With the Modern Pantry Finsbury Square beginning its soft launch this week (50% off food and cocktails, bargain hunters), we caught a moment with its founder to talk tapas, Negronis and crying at the Eiffel Tower. You can also scroll on for an exlusive first look at photographs of the new restaurant.
Anna Hansen doesn’t do things by halves: she carved her way onto the London restaurant scene via an impressive stint working for Fergus Henderson (St. John), before co-opening The Providores in 2001, followed by solo debut The Modern Pantry in 2008. Seven years, a cascade of accolades and an MBE later, the chef is putting the finishing touches to The Modern Pantry Finsbury Square. Expect a tapas bar, internationally-flavoured dishes and a whole lot of City interest.
How would you sum up the new restaurant in five words?
Striking, unique (it has amazing high ceilings. Ok sorry this is more than five words), playful, elegant and warm
What is your personal favourite dish on the new menu?
Definitely the omelette, which should be the Finsbury Square signature: it’s stuffed with spicy veal, crispy shallots and Thai basil. Despite the popularity of the prawn omelette in Clerkenwell we have left it off the menu here, because we want the second Modern Pantry to be unique, not just a retread.
How will you split your time between Finsbury Square and Clerkenwell?
I’ll be at Finsbury Square full-time for the first few months, before dividing the time there with the head chef Rob McLeary. It’s only a 15-minute walk between the two restaurants; that was one of my prerequisites for a second site, along with being on a square and having a kitchen with a window. I’m happy to say I managed all three, because I refuse to work in basement kitchens again!
Did you enjoy cycling from London to Paris for Action Against Hunger in 2012?
I loved it. It was one of the most fun and rewarding things I have ever done. When we finally made it to the end at the Eiffel Tower (there were about 70 of us), I had a bit of a cry.
I’m a kamikaze cyclist and moved to Streatham, so that combination means I refuse to commute by bike now; once I had my daughter, I wasn’t willing to take the risk anymore.
How was the experience of being awarded an MBE?
To be honest, when I got the call in late 2011 I thought it was a prank. The initial letter was sent to the wrong address, so they had to chase me on the phone. Eventually I had a letter from Jeremy Hunt (Culture Secretary at the time), explaining that I was a female chef who had made an indelible mark on the restaurant scene – so, not a prank after all…
Which is your all-time favourite London restaurant and why?
That’s so tough to answer, but Galvin La Chapelle is just stunning and the food is always perfect. It’s deceptively simple stuff, but that betrays the tremendous amount of skill which goes into every dish.
How about your top bar or pub?
The Clove Club’s bar: it’s small, low-key and (obviously) has great food too. I’m a big fan of Negronis and the version served here doesn’t disappoint.
Which are your most significant food memories?
My auntie was from Denmark, so from my ‘70s childhood I remember her bringing super-smelly cheeses, incredible salamis and fish roe – all very exotic in New Zealand at the time.
What’s next for you – anything to tell?
I’m particularly excited about the tapas bar at Finsbury Square (above): the tapas element to The Providores always appealed to me – it’s just more fun. You can be more reactive and shake things up every day, whereas big restaurants are more cumbersome and demand more planning. So that’s how I picture the future but no solid plans, as yet…
This article was published 7 September 2015