This week I try the Modern Pantry

Saturday, January 17th , 2009

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Fusion food has a patchy reputation, being a much abused genre (the laughable Italian/Japanese idea of deservedly defunct Shumi being just one example). In one episode of Frasier, Niles neatly satirises the idea when describing the latest Seattle fusion restaurant: “It’s Polynesian Scandinavian: the coconut herring gets three and a half whisks in my gourmet magazine”. The Modern Pantry fortunately has a capable ex-Providores chef who can generally navigate through this potential culinary minefield. Though at least one dish seemed to me verging on wacko, generally the flavours worked well together, and the execution was fine. My only reservation was some slightly tentative use of spices in a couple of dishes. 
Old favourite Zafferano continues to produce high quality Italian food. On this visit ravioli of partridge had soft pasta, well seasoned meat flavoured with rosemary, the pasta parcels resting in a meat broth. A main course of roast chicken with lemon and capers was a good example of how a simple dish can work really well: the chicken had flavour, perfectly cooked, the lemon and capers adding just a hint of acidity and saltiness respectively, but being held back enough so as to allow the chicken flavour to be the star of the show. Other dishes sampled included excellent risotto, tender venison and the usual excellent salad. Although the dinner service was full even on a Monday, an early portent of the tough economic times was a very quiet lunch service here. I suspect that the hike in prices in mid 2008 will in retrospect seem an error; while no doubt the bean counters at head office enjoyed the brief boost to profits in the boom times, this decision may come back to haunt them if overall revenues are affected now that times are hard.
One Lombard Street is a restaurant where I have always been impressed by the food and disappointed, and at times infuriated, by the service. The pattern continued again this week. A superb haddock starter was pretty, simple yet very well balanced, as was sea bass (pictured). A classic tournedos of beef was similarly well made, with excellent oxtail sauce. A soufflé similarly was technically strong, with perhaps a quibble over the flavour balance.  Yet from the yawning wait to take our initial order, through to the main courses not being delivered at the same time, the service was a mess. Later in the evening the waiters just retreated to the corners and spent their time chatting to one another, and only Michael Winner-like waving managed attract their attention.  I struggle to think of another restaurant with such a gaping disparity between the kitchen and the front of house. 
1 Lombard Street is another restaurant which has a list of dessert wines “by the glass”, does not specify the measure size and yet which actually serves less than the standard 125 ml measure (in this case a measly 50 ml). Whatever you may think about whether wine should only be served in 125 ml measures, hopefully most people can agree that they should know what the measure size is, or else how are they to judge whether the price is fair or not? I have finally obtained clarification of this from the Press Office of the Trading Standards Institute. In summary:

"At present, dessert wines are subject to the same rules as any other wine, and must legally be served in 125 ml or 175 measures (or multiples thereof) under the terms of the Intoxicating Liquor Order 1988. There is consideration being given to a change in the law, due to health concerns, to allow smaller measures, but in any case the Trading Standards Institute has proposed that, should smaller than 125ml sizes be allowed, the quantity being sold should be made known to the customer."

So there we have it. At any restaurant serving dessert wines in measures other than 125 ml, is in breach of Trading Standards. This rather obscure issue may seem like a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, but as a lover of dessert wine I find it annoying when restaurants try to rip off customers in this way.

The recession continues to bite, with Aaya going into administration. A pity, as this was a decent restaurant, though I was not as taken with it as some, purely on a value per money basis. Long-troubled chain Fishworks is also in lots of trouble, though in this case the problems stem from some ill-judged over-expansion. It is hopeful that at least some elements of the chain of fish shops/restaurants will continue (especially given the profile of some of their investors), but the outcome is unclear at present.

This week an episode of Market Kitchen was shot involving Matthew Fort interviewing me. This will air on the UK TV Food Channel at 28th January at 7pm (and then repeated at 10pm).