This is not some sort of déjà vu-doo, The Arb has indeed visited, eaten and thoroughly enjoyed a meal at The Modern Pantry before, but that was for lunch in the posh dining rooms upstairs. With the news that they had ventured into the afternoon tea market, I simply had to go along to their ground floor café and try it out. [Her selflessness knows no bounds. Ed.]
The last afternoon tea I indulged in left me slightly deflated and darn right ravenous, with no choice but to stop for snacks on the way home. I had high hopes for this one though, what with the Pantry’s glowing reputation and the fact that it always looks busy when I walk past.
“Lots of beautiful people around here”, my friend Victoria chirps up whilst tipping back the remnants of the champagne flute of rose coloured raspberry and lychee bellini that we start our afternoon on. My only observation of beauty at that particular moment in time is of the soft, crustless sandwich, oozing with neatly chopped feta and slow roasted tomato. “Yes, look, he’s got an air of Alexander McQueen about him,” she continues, pointing her sandwiched hand out the window at an unsuspecting passerby. To the onlooker she must appear rather crazed. I look around and spot a thuggish looking fella in an albeit-expensive-looking hoodie combo, which the late McQueen would turn in his grave at being compared to. Silently agreeing to disagree, I move the focus back onto the current object of my desires, “This sandwich is delicious!”
It’s three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and we’ve both come straight from our respective offices and sunk a bubbly cocktail. I’m thinking these ‘beautiful people’ Vic keeps spotting are figments of her tipsy imagination.
Perfectly timed to sober us up, our pots of Newby tea arrive: Indian Breakfast for Victoria, in a silver pot that looks like it used to house a genie and belonged to a street urchin named Aladdin, and Earl Grey (naturally) for me, in a normal pot. The Earl is particularly rich in citrus bergamot, carrying across a more potent flavour of orange than usual, a very good thing indeed. I’m not surprised to discover, when I later Google the tea brand, that they scooped 13 Great Taste Awards last year.
Our equally large and faultless tea-smoked salmon, avocado and yuzu mayonnaise sandwiches devoured, and we start eyeing the upper tier of cute savoury and sweet treats. The green tea scone filled with tangy gooseberry compote and clotted cream is sensational, though the light, not too sweet, pear, lemon and polenta cake comes a close second. On our third cup of tea and feeling rather full by this time, we both choose the unthreatening looking rosewater and sour cherry chocolate brownie to finish, reaffirming that age old rule of gluttony which states that there’s always room for chocolate.
Ladies who lunch need not apply, The Modern Pantry’s twist on the afternoon tea is one for those who love to have their cake and eat it, every single last crumb of it (licking the plate if nobody’s looking). The quality and perfectly gauged portions couldn’t possibly disappoint; the crisp, country cottage kitchen style surroundings of the café either; or the service, it’s impeccable. Not bad for an afternoon tea which sits at the very reasonable edge of the scale at £12, or £17 if you opt for the Bellini.
Afternoon Tea at The Modern Pantry, 48 St. John’s Square, London EC1V 4JJ. Tel: 020 7553 9210. Website.