Penny Black for Dinner, Chelsea – restaurant review

The Fulham Road isn’t my usual hunting ground, although it’s well served by public transport and easily accessible, but after my recent dining experience I may well become a habitué of that neighbourhood. Penny Black sits at number 212 as a tastefully understated icon of real British Food, and is unique in several regards.

The name comes from the stamp, or more accurately some prints of that philatelic classic. It wasn’t a long-lived symbol of Victorian communication but it was a trail-blazer, and the eponymous restaurant might well become just that for the culinary scene in this area. Tony Ho and his two partners have 3 life-times worth of experience in opening restaurants, so longevity can reasonably be assured.

Penny BlackThe facade is in fact quite muted: a vision of charcoal grey and simple frosted windows. Those windows do hide the interior somewhat, but I rather favour the anonymity and those windows could become a trade-mark for future restaurants – well, I can imagine that anything this good is bound to become a small and classy chain.

There were a couple of tables outside and those were already occupied by diners enjoying a glass of British fizz chosen from the quite remarkable wine list, in fact a chunky catalogue offering many noteworthy wines, almost all by the glass. Tony Ho has a passion for wine, and that’s proving to be an asset now that he has his own establishment.

One enters to find that mysterious interior is in fact contemporary and welcoming. A small lounge area has become popular for pre-meal drinks, and for leisurely coffees after what is sure to be a copious and full-on feed. Hospitality is generous here and one is bound to linger. Tony explained that they wanted to create a home-from-home for their guests – the foodie equivalent of the old-fashioned pub for the drinking fraternity. A place to bring the family for Sunday lunch (soon to be reviewed here).

The décor is tasteful and unfussy with aubergine and white walls which sport not only those Penny Blacks but other pop-art prints and a rather rude Salvador Dali. (Sit your granny under that and she will never notice, although she will wonder why everyone is smiling at her.) Crisp white linen reinforces the impression that this is probably going to be a fine dining restaurant – traditional food but a high-end experience.

Penny Black shrimpsI would describe the menu as British, comforting, vibrant and inspiring.  It’s not retro but it is definitely traditional. The ingredients are fresh and seasonal, and showcase the best from these shores and inland as well. Favourite and simple dishes, and some innovations.

It was a hot evening so a salad was on the cards for this sticky reviewer. Ham, goat’s cheese and peaches garnished with mixed leaves was a substantial plateful. The ham was hand carved, moist and delicious, the cheese tangy and the peaches ripe, sweet and summery.  A flavourful introduction to the high standards of both presentation and style.

My guest chose Potted Devon shrimps, watercress, and wholemeal toast. The shrimps had the real taste of the sea. The recipient of this bounty was born and bred on the coast and he proclaimed this seafood dish to be as good as his childhood memories of Sunday teatime. A must-try whenever it’s on the menu.

Penny Black beefToad in the Hole was my main course. This isn’t a dish with which to be cheffy. Real toads and a batter made with crushed Mongolian blue wheat flour isn’t the way to go when preparing such a British standard. The reality at Penny Black was just what you would hope to find: an individual pud with three well-seasoned and meaty bangers, a garnish of lightly cooked carrots and broccoli, and gravy on the side. I would describe this as “right” and that’s just how it should be.

The Beef Wellington here is already a signature dish and it’s easy to see why. This was a manly meal of tender and pink-tinged meat encased in flaky pastry. This is the posh face of standard British cuisine. It is, in my experience, a difficult dish to do well at home and one best left to the experts. Meat isn’t  cheap and you don’t want to ruin it so come to Penny Black instead. My guest was glowing with replete satisfaction… but he still had space for dessert.

What could be more comforting than Bread and Butter Pudding? It was a regular highlight for dinner at grandma’s.  It’s an economic dessert and a comforting stunner. It should be custardy and unctuous and piping hot; this one ticked all the boxes.

Penny Black will stick longer than the stamp ever did. One can try and analyse the reasons it will, but it’s probably enough to say that it’s quite simply everything  a good British restaurant should be. It has already attracted followers who first came out of curiosity, but who return because the food and the service will be predictably good.

Opening Hours
Tuesday to Saturday: 12 noon – 3pm Lunch, 6pm – 11pm Dinner
Sunday: 12 noon – 10:30pm Lunch and Dinner
Closed Mondays

Penny Black Restaurant
212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London SW10 9PJ
Phone: 0845 838 8998
Visit Penny Black here


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018