Penelope Rance 7 Apr 2017 11:00am

Historic restaurants

Penelope Rance enjoys breakfast, lunch and dinner in historic places
Caption: Penelope Rance enjoys breakfast, lunch and dinner in historic restaurants across the UK.


Old Parsonage Hotel, Oxford

For a historic experience, you can’t ladle it on much thicker than the 17th century Old Parsonage, its wisteria-clad stone frontage peering up St Giles in the heart of Oxford. Taking breakfast is like being a guest at a country house. The English is unsullied by hash, porridge comes with blueberries, kippers with parsley butter, and you can even get an upper crust bacon roll.


Sally Lunn’s, Bath

Sally Lunn’s occupies one of the oldest houses in Bath. Origin of the city’s namesake bun, based on French brioche but now definitively English, here you can stay strictly sweet, or delve into the savoury. Teas abound, from high to cream (and wheat and dairy free), while the Trencher lunch will fill you with soup, a bun stacked high with meat and veg, and a Somerset apple cake plus clotted cream.


The Modern Pantry, Alphabeta Building, Moorgate, London

Reinvention is London’s thing, never more so than for its restaurants – and its architecture. The historic fabric of the city has been gutted so many times, it could double for Rick Stein’s greatest hits. And so to the Alphabeta building, formerly Triton Square, formerly Royal London House: formerly the home of staid financial institutions, now reborn as the achingly hipster, colour-riot offices of fintech wizards, awash with breakout spaces, charred timbers and sheets of raw steel.

The art deco shell remains mercifully intact, however, complete with the 1929 spire, from atop which Mercury surveys Finsbury Square. Another thankful respite from the edginess is The Modern Pantry, tucked into a corner of the building, and offering the comfort of dark leather Hollywood banquettes, walnut tables and whitewashed walls, along with a menu of British ingredients given an Asian or Middle Eastern treatment.

Scottish salmon sashimi with black garlic, Iranian lime and ginger dressing and atsina cress was possibly a bit chunky, but terrifically fresh, while crispy pork shoulder, edamame puree and pickled cucumber was meltingly tender inside, with a joyful crumb coating.

From the tapas bar, bresaola cured in marjoram, oregano, rosemary and red wine diverted the taste buds from the Eastern direction, and would perhaps have been better ordered as part of a small plates repast. Moreish, if not Moorish.

Roast chicken breast in orange and soy broth with udon, Chinese cabbage, celery and almond pesto was firmly back on the Silk Road, with toothsome noodles and succulent meat in a well balanced, zesty yet umami-laden sauce. Roast Cornish pollock, smoked swede, moromi miso and Riesling braised leeks with golden beetroot and pickled ginger relish could have benefitted from crispier skin, but the collation of vegetables was excellent, with the sweet miso setting off the delicate white fish.

The trio of doughnuts to finish, including pandan custard and pistachio, berry and liquorice jam with Urfa sugar, and peanut butter and miso caramel, completed the Eastern adventure in lighthearted fashion. Arrive early enough for an aperitif: the Iranian gimlet is that rarest of beasts – a great gimlet made with vodka; while the house Garibaldi is quite the sweetener.

Rare beast: Start your evening at The Modern Pantry with an Iranian gimlet – based on vodka rather than gin and served with preserved lemon