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Pennethorne's At Somerset House

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At Somerset House

Pennethorne's Cafe Bar | Delicious Magazine

Now that London’s Fashion Week is over at Somerset House, I suggest you sashay down there to check out its newest café Pennethorne's in the New Wing (it’s a mark of how slowly time moves in such grand places that the New Wing was completed in 1856).

Named after the wing’s architect Sir James Pennethorne, the café draws inspiration from the Grand Tour he made as a young man in 1824, travelling around France and Italy, learning about classical architecture and probably eating extremely well (the 19th century equivalent of the Gap Year).

The elegant room is high-ceilinged and, despite its very dark walls (blue not black, apparently), feels airy, thanks to its generous windows – if only they looked out over the Thames… There are antique books dotted around and the walls are covered with old pictures. The design of the place, with a central display table makes the café look like it’s self-service but simply sit yourself down and the friendly staff look after you.

The short menus, created by head chef Richard Robinson, feature smallish plates of food (usually served on bread) made from top quality ingredients from France, Italy and the UK. There’s also a small but perfectly formed range of wines, craft beers, ciders and cocktails.

My Cornish mackerel was juicy and satisfyingly smoky/salty, although I was extremely jealous of the Limousin beef remoulade my companion ordered, which was a loin fillet, perfectly rare and deliciously soft. The accompanying salads such as shaved fennel, peas, broad beans and a ricotta dressing were fresh and interesting. A plate with salad costs £7-£9 and is enough for lunch or a light pre-theatre dinner (the café is open until 10pm).

Pennethorne’s is just the place for when you want something better than a sandwich bar/chain café but don’t have the time, inclination or appetite for the full-on restaurant experience. Having said that, desserts were limited to a few pastries, which is a shame as a big wedge of homemade cake would be just the ticket with their single origin coffee. The main problem with the café is that, because of signage restrictions, if you were walking past the place along Waterloo Bridge Road, you simply wouldn’t know it’s there. Well, you do now.

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