It's the spot for a nice read or a quick work session, with a book, wifi, plugs and all. Alternatively, drop in with friends or colleagues for great coffee chats over lush breakfasts, and decadent cakes.
Located on Great Queen Street that is lined with boutiques, and a stone's throw away from Covent Garden, Black Penny blends seamlessly into the street's aesthetic with its clean black storefront that frames its large window wall. A peek into the café and it confirms the spot-on London aesthetic. Wooden flooring, bare brick walls, and industrial-looking high tables. It's 10:30 in the morning, mid-week, and you walk in with the floors gently squeaking under you. A table is easy to find at this time of day, and day of the week, try again at noon or on the weekends and you'll be in the queue for a while.
It's never rushed at Black Penny. There is always a slow, comforting hum that seems to envelop the café, its servers and frequenters. In other words, service is slow and its simply accepted as so. It is the perfect atmosphere if you have some time to spare, alone with a book or laptop in hand, with a colleague you'd like a quiet chat with, or with a few close friends.
A visit to Black Penny is always a nice little treat.
A bit of history
Black Penny takes its name from the 17th-century English reference of coffeehouses as 'Penny Universities' where a cup of this golden booster can be sought for just a penny. It was a place for discussions on art, literature, and politics that welcomes even those unable to attend university - entry into this intellectual space was only a penny after all. Whilst such animated discussions are no longer commonplace, Black Penny pays tribute to the history of coffeehouses through its artwork and placement of leather-bound books in its main dining room. Like I said, Black Penny is a great place to be if you are feeling quietly creative or social with like-minded people.
Some history of coffee is also reflected onto the menu here. In particular, it honours Ozdemir Pasha, a 16th-century Ottoman governor, who brought coffee from Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) to Istanbul where Turkish coffee was to be born. The drink and social culture of coffeehouses quickly spread around Europe and became a constitutive part of London's intellectual society in the late 17th-century. Inspired by the person who brought coffee and its delights to Europe, many Mediterranean flavours and West Asian spices are sprinkled throughout the menu. There is even a dish named after Pasha. This brings us to the main topic of discussion - the menu.
It took some will power, I would say, to try most of the offerings on the menu. The breakfasts at Black Penny are those you would go back for and never seem to be able to get enough of. Or at least that's been the case for me. From the gloriously lush menu, 'The Gatherer' and 'Crispy Duck Hash' always tickled my fancy.
'The Gatherer' - It's a vegetarian breakfast, but one that leaves you so satisfied you wouldn't even be thinking about meat. As someone who can't get past the overwhelming amount of protein on a traditional Full English, this vegetarian take on breakfast by Black Penny is the perfect alternative. It has the right balance of greens, protein, good fats, and carbs that any health nut would appreciate. Whilst many things that scream health are usually not the most tasty, 'The Gatherer' is an exception. The quality of the ingredients is evident from the colours and smells that jump out of the plate. The bright orange egg yolks and firm whites tell you that the eggs are so fresh you almost feel bad. Sweet tomatoes are halved and chargrilled, bursting with just a prick of your fork. The spinach is always cooked to perfection: soft, mysteriously silky, and well seasoned. The slices of grilled halloumi are neither rubbery nor squeaky - a sign of quality and proper cooking. Don't even get me started on the mushrooms which I always save for last. Underneath this pile of gems, each a wonder to taste, hides the main star of the dish: butter beans on sourdough toast.
The beans may not sound like much after that colourful description of the vegetables, but they are earthy and packed full of flavour thanks to the spices that go into it. I'm guessing fennel and paprika. The beans are piled on top of the light and airy sourdough, which is perfect for mopping up runny egg yolks.
Once you've taken a bite of every component of this dish, it then becomes a game of finding the best pairings within the plate. It may be an idiosyncrasy of mine, but definitely a fun one that your palate would appreciate. I'd say, butter beans with a bit of bread, a knob of halloumi, and if you can fit it onto your fork, a slither of egg. Consume in one bite and voila - paradise. The flavours and textures will go wild in your mouth and its the perfect time to savour the bite, pick up your book and read a sentence whilst you chew through it all. The tomatoes and spinach are great palate cleansers to keep things fresh and interesting when the earthiness of the rest of the plate edges towards monotony. And like I said, mushrooms come last. It's the treat at the end, a one bite wonder.
If that's not enough flavour for you, there's another spicy one available - 'Crispy Duck Hash'. A beautiful mix of cubed sweet potato, fresh chilli, spring onion, crispy duck skins and pulled duck brought together by a runny poached egg. The heat of this dish always surprises me. You tend to eat this dish quickly since you'll be stabbing at the sweet potato to calm the heat, and swatching bits of duck in the golden yolk.
Other notable mentions on the menu include their 'Wild Mushroom Polenta Hash' and 'Ozdemir Pasha' (both pictured). The mushroom hash is always a nice option if you are looking for a light lunch, and the namesake dish of Black Penny's muse is a clean and satisfying plate that pays tribute to its inspiration with West Asian flavours.
If you are always in a rush and waking up early on the weekends for their brunch is too much effort, I suggest popping into Black Penny for a takeaway lunch box on a weekday. You will get a range of meats and salads to choose from and everything, as always, is bursting with freshness, textures and flavours. For a quick, quality taste of Black Penny, this is not a bad alternative.
Also on offer is their selection of cakes, brownies, and cookies. Personally, I am a fan of their carrot cake and red velvet cake. If you happen to spy through their big windows either cakes standing proudly on their cake stand, I do suggest popping in for a little nibble.
Black Penny is a place you'd wish to be in your neighbourhood or vicinity of work. It is also a place you'd wish no one discovers. Quietly and consistently top quality, I hope you get to visit it on an off-day.