London's Modern Pantry
Introducing the Global Gourmet, musings from a sapient sybarite as he gobbles around the world. This week: an unerring English breakfast.
by Clive Irving
The term "English Breakfast" can mask many crimes. The usual characteristic is a plate loaded with an emetic mismatch of every ingredient at hand: The GG has seen the cohabitation of eggs, baked beans, sausages, assorted mushrooms, blood sausage, kidneys, even sweetbreads, onions, tomatoes, hash browns and fried bread dressed with ketchup or brown sauce. The many British hotels and restaurants proffering what is imagined to be a hearty, traditional Dickensian cascade of cholesterol understand one essential thing: It doesn't take a lot of skill to cook it up. Within the slurp, errors of provenance, cooking time and microwave revival can easily be hidden. (Look out, in particular, for the congealed skin on the baked beans). Begin the day the British way, it is said, loaded with fat to endure any change of climate. (As Sinatra said, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.)
It is therefore with great relief that the GG has found a lady from New Zealand who has produced what should be a model for this repast. Anna Hansen runs a place with the rather clunky name of the Modern Pantry in the heart of the Clerkenwell neighborhood, an area populated by architects, journalists, designers, and techies. The brunch she serves up every day between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. includes a dish of two eggs, any style, bacon, mushrooms, and tomato with a dusting of arugula.
The GG had his eggs poached. The yolks were of a glowing yellow the likes of which he had not seen since his youth growing up on a farm, when he took the eggs himself from beneath his own beloved hens. In texture they fell in that precise gap between viscous and solid, with the whites like meringues. The bacon was streaky and drained of fat. The mushrooms large, dark, and juicy. The grilled tomato had the lightest flakes of garlic. There was a small slice of ciabatta as the fried bread, just crisp without grease. It was perfect, especially with a couple of cups of hot chocolate, dark and unsweet.
There are many other delights at the Modern Pantry, but if you want a gratifying pit stop between walks (this is historic territory, where Paul Hogarth drew his street life, Doctor Johnson padded along the alleys in deep conversation and where Shakespearian taverns abound) I thoroughly recommend it.
Clive Irving is the Senior Consulting Editor of Condé Nast Traveler.