Penny Black on London’s Fulham Road aims to remind us all what great British food tastes like. This is not the realm of bangers and mash or fish and chips, or so its website informed us prior to reviewing. Hg2‘s inquisitive appetite was piqued.
There is nothing ostentatious about the restaurant itself. In fact, we walked past it at first, the black awning melded with that of the ironmongers next door. There are no gimmicks or ‘themes’, nothing jumps up and down for your attention or patronage, nothing screams ‘eat here’; this is an understated, yet undeniably elegant restaurant, which loses none of the essentials or quality for its simplicity. The food is enough to ensure that there will always be bums on seats – if Penny Black cooks it, they will come. The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the neighbouring tables as each new course was delivered to them were a testament to that. It was like being present for a firework display, although these were gastronomic pyrotechnics.
We must admit that we chose from the menu partly out of curiosity (and partly because of our undying, unwavering love of scallops – even our bizarre past encounter with said mollusc smothered in a cheddar cheese sauce didn’t dampen our devotion). The scallops were to be accompanied by black pudding and horseradish — we honestly couldn’t fathom how that combination of flavours would work. We had to try it. And we can honestly say, we’re so happy that we did.
We weren’t such a fan of the baked Dorset crab for the entrée, another one of our curious flights of ordering fancy, but the asparagus was grilled to perfection, the duck-fat chips were excellent and we think we may have fallen in love with the salad dressing.
The cheeseboard, on the other hand, was a mighty thing. Taking the entire expanse of our table for two and standing a good inch and half high, it dwarfed the other dessert that was brought to us. With six different cheeses – supplied by Covent Gardens’ Neal’s Yard – quince jelly, celery, apple slices and oatcakes (although the latter was perhaps too soft a choice of biscuit to accompany this particular selection), I was truly in a heaven du fromage. British fromage though, obviously.
Despite the staff being relaxed and informal, as meal went on we found ourselves speaking the good old Queen’s English more and more emphatically. I think our patriotic pride must have been triggered by the fantastic British fare. Our vowels began to elongate and our consonants became more clipped and pronounced. It’s a good thing we had no more room for food and left when we did — I think we were moments away from a ‘bally’ or a ‘jolly spiffing’ finding its way into our conversation.
Penny Black truly brings us the best of British, right down to the bubbles in the sparkling wine. The Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs, which we had at the beginning of our meal, is actually from Sussex of all places, and in blind tastings is more often than not mistaken for some of the better French champagnes. We can’t recommend Penny Black highly enough; it’s bally brilliant.
Buy Hg2 London here