18 Feb 2009

Don't Play with Your Food

DO THE popular critics graze life’s same buffet? I was, it seemed, a lone ranger in criticising one of last year’s most revered openings. Its chef was so shocked by my voice of dissent that he called me in for cappuccino. Because I believed he couldn’t hit me – his right arm had been broken in a cycling accident – I agreed. Call it masochistic curiosity. As it turned out, I left impressed by his valiant ‘one-armed menu’ and rather cowardly, deleted the review. Probably wise considering that I later learned he was a “left-hooker”...
At least I could have attempted to fight back had it come to blows. A gent never hits a lady – even in self-defence. This means I would have to stand there and take the battering from the chef / patron of the venue in my sights. Perversely I might even feebly thank her for her fortitude as she sent sweet potato missiles, cassava batons and scalding pail of liquorice soy broth in my general direction…
Anna Hansen is, as critics proclaimed, favourite flunky of funky Peter Gordon, grand master of fusion and mind behind the tastefully provocative Providores in Marylebone Village. Excepting A. A. Gill, who is ‘God’, and therefore untouchable, the clutch of critics who lug their clogged arteries from table to table to put bread on it appear to be experiencing some form of epiphany at her venture with D&D's Des and David. They have lavished The Modern Pantry such adoration that I fear by regurgitating their remarks I may regurgitate something else.
The ‘pantry’ part of the former steelworks looks in reasonable health – a little like Sir Jamie’s fifteen, only plain boring, limply fitted and washed white. Upstairs it becomes stricter with stroppy art, mean little tables and bare windows.
Despite a spray of homemade spelling mistakes, the menu reads bravely. Only ingredients are listed, as at Hansen’s mentor’s. I started with tea, or more precisely, tea smoked foie gras terrine with pomegranate molasses, roast grapes, watercress and sumac lavosh. Having recently returned from the capital of the fattened bird, I feel confident in saying that otherwise decent foie had been bastardised by the chef’s smoking habit. It reeked of charcoal embers doused in (ah) Tetley.
Running my eyes down the menu, I noted a sweet component in almost every dish, from perfumed rosewater scallops to sugar cured prawn omelette. I am fast tiring of the increasing number of venues serving dessert over three courses. The latter was as jarring and runny as jarred baby food. For a fee we brought our own bottles, some of them very fine fluid, although the miserably polarising plates bullied away any notion of nuance.
A sugary tamarind marinated rib eye looked like tormented spleen. It was impoverishly dressed with a couple of sweet chips carved from cash crop cassava. The slimy slob sat on lock gate goo like cavolo nero. For years the soft-serve smothered strip chomped in a Prague basement, served with a thoroughly toothless grin, held the title for the worst steak of my life. This steak lowered the stakes. I now award the gristly accolade of piss-poor protein to The Modern Pantry. Again, not because of the raw ingredients, but ambling cooking. What a curious convention: systematic, playful ruination of really rather good ingredients. Should Hansen ever wish to offend her suppliers, I suggest she subjects them to a table.
Service was excruciatingly slow. Gently willing rather than enthusiastic staff appear to have been recruited solely on their resemblance to teenage Beatles.
I left anti-Pantry. Restless, hungry and doubting. One thought recurred like the revolting aftertaste of my mucked-up meal: how will Great Britain serve great food when our critical cast bathes praise on a whiz at flavour pile-ups?
‘The Modern Pantry’- 48 St. John St. EC1M. T. 020 7553 9210
Nearest tube: Farringdon
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