The Penny Black: No Stamp of Approval

I visited the Penny Black last night on the Fulham road in Chelsea, which has only recently opened a couple of weeks ago. It’s selling itself as a “wholly British-focused high end London restaurant” and “a home away from home”. They also have the soon to be everywhere enomatic wine machine that enables you to purchase top end wines by the glass and half-bottle carafes without having to commit to a whole bottle.

Myself and “the Date” entered the restaurant, and our first impressions of the place were rather under-whelming. As you walk in, on the left hand side there is a seating area, which reminds of me of the areas in chinese and indian restaurants where you wait for your takeaway.The general decor is cheaply done with bright lights around the room. It could easily be mistaken for an upmarket indian restaurant, we would have just needed to be served some poppadoms.

The Head chef is Jan Chanter who had previously worked at The Atlantic Bar & Grill and Monte’s. First impressions aside, I was looking forward to tasting some well-executed, high-end comfort food. The menu has some classic British dishes, such as Beef Wellington, shepherd’s pie, braised oxtail and beef stew. It was interesting to note that apart from the Beef Wellington, there was not another steak dish, or even any chicken on the menu, not a big issue, but it’s just something that came to mind.

“The Date” had rock oysters from an unknown provenance, which were plump, fresh and tasted of the sea. The shallot vinegar was made with white wine vinegar instead of red which I thought was a bit unusual, and also no tabasco came with the dish. But apart from that, they were very pleasant. I had the Corned Beef Hash with a fried duck egg and pickled onions. It looked and smelled very tempting. The corned beef hash flavours worked well with the sharp vinegary onions and rich yolk.

Corned Beef Hash with Duck Egg and Pickled Onions (£8)

For the main course, we both ordered the Oxtail and shin of beef stew with herb dumplings (£19), which was on the of the cheaper main courses. I was quite surprised by the prices of the main courses. About half of them were reaching the £30 mark, which is near River Cafe prices. It made me think if some of the mains were meant for two people, but the waitress confirmed that they were all individual dishes.

Oxtail and Shin of Beef Stew with Herb Dumplings (£19)

The Oxtail and Beef shin stew arrived. I really wanted to like it, and from my experience , it’s pretty hard not to make a very tasty braised oxtail dish. But this just did not hit the mark at all. There was no sign of any meat in the dish, even if it had broken up into little pieces. The oxtail was not as tender as it should have been, having to cut it off the bone, instead of it nearly falling off. The dumplings were the size of little pebbles and the sauce had more of a bisto taste and consistency, rather than a hearty, meaty one.The overall taste just wasn’t flavoursome enough to class it anything apart from average. And for the price of £19, I thought was very poor. We did have a very nice £30 bottle of Merlot which the sommelier recommended, which helped us wash down the disappointment of the main course.

For dessert, we had a good selection of cheeses from Neal’s Yard, which were served with some tasty oat cakes and quince jelly.

There were lots of waiters and waitresses around the room, too many, but this is just a case of ensuring everything goes smoothly in the first couple of months, but the owner should really start to rein back on this if he wants the restaurant to still be there in a year. The service throughout was very friendly, efficient and attentive.

The atmosphere in the room was verging on dull and it was a full restaurant. There just didn’t seem to be any buzz, sense of enjoyment or excitement in the room, and this was on a friday night. We got the bill, which came to £124, so just over £60 per person. Which I thought was way over-priced for the quality of the food we received. I think one of the big problem’s with a place like this is, they have an idea but it isn’t extremely clear. They want to serve comfort food, fine. But just because it’s in an affluent area like Chelsea, do they think it deserves the price tag of nearly £30 for a main? Also the restaurant decor including the loos just do not match or merit the prices on the menu and wine list.

I really don’t know who is going to eat here more than once. I do not see the 18-30’s coming here for a fun, buzzy dinner. And I think the 30+ demographic will rather go to a classier italian or japanese restaurant instead of this, for the same prices.

Verdict:

Over-priced average British food, served in a narrow, cheaply decorated room with little atmosphere

The Penny Black

212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, SW10 9PJ

Tel: 0845 838 8998

Nearest tube: South Kensington

Meal for two including a bottle of wine and service: £124

The Penny Black Website

The Penny Black on Urbanspoon
The Penny Black Restaurant on Urbanspoon