I`ve lost count of the number of times I`ve walked, cycled or driven along this part of the Fulham Road and yet I`ve never actually noticed the Penny Black. Its discreet, unassuming exterior is easy to miss and it belies the quality of the experience that lies within.
The philosophy of Head Chef Jan Chanter and his team is to showcase the finest of British food. Sourcing its ingredients from UK farmers, the restaurant aims to bring Britain`s classics back to the forefront of diners` minds – and they`re not talking about sausage and mash or fish and chips; on the Penny Black`s menus you`ll find delights like toad in the hole, pork belly, oxtail soup and the finest British cheeses.
Don`t let the apparent simplicity of these dishes discourage you; while the Penny Black brings a number of old favourites to the heart of Chelsea, it does so with flair and precision.
We arrived quite early on a Wednesday night and, as we suspected, the restaurant was only half full. However, with good lighting and a calm, intimate atmosphere, it didn`t for a moment feel empty. We were greeted by enthusiastic staff who took our coats and showed us to our table. There was a distinct impression that these were people who cared a great deal about what they were doing – and they seemed intent on making us feel comfortable and welcome.
At the suggestion of our waitress, Stephanie, we decided to start with a glass of Taittinger, which we soaked up with some rather tasty homemade bread and butter. Stephanie was exceptional and had clearly been well briefed on both food and wine. When I asked her to suggest a white wine to accompany our starters, she was confident in recommending a delightful British white – a 2009 Ortega, Gribble Bridge from Biddenden in Kent. This was so good I intend to purchase a box! (For those who are interested in wine, the Penny Black Wine Club will launch on the 6th September, offering regular tastings, a loyalty scheme and some great discounts on wine to take home.)
So on to the food. To begin, Anna ordered squid salad while I opted for scallops with potatoes and black pudding. Anna`s squid was delicious, although we both felt the salad was a touch on the sharp side. My scallops, however, definitely took the prize. Scallops and black pudding is not an unusual combination, but these were among the best I`ve had – absolutely delicious. Washed down with the Ortega, I enjoyed this first course as much as any I can remember.
When it came to mains, Anna and I both struggled to pick a favourite. Luckily for us, two couples on a neighbouring table had ordered before us, and the rack of lamb and Beef Wellington looked amazing. That settled it. We ordered one of each and chose a carafe or Craggy Range, Pinot Noir to accompany them (the option of a carafe was a welcome feature of the Penny Black`s wine menu. A bottle each on a Wednesday night would have been ambitious!).
Neither main course disappointed. Beef Wellington is a personal favourite of mine and this was rich, perfectly cooked and very generous. Meanwhile the rack of lamb was spot on – pink and moist, and complemented by exquisite creamy sweet potato – there really was nothing to separate these dishes.
Despite being extremely full, we couldn`t resist a dessert to share. We chose raspberry cheesecake, which was light, fluffy and offered the ideal balance between sweet base and tangy fruit. We probably shouldn`t have finished it. But we did.
Despite ordering the most expensive dishes on the menu, starting with champagne and finishing with coffee, our bill was still less than £150 for two. A great deal anywhere in London; in this part of Chelsea, a true find.
Jim Green is a guest editor of Lussorian and director of the Card Business.
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