalists among us.

The interesting combination of the modern and traditional is evident when we are seated between patrons you would expect to be taking afternoon tea (a local historical society), and those you wouldn’t (two architects having a meeting).

When we eagerly accept the offer of a glass of fizz, we are given fine Italian Prosecco, served neat or in the form of a mind-blowing lychee, rose and raspberry Bellini – a deliciously decadent way to kick off an afternoon meal.

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A range of fine teas from local tea specialists Newby are then served up. I opt for the Indian Breakfast (which I admittedly then murder with the addition of milk and sugar). Thankfully my wife has better taste and selects a fresh peppermint tea.

Then arrives a beautifully presented vintage style cake stand piled high with a range of scones, sandwiches and cakes.

Given Hansen’s reputation for modern fusion with a twist, this is the part I’m really looking forward to and I’m not to be disappointed.

The tea-smoked salmon, avocado and yuzu mayonnaise sandwich is silky smooth with a wonderful subtlety of the tea running through the salmon. The feta, rocket, slow roasted tomato and green pepper relish sandwich is punchy and a great contrast to the salmon.

The tea theme continues with the scones. Green tea scones are served with lashings of gooseberry compote and a big dollop of clotted cream. The tart gooseberry zings through the scones and sits nicely against the thick cream.

These work better than the cheddar and sage scones, which are sadly a little dry without anything to go in them.

Pear and lemon cakes are baked with polenta to give an added crunch, but the pear is perhaps too elusive for me to detect.

It is something of a hangover from my childhood, but I usually try and leave the best until last. This is very much the case with the rosewater and sour cherry chocolate brownies, which I have carefully resisted until nothing else remains. The delicate rosewater is well balanced by the sharp cherries and both combine brilliantly with the moist chocolate.

They felt very self-indulgent for a Tuesday afternoon and I defy anyone not to greedily eye their partner’s plate in the hope they might say, “I’m full. You have it.”

The meal is served on traditional tea room china which is, again, an interesting contrast with the sleek modern lines of Hansen’s minimalist and airy Clerkenwell restaurant.

But, like Clerkenwell, Hansen’s approach to tea is a careful balance of the traditional and the modern and it is accomplished here with lashings of style.