Thursday, 25 February 2010

Two Breakfasts in Farringdon

The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4JJ (020 7553 9210). Breakfast for two, including service, £40
The Zetter Restaurant, 86-88 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 5RJ (020 7324 4455). Breakfast for two, including service, £35

It was a lazy, hung over Sunday morning and the Modern Pantry at Farringdon was our desired destination. After reading a praising review in TimeOut magazine, which rated its breakfasts as one of the best in London, we rushed to see what the fuss was all about, and maybe taste some of it too. But much to our disappointment, the Pantry was as packed as a London tube train during rush hour, and my significant other and I were left with two choices: sitting outside and dining in the rain, or leaving empty stomached.
Disappointed and ravenous, we quickly stepped outside the tumult, seeking the nearest place that serves food for common folk. Just a few meters away stood the Zetter Hotel and Restaurant, looking like a place none of us could possibly afford. Lack of alternatives led us inside to familiarise ourselves with the live and pretentious Jazz performance, consisting of one saxophone player and one very banal female vocalist. We were immediately thrown into a Sex and the City atmosphere. But to our empty stomachs and low expectations, the humble oasis offered an interesting menu, on which we joyously drooled while struggling to pick out just two breakfasts out of the four we were contemplating.
 We ended up ordering three: one “Avocado Bacon & Mozzarella Bagel” for myself, one “Full Zetter Breakfast” for my hungry partner, and one Eggs Florentine to share. The appetising dishes arrived quickly, accompanied by freshly squeezed orange juice. That minimalistic bagel combination turned out to be nothing less than three bursting flavours that satisfied my fastidious palate with honour. The Zetter breakfast included two poached eggs and toast with smoked bacon, honey roast sausage, black pudding, grilled tomato and roasted field mushroom. This standard English Breakfast certainly pleased my companion’s stomach, and watching him relish the bacon has tempted me to verify its mouth-watering appearance: a refined English breakfast indeed. The Eggs Florentine included two poached eggs with spinach on a toasted bagel, with a tasty creamy sauce, which we both joyously gobbled down, ignoring how full we already were. We ended up having our teas with no dessert, fearing our stomachs would start sending out war signals. Amazingly enough, as fancy as the place appeared,  and after ordering three breakfasts plus drinks, the bill only amounted to £37.07.
The following Sunday morning, your humble servant and her ever-hungry assistant eagerly headed towards the notorious Modern Pantry again, this time having reserved. The Pantry was still full, though we were lead to a table rather quickly. We tried to control ourselves, ordering only two breakfasts: one potato waffle with bacon and maple syrup, garnished with rocket leaves, for myself, and a traditional English breakfast for my traditional English partner. The promising dishes arrived quite quickly, though my request for “extra maple on the side” was blatantly ignored. The waffle was a sinfully delicious combination of sweet and savoury, and the rocket leaves added a nice peppery twist. The size of the dish, however, was not too generous and I ended up with room for much more. The traditional English breakfast was a very mundane dish which included two poached eggs and toast with smoked streaky bacon, slow-roast tomatoes and buttered mushrooms. My gluttonous companion was not too impressed, nor was I.
We decided to give the Pantry (and our stomachs) another chance, ordering two desserts. I went wild with a scone accompanied by kumquat preserve and clotted cream, to go with my Gen Mai cha – Japanese green tea combined with roasted brown rice. The tea was intoxicating with its oriental aroma. The scone was plain and crumbly but the exotic kumquat preserve succeeded in upgrading the whole dessert. My companion with an eclectic taste went for the green tea muffin with Vegemite, accompanied by English Breakfast tea. As the Englishman bitterly summed it up: “Vegemite is a poor second to Marmite.”
It was finally time for the bill, everyone’s least favourite stage of the meal, which was significantly prolonged by the various waiters who had to be constantly reminded we were still there and waiting. 17 minutes later, we paid our bill of £39.09 and walked out of the Pantry, disappointed as we were when walking out the previous week.
Given the immense hype that the Modern Pantry is getting, it really turned out to be nothing but a posh restaurant that serves small dishes of plain food. True – the hidden gems, such as the kumquat preserve and the Gen Mai Cha, were a delight, but everything around it was dull and bland compared to the restaurant just next door, and the dishes were quite stingy. The fake bourgeois atmosphere and the horrific service were no joy as well.
By the end of our experience, we agreed: definitely go back to the Zetter and order that fourth breakfast on the menu!