Pennethorne's At Somerset House

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Pennethornes Cafe Bar | Oh So London

You can’t beat that Friday feeling. And if you’re not quite ready to zip straight home come 5 o’clock, a café bar like Pennethorne's is not a bad place to begin the weekend.

A part of Somerset House, the clientele here is a mix of culture-seeking visitors and city workers in search of somewhere to nibble on sharing plates and put the world to right over a glass of wine.

We fitted into the latter category and my friend and I were looking for a place to natter as the weight of the working week lifted from our shoulders. We’d been invited to review Pennethorne’s and its central location and promise of sharing plates appealed. We agreed to give it a try.

On arrival, the bar is narrow and long with an outside area that looks out onto the start of Waterloo Bridge. Inside, modern touches like lines of lightbulbs, clusters of framed pictures and a light installation at the entrance, nod to the fact you’re in one of London’s most coveted arts and cultural centres. But the original architectural features, fireplaces and arched windows retain a lovely sense of charm. And of course, you only need to pop your head outside to marvel at those spectacular columns of Somerset House.

We ordered various platters – a plate of Cornish copper ham and bread, a cheeseboard, hake escabeshe, asparagus with a dipping mayonnaise, fig and apricot bread and duck liver on an orange brioche. As it arrived at our table, it soon became apparent our eyes were way bigger than our stomachs. But this colourful smorgasbord allowed for lots of dipping in and out of flavours, as we dipped in and out of conversation.

The cheeseboard was particularly good and those who really appreciate their cheese will be drawn to the the Occelli al Barolo. It looks purple, because it’s actually coated in pressed grapes, used to make Barolo wine in Piedmont, Italy. Once you slice through it, the flakey cheese has a fruity and sharp yet creamy texture and flavours. The manchego was great and the chutney and bread with salted butter were also fabulous. This, along with two glasses of red would make for an Oh So fabulous little treat in itself.

Similarly the citrusy brioche on which the duck liver pâté rested was quite an aquired taste and I’m still trying to decide whether a gamey tasting pâté should ever be served on a sweet, cake-like base.

Again, the hake escabeshe was a suprising kick to the tastebuds. This is a Mediterranean style dish whereby the fish is soaked in an acidic mixture before serving (in a similar way to cerviche). With cloves and super strong notes of orange, it was a little bit like Christmas in a bowl. But I do love it when food surprises you, and this certainly did that.

While there was enough bread before us to send an Atkins dieter into a panic, the apricot-based loaf was an absolute delight. I think I’d enjoy it even better in the earlier hours of the day with a cup of tea and lashings of butter.

The Reisling was a little too sharp for me. But the wine selection was generally very good, focusing on Spanish, French and Italian options and the service was great.

If you’re looking for that Friday night buzz, you might want to head a few hundred yards up the road to the pubs and bars of Covent Garden and Holborn as it’s a bit more subdued in here. But for a stylish and civilised setting, very polished service, and fresh, tasty platters, this is a rather lovely place to ease you into the weekend. Cheers.

Until next time x

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