|Seared saddle of venison with a polpettino, |
pandan, coco beans, beetroot and red wine sauce
A top London chef working with one of the UK's best out of towners, serving Sunday lunch right here on my doorstep? Don't mind if I do...
As part of London Restaurant Festival celebrations, on 10th October 2010 some of London's top chefs teamed up in their restaurants with the a selection of the best chefs from around the UK - to create Amex Express' 10-10-10 event.
By way of example, Raymond Blanc collaborated with Bruno Loubet to create a special menu and work side by side at Bistro Bruno Loubet, and same goes for Tom Kerridge of the Hand and Flowers with Anthony Demetre at Arbutus, and Alain Roux of the Waterside Inn with Claude Bosi at Hibiscus. Fabulous idea.
I was happy to be invited to lunch at The Modern Pantry in Farringdon, where head chef Anna Hansen would be working side by side with Frances Atkins of The Yorke Arms. To set the scene, some CVs...
Anna Hansen, a New Zealander, was one of the founders of The Providores before setting up The Modern Pantry. She has worked in the kitchens of both Fergus Henderson (of St John Restaurant) and Australia's beloved Stephanie Alexander. The Modern Pantry has 2 AA rosettes and was listed with Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide 2009.
The Antipodes meets the north with the addition of Frances Atkins, one of only 6 female Michelin Star chefs in the UK. Her Yorkshire restaurant, The Yorke Arms, has held a Michelin star since 2003, along with several other accolades.
Yes, I was looking forward to my lunch.
It's a gorgeous sunny day (although please don't give me that "Indian summer" pallaver - 2 sunny but merely mild days does not a summer make) and the light streams in to the modern, airy upstairs dining room. Our amuse bouche is a shot glass containing a shaving of truffle nestled atop a gorgeous, warm truffled turnip veloute. A tiny dollop of cold vanilla ice-cream has sunk to the bottom beneath a thin, crisp slice of warm pancetta. A really interesting, unexpected and enjoyable combination.
Then, a starter sized cassava, squash and pickled walnut "kofta". It's like a really good pasty, but with firm crunch and exotic spice. It works well with a robust prune carraway relish and some Belgian endive for added bite. Overall, it's "nice".
For mains, we both forgo the "rosemary gnocchi, grains and seeds with lime and ginger marinated plum tomatoes" for what sounds like a winner - the seared saddle of venison with a polpettino, pandan, coco beans, beetroot and red wine sauce. Unfortunately, it's cold, and we notice another table send theirs back, presumably for this reason (it later returns and they eat it). The venison is tender and well cooked but lacks the full flavour we expect - the sweet, red wine sauce goes some way to saving it in that respect. The serving is noticeably small. The polpettino is well seasoned - but, for both dishes, the lack of heat does this pretty course no favours. The coco beans add more exotica in the description than they do on the palate.
Ironically, we both comment that the main dish is the only thing on the menu that jumps out at us as something we would normally order, but it's the biggest disappointment of the day.
Surprisingly (for a savoury tooth like me), the dessert is the biggest hit. A small quince and parkin crumble with a dollop of clotted cream is a lovely balance of tart but sweet, with crunchy crumble giving way to warm and soft autumnal fruit. It is accompanied by a creamy, pistachio brulee with a blackberry and liquorice sauce.
The Modern Pantry has a great wine list, and after a glass each of Billiecart Brut/Extra Brut champagne (£9.50/£9.95 each), we order an absolutely terrific bottle of Sonoma Zinfandel, Sonoma County 2008, Seghesio (£43). It's velvety and smooth with a touch of spice - it matches perfectly with the venison. Love, love love. Why are you still reading this and not drinking one?
We finish with coffees, which are included with bread (there's a lovely bread basket) and bottled water in the £50 ticket price. (Although, when I ask about the price earlier, a waitress goes away to find out, and returns to tell us tickets are £15 - that's quite a difference.) Wine and service are extra.
To summise, this was a nice, enjoyable lunch - consistent with my previous visits to The Modern Pantry (in the downstairs cafe), where everything has been nice, but nothing has really blown me away. But £50 (plus the extras) worth of nice? Clearly a premium was being charged at The Modern Pantry for the privilege of having 2 chefs collaborate for the occasion. Unless you are a die hard follower of one of them, at least in respect of my lunch, I think there's better value to be had in the set lunch menus offered by many of London's Michelin star (and other top) restaurants at £20, £25 and £30 per head. But maybe you're happy to pay extra for something different - a unique collaboration and local access to an acclaimed out of town chef.
The 10-10-10 lunch is a brilliant concept and one that the participating chefs can take as an opportunity to really dazzle their guests and have them hankering to return to both restaurants for more.
The Modern Pantry, 47 - 48 St John's Square, London, EC1V 4JJ (Tel: 020 7553 9210)
Greedy Diva was a guest of Amex.