S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

A Tale of Two Dinners

This last week has been a whirl of out-of-town visitors. DD from Toronto, my third-grade teacher, meeting gylfinir and spending a delightful evening in her company over Japanese food, easterbunny and aca, and Derrick, down from York. And that's without counting a missed visit from austengirl. (I'm happy to say it's also been a productive week for tying off the semester's loose ends and starting work on my forthcoming conference paper.)

The Modern Pantry
Location: 47-48 St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, a block-or-so north of Farringdon. London.

Yesterday afternoon, I met morganlf for an early dinner at The Modern Pantry, a café and restaurant brought to her attention only the other day thanks to a design blog. It's a bright modern, slightly rustic place, with curlicue'd kitchen utensils etched into white tables, and large windows. The menu is daily, printed in a Courier variant, as if type-written. Tempted by desserts, we opted to order from the small plates menu rather than the mains, the better to up the odds of appetite later.

The bread basket was an immediate strong start, flavorsome, fresh, and varied. Krapuk quail eggs, with a refreshing chilli-honey dip, were like fun little Scotch eggs, only lighter. Elderflower, edamame, feta, and mint fritters were a pleasure to eat, daubed with a sweet, green, chilli sauce and sour cream; impressively, the soft floral elderflower was their dominant taste. The sweet potato, spinach, and feta tortilla was a charmingly, modest, tartlike frittata, leading us both to realize that we've never used potato in frittata before. The only serious disappointment of the lot was the crab soufflé, a heavy, bland pudding-like mound on top of a more interesting salad.

Fortunately, we then moved on to desserts: a complicated-but-worthwhile pile of Szechuan pepper meringue, with pineapple fool and sorbet for me, and the sublime coconut tapioca with a fruited nut layered pastry (baklava-like) on the side. It's reasonably priced, especially given its proximity to the city, with small places costing 5-6 pounds apiece, and offers refreshingly flexible hours and a constantly changing menu. I'd be happy to go back, although I'd prefer the insurance of ordering multiple dishes, to ensure more hits, than gamble on a miss.

Alas, the pub reunion at the Lyric afterwards was more frustration than satisfaction: all these wonderful, wonderful people I rarely see, and too much noise to hear what they were saying!

Location: 227 High Holborn, London, immediately outside Holborn station. London.

From there, we went off for another social reunion, this time in a highly-rated Korean restaurant, Asadal, just outside of Holborn station. It's in a basement, but offer comfortable decor and lighting despite that, with tables largely partitioned off from each other by clear glass panels, meaning I had the pleasure of being able to hear what everyone was saying.

Of course, I'd already had dinner! Nevertheless, the array of dishes for sharing was such that I could nibble a bit or two from each; it's just as well I did, since now I know why it's worth going back. Bright, fresh kimchi, with a kick of chilli. Rich broth with delicate dumplings (man du soup) or smoky scallops. Yuk Hwae, raw ground beef mixed with raw egg, a light soy-and-sesame oil sauce, and julienned pear - delicious. Compelling deep-fried, battered, squid with a sweet and sour sauce, served atop finely-chopped fresh carrots and peas. Deep-fried (but not battered) mushrooms, meaty and sweet-as-if-candied, but in a good way. rosamicula was our guide in ordering highlight dishes.

From standalone dishes, we moved on to barbecue, the grill in the center of our table uncovered for cooking the spice-marinaded pork and the beef. With all the requisite sides to equip us, we placed small pieces of table-cooked meat into crisp lettuce, garnished with seasoned spring onions, and topped with light sauces. It would only have been more entertaining if we'd been able to play with the cooking meat: instead, whenever staff saw us poking at it, they came over to mind it for us. It was not intended to be work for patrons.

Service was generally good (although the button to press for service sometimes needed to be used more than once), the space was ideal for good conversations, and this morning, I'm day-dreaming about that squid. It's a slightly more formal venue, suitable for elegance or informality, and very conveniently located.

And so, Derrick is off to Clarion West, we're off to sofa shopping (we may someday buy one), and Taste of London is this weekend!
Tags: eating in london, food, restaurants

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