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Restaurant Review: the Water House (boo) and the Modern Pantry (yea)

The Modern Pantry

As many people are probably still dealing with the hangovers and consequences of New Year’s eve I thought the sensible thing to do would be to post a review of a brunch recovery place. For me, there has been one standout venue for brunch over the past year and that is the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.
In the same way that a pantomime has its hero, this review has its villian; the Water House. In every way the Modern Pantry excels the Water House with seemingly effortless negligence turns those positives upside down and gives you a sloppy debacle of a meal. I’ll get to the gory details below.
To begin with the great before we get to hiss at the Water House…. the Modern Pantry is situated in a grade two listed Georgian building. That is enough to get the architectural juices flowing. However, it has been elevated into something more through a sensitive update by Jump Studios and the liberal use of silver cutlery and accessories. It is quite frankly beautiful. Light streams through the massive Georgian windows and you feel as though you are in a contemporary version of a Jane Austin novel (but I would avoid sitting by the door on a cold day).
I first went to the Modern Pantry for supper in the first quarter of the year. It was flat out empty on a Thursday night. We slightly panicked but believed in the reviews and sat down and waited. It did not disappoint. Elegant and precise fusion food trickled out. Australian influenced fusion food surprisingly remains rare in this country and it is even harder to find it done well (I was unimpressed by the other obvious contender – Providores and Tapa Rooms – when I went a couple of years ago and the Sugar Club is long gone).
Following that superlative meal we started going there for brunch. Everytime a friend comes to visit who doesn’t live in London it is the simple choice to wow them. The reason for this is the food is both male and female friendly and always excellent.
On our brunch there this morning with a friend who was over from Los Angeles I had the sugar cured prawn omelete and Vegemite on toast. A combination of the refined and the ghetto in one meal. The sugar cured prawn omelette is (each time I have it) brilliant. The combination of sweet prawns, an omelette that sits in the (correct) middle ground between overcooked and undercooked and a spice paste that you can spread over it. The Vegemite on toast is what it says, but the toast is obviously organicy homemade stuff that is toasted over a charcol giving grill which makes it all the better.
We also had a rolled oats, nuts, seeds, apple and yoghurt today as despite not being hungry enough to warrant it we had raved about how good it was previously to our friend from Los Angeles. Every morsel of it disappeared and it remains the most sensitive and well weighted yoghurty breakfast dish I have had.
I have picked up on Twitter that some people have had bad meals there and also bad service. Our experiences (with the exception of one grumpy waiter) have always been excellent. Today both service and food were spot on.

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

The Water House

As for the Water House… well boo and hiss. I wish I had done what I normally do and read the Time Out review before I indulged in one and half hours of amateurishness there.

I had been to Arthur Potts Dawson’s other eco attempt – Acorn House – and found the food average and didn’t much like using a bathroom that looked like tramps regularly squatted there (for that kind of price point I would expect it could be cleaned at least once a week). For some reason I forgot all of that and thought it would be sensible to go to the peripheral of the East London world on an off bit of Regents Canal.
We went for brunch. At 11:00am. We were the only five customers for the next hour and a half. I suppose everyone else had read the reviews. Given that they only had two waiters and five cooks in the kitchen I suppose it is absolutely understandable that it took them an hour and twenty minutes to bring us food. They had also spent so long “refining” the food that they seemed to forget half of it and magically drain away any joy, sustenance or interest from what they deposited. I remember reading before I went there that they were proud to made their own sourdough bread. They shouldn’t be, its lifeless husk polluted every dish we had, no matter how unsuited it was to it (French toast should not be served on an offcut husk of a bread).
Price – £60 for five and one and a half hours of waiting at the Water House and about £15 to £20 a head at the Modern Pantry depending on how many juices or flat whites you get

Water House on Urbanspoon


  1. The London Foodie

    Interesting, I live near The Water House, had a look at their menu recently but felt it was a bit uninspiring, so decided to give it a miss (and will not be coming back now).

    I have wanted to go to The Modern Pantry for sometime now, I love fusion cuisine for obvious reasons, but had also heard some bad stories about it. Thanks for sharing your experiences though, that omelette looks really good, I will go there for brunch soon.

    It is funny how we all have some special place we like taking visitors to – I normally take mine to dim sum at Hakkasan (The Modern Pantry is much more local to me though).

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  2. Fernandez & Leluu

    Went to The Water House – in summer, waited 2 hours to get 4 horrid dips, only one slice of bread and uncooked paella rice – when sent back they said it was how its suppose to be. Really wanted to like that place – how can they get it so wrong?!

  3. Tom

    I am still in kind of awe at how bad the Water House is. I used to run past it (in the summer) and was really excited to go. Never ever ever again though.

    Luiz – it is strange how people can have different experiences at restaurants and there are definitely different thoughts on the Modern Pantry. However, we have probably been over 10 times this year and it has never disappointed.

    For visitors my perfect little circut is Modern Pantry for brunch, walk through Smithfields to St Pauls, over to Tate Modern and back over Tower Bridge. Then on a Sunday Colubmia Road Flower Market. For some of the best French food I have had in London – Comptoir Gascon (the cheap bistro one which I find far better than the serious one). And then some cheap Turkish food up in Green Lanes/ Dalston for the experience and the roasted meat. And maybe the cakes at Nude Expresso. I am makin gmyself hungry.

  4. Liz

    I know this is an old post but I feel the need to point out; NOT Australian!
    Anna Hansen is a kiwi (albeit by way of Canada) and Peter Gordon is also from NZ.
    Don’t let the Aussies take the credit for good things kiwi, they keep trying to steal crowded house too! (we let them keep Russell Crowe)

  5. Well I am definitely more of a fan from Anna Hansen than Peter Gordon but point taken and respect owed.

    Can I just point out – will NZ be a bit closer. I can’t believe I now live half way round the world and NZ is still another half to go – grrr. Jen keeps telling me how wonderful it is!

  6. Liz

    Something very odd goes on with your website… if i take too long tying a comment, it just loads me onto the next entry and I lose my typing. Grr. Will be back to cut’n’paste in a sec!

    • Ah I think that maybe some funky javascript which says that if you press left you go back one page and if you press right you go forward one page.

      I will *try* to fix it!

  7. Liz

    Ok, prior to the interweb telling me I type too slow, I was tapping out the following…

    Jen is completely right; NZ is wonderful, despite being very contrary and positioning itself just about as far away from everywhere as it is possible to be.
    If you ever manage that last part of the hike I’m sure you’ll love it; for the scenery, the people and the coffee shops! One of the main reasons I started following the blog in the first place was your search for the perfect flat white. Good coffee is something we take so for granted in NZ and I am constantly horrified by what Londoners are prepared to drink and the lengths I find myself going to to get my fix!

    • The thing Jen has really raved about is a trip she did on water kayak around the coast where for a couple of months they just slowly wound their way around the coast. It sounds truly amazing. I am kinda of hoping to bargain for some time off work on my way back from HK and do the same.

      Coffee and London is hard but my god never make it to HK then. The “scene” is here but still still very much growing.

      I am back in November and am going to do an epic start in Hackney Wick (Counter Cafe) and then work my way down through 10 coffee shops to Tapped and Packed in the West End I think. I like the look of the new Taylor Street “shed” in the centre!

  8. Liz

    Coffee bender!!

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