The Modern Pantry misses the point of afternoon tea

Why do we go out for afternoon tea?  I can think of a few reasons: to share some delicious food and drink; to fill up an empty stomach; to be waited on hand and foot; to sit somewhere relaxing and comfortable; to have a good long conversation with friends or family.  It’s simple and obvious, so how does The Modern Pantry, one of London’s trendiest spots for tea, miss the point almost entirely?

The Modern Pantry interior
The Modern Pantry interior: not build for comfort

The Modern Pantry has one thing going for it.  The food they serve is very tasty.  According to their website, they aim to “please and excite the palate by renewing everyday cooking with modern ingredients and global inspiration”, and to be fair they succeed in this rather limited ambition.

We were left confused, wondering whether to ask for a tea menu or just to wait for food to be brought to us

I had the Nepal tea, which claimed to taste of caramel, cinder toffee and vanilla.  That description on the menu was a bit of a stretch, but it did taste fresh and sweet.  As for the food, I ate the menu given on the website:

    • Chia & mixed seed bread open sandwich – quail egg, miso & wasabi cream cheese, macadamia dukkah 
    • Club sandwich – tea smoked salmon, avocado, yuzu mayonnaise, pea shoots 
    • Cheddar, caramelised onion & turmeric scone, curry leaf goats curd 
    • Lotus root crisp, Persian spiced sweet potato, spinach & hijiki 
    • Darjeeling & pink peppercorn scone, clotted cream, berry & liquorice jam 
    • Urfa chilli & liquorice chocolate mousse cake 
    • Lemongrass panna cotta, toasted coconut 
    • Green tea & toasted black sesame dacquoise

The savouries were wonderful, and the peppercorn scone was nicely spiced.  The rest of the sweets were adequate but offered no surprises to anyone familiar with afternoon tea in London.  Unfortunately, that’s where my compliments must end.

Example serving at The Modern Pantry
Example frugal serving at The Modern Pantry

When we arrived, my family and I were seated in a corner table and promptly forgotten about for twenty minutes.  We were left confused, wondering whether to ask for a tea menu or just to wait for food to be brought to us.  As it turned out, menus were necessary and were eventually forthcoming.

One cup turned out to be cracked and drained its contents into the saucer below

After choosing our teas, we waited a full forty-five minutes for the teas and food to arrive.  Nothing happened until we accosted a waiter.  I wonder how long they would have allowed us to wait had we not asked after our order.  This despite the fact that they apparently prepare the food a couple of hours before guests with reservations arrive at the restaurant, which is the excuse they give for the unusual step of taking your credit card details during the booking to cover the cost of the food in the event of a no-show.

We passed the time by examining the odd, deliberately mismatched collection of crockery and cutlery.  Several of the tea cups were stained, and all of them were dusty from being left out on the table too long.  One cup turned out to be cracked and drained its contents into the saucer below.

Tables full of women at The Modern Pantry
There’s no way they’ll be able to hear each other speak

It was just as well we had something to look at in the tableware since conversation was all but impossible.  The Modern Pantry is decked out in minimalist furnishings and decorations: a lot of hard unadorned surfaces and sharp right angles.  It’s a perfect echo chamber, and even though it seats only about 30 guests is one of the noisiest rooms I’ve had the displeasure of sitting in.

The rest of the savouries are actually hors d’oeuvres – good for one bite and then they’re gone

When the food arrived and we had contained the leaking teacup situation and resigned ourselves to a lack of conversation, we decided to focus on eating our food to satisfy our appetites.  Five minutes later, we were left thinking about where to eat next.

Despite the long list of items on the menu, they are all undersized and unsuited to the task of filling anyone up.  There is a single sandwich per person; the rest of the savouries are actually hors d’oeuvres – good for one bite and then they’re gone.  Even the scone, usually the most filling part of an afternoon tea, is a miniature creation that goes down in two mouthfuls.

The Modern Pantry: like most trendy things it's actually awful
The Modern Pantry: like most trendy things it’s actually awful

The Modern Pantry seems to have taken “afternoon tea” literally, and made a meal that can sit comfortably between a good lunch and a proper dinner.  Almost anywhere else, afternoon tea can easily replace one or both of those meals.  By this measure, tea at The Modern Pantry is woefully poor value.

Go almost anywhere; just don’t waste your time, money or hopes on The Modern Pantry

Afternoon tea at The Modern Pantry is a joyless experience.  The food tastes good, but there’s not enough of it.  If you’re still miserably hungry after afternoon tea, they’re doing it wrong.  The tableware is in poor condition, the service is akin to neglect, and the atmosphere stifles conversation with its headache-inducing noise.

London has no shortage of places that do stunningly good tea.  For a relaxing atmosphere, great service and loads of delicious treats, try tea at hotels like the Athenaeum on Picadilly or the Wellesley on Knightsbridge.  In fact, go almost anywhere; just don’t waste your time, money or hopes on The Modern Pantry.

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