Eat Here: Pennethorne’s, Somerset HouseBy Matilda Long
Somerset House, London stalwart and architectural icon, is fixed firmly on the radar of every capital dweller, visitor and admirer. Tourists flock through the gates, doe-eyed couples make their annual ice skating pilgrimage, and arty types nod wisely at carefully-curated exhibitions. Despite this hardly hush-hush reputation, taking a seat inside new café-cum-restaurant Pennethorne’s and peeking out at the elbows crashing on Waterloo Bridge, I felt I’d found a precious little secret.
Housed in the recently-refurbished New Wing, high arching windows spill light over a suitably chic interior. The navy walls and exposed bulbs are just trendy enough, while the Victorian artwork and sky-high ceilings are all grace and elegance. Even though you could throw your fork out of the window and hit The Strand (not advised), it’s still a corner of calm and serenity. It’s open all day, from morning coffee to weary nightcap, but it’s the evening offering that tempted me inside.
I’d strongly advise inviting a companion with poor time keeping skills to allow a few minutes of solo people watching, pre-prandial in hand. The cocktails are surprisingly reasonable (from £4.75) for this part of town, but lip-smackingly good. The ‘That’s Amore’ was boozy blend of Sloe Gin, Martini Rosso and Campari – the addition of Sloe Gin giving what would otherwise be a bog standard Negroni and wintry edge. Beer drinkers will find a selection of craft ale and lager, and the wine list is a solid French and Italian selection, with one English fizz thrown in.
The dinner menu consists of small plates and sharing platters, inspired by the European travels of Sir James Pennethorne – 19th century architect of the new wing as well as the establishment’s namesake – meaning Italian and French favourites given an English makeover. My friend and I ordered a greedy selection of cured meats, cheeses and bready things, with heavenly results. The mushrooms on toast were a favourite, richly drenched as they were in cream and Madeira. The potted aubergine was spiced and sweet, and a great accompaniment to the Berkswell cheese – a nutty English take on parmesan. We wolfed through a gloriously oozing Vacherin, and managed to find room for the tasty chunks of Iberico ham. Any leftover specks were mopped up with handfuls of pillowy bread, made fresh in the in-house bakery.
Whether for a morning coffee, a lazy lunch, an afternoon sugar hit or a wine-soaked dinner with friends, make tracks straight for this Strand-side gem before everyone else does. Delicious food, sinful cocktails and a gorgeous atmosphere smack in the centre of London sure won’t stay secret for long.