A few years ago – actually about 30 – Britpop warblers Blur were singing that ‘Modern Life is Rubbish.’ Well, they were not talking about the Modern Life café at the Sainsbury Centre.

Housed in the glassy end of the still-breathtaking arts centre, it is a venue which really is a bit of an undiscovered gem. A simple counter is home to a select array of dishes and salads which you would be very happy to see at a fine-dining restaurant.

It looked busy when we rolled up, but that was chiefly because all the window seats were taken. And why not? Not many cafes offer you a few Henry Moore sculptures to admire over your lunch.

I am a sucker for a cottage pie; the Modern Life description of its offer of Blake's Farm braised beef, root vegetables and Maris Piper potato was all I needed. Goodness, but it lived up to expectations. The beef was exquisite, chunky, soft and full of flavour, the potato the perfect consistency (with a crisped top to boot) and veg was the right side of squidgy. Not sure about the handful of salad leaves dropped on the top.

I handed those over to Mrs C, who was cooing with delight at her choice of Goan spiced north Atlantic pollock, potato and spinach curry. I speared a bit of fish and was also wowed. Creating such a delicate dish so deep in flavour takes skill and knowledge of how spices work together, and the chef nailed that one.

Desserts are from the cake stand; I had a slice of orange cake, shot through with orange curd and coated with a shiny chocolate glaze. My choice was rewarded with a beautiful, moist sponge, zingy curd and enough chocolate to coat my beard. Fab.

Mrs C’s sticky toffee banana cake was exactly what it says on the tin; another delight, although she did wrinkle her nose a little at the chunks of banana.

It’s worth mentioning the value of this place; just over a tenner for a main course is outstanding these days and they don’t lift your leg on drink or cake prices, either. Modern Life may indeed be rubbish, but the Modern Life Café is marvellous.


Our review visits are unannounced, and we pay for our meals.