Dining / Delicious surrender to University life

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IT was a bargain. For a penny you could pop by to enjoy coffee, the company of people from all levels of society and access to the latest newspapers. It was time to engage in serious discussion, indulge in a bit of gossip, and meet interesting, and often, eclectic people.

Wendy Johnson.
Wendy Johnson.
This was at a Penny University in 18th century London. Fast forward to November 2013 and a Penny University has popped up in Kingston, also inviting guests to settle in and enjoy the café’s offerings.

Six of us did just that – most of us had not been before. What would we discover with our dinner visit?

Penny University’s décor is unique. It features exposed red brick on which are funny looking woodland creatures (local artist), an old laundry tub, vases of perky flowers, and a wooden cabinet showcasing sensational sweets such as gluten-free lemon syrup cake ($5), all made with tender loving care by an aspiring 19-year-old friend of owners Ellie Raymond and Effie Kochinos.

Then there are communal tables, some with aged timber tops and chairs of all types, shapes and comfort levels. Nothing matches but everything goes together. It’s all designed to be homey and warm.

With the menu, starters hover around $18, mains range from $27 to $36 and desserts $16 to $24 (cheese board for two). Lots of gluten-free, dairy free and vegetarian options.

Our succulent Canadian scallops were pan seared and served with wilted baby beetroot leaves and a regional-style relish inspired by Chiu Chow in China.

We shared zucchini flowers stuffed with creamy goat’s cheese and roast pork belly and appreciated how Penny University considered the size of our party and adjusted the number of pieces on each starter dish to accommodate everyone. This is often missed by cafés, which is inconvenient for customers.

The braised beef cheeks was a hero main dish. How can you go wrong with a honey and soy dish slow cooked for six hours and served with creamy roasted garlic mash? Equally delicious was the salad of “magic” pan-tossed truffled mushrooms, potato, baby chard, asparagus, chevre and a leek and parmesan pancake. It was creative and refreshingly different.

Also creative was the vegetarian roasted cauliflower and wattleseed tortellini with coffee-roasted Dutch carrots and sage noisette. Lovely to see Australian native ingredients on the menu. The Quack Quack (you guessed it, duck) stir fry was five-spiced. A tad sweet we agreed. Other mains scored well, but not as high.

The wine list is not extensive but thoughtful. Would love to see an ACT red on the list (there’s a white and a bubbly).

Penny University is also a coffee-roasting establishment. It is open for coffee, breakfast and lunch through the week and for dinner Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Penny University, 15 Kennedy Street, Kingston, call 6162 1500.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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