Drinking to a fine art: Pennethorne’s Café Bar


Mark Ludmon visits the new Pennethorne’s Café Bar at London’s Somerset House

In the mid-19th century, an extension was built on the side of the grand Somerset House on the north bank of the Thames in London. Known as the New Wing, it was designed by architect James Pennethorne who has now inspired a new café-bar that has been created inside the popular gallery and arts complex.

Pennethorne’s has taken inspiration from the young James’s Grand Tour of Europe, when he visited France and Italy from 1824 to 1825. This is not only reflected in the choice of Old World wines but in the cocktails such as That’s Amore – a twist on a Negroni using Plymouth Sloe Gin – and the Nutty Martini made with Frangelico, pomegranate syrup and Bacardi 8 Year Old. The bar also champions traditional British ingredients, offering Nyetimber sparkling wine from West Sussex alongside prosecco and champagne as well as a Quince Old Fashioned made with Somerset cider brandy, quince jam and bitters.

Another cocktail is the Corretto Martini, with grappa, coffee liqueur and a double espresso, inspired by the Italian alcohol-infused caffè corretto. Coffee is another focus for Pennethorne’s, with a range of single-origin roasts, including a different coffee of the month, as well as a house blend from UCC’s Threesixty Coffee range.

The food is also inspired by the architect’s travels along with a modern English twist, developed by head chef Richard Robinson. It features deli-style small plates throughout the day, including cured meats that can be seen hanging in the kitchen, as well as pastries, puddings and speciality breads baked daily on site under head baker Michela Potesta.

The 85-cover space, split over two drawing rooms, is run by Levy Restaurants, part of Compass Group, and was designed by leading hospitality specialist SHH. The richly decorated interior features classic-style elements such as dark woods, bronze, vintage framed pictures, a classic fireplace and banquettes in deep blue velvet and leather. Sections of the blue-coloured walls are offset by 50 white cameos, each 25cm high, based on James Pennethorne’s portrait.

pennethornes private dining

There is also a private dining room, the Drawing Room (pictured above), opposite the main café bar, suitable for groups of up to 30, with bespoke menus available. Also designed by SHH, it features single and double “love seats” by Ercol in two-tone pale and black timber. Antiqued bronze mirrors and classic 19th-century references are offset by contemporary lighting, including a pair of Ruben light fittings suspended from two brass poles hanging from the ceiling on leather straps.

With its high ceilings and tall windows looking out towards Waterloo Bridge, the main café bar is filled with natural light in the daytime but becomes a moodier setting for wine and cocktails at night. Open Monday to Saturday from morning till 10pm, Pennethorne’s Café Bar is a fitting accompaniment to Somerset House’s dining destinations which include Tom’s Kitchen from chef Tom Aikens and new restaurant Spring from chef Skye Gyngell. You might even find you have time to check out some of the art.

Pennethorne’s Café Bar, Somerset House New Wing, Lancaster Place, London WC2R 1LA
Tel: 020 3751 0570

Pennethorne's cocktails

Behind the scenes
Design: SHH
Fit-out: Portview
Lighting: Twentytwentyone
Furniture: UHS Group, The Furniture Practice
Artwork: RIBApix

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