Review: Black Penny, Surry Hills

You know you’re old when your friends invite you out for drinks and a casual late dinner and instead of feeling excited, you just think longingly of your dressing gown and your warm bed. Given that I haven’t quite hit the big three oh yet and thus have no reason to start thinking about applying for the old age pension, I forced myself to get a little bit excited, put on some real clothes, and schlep out to the small bar Black Penny in Surry Hills for a Saturday night out.

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K and I got there on time, which naturally means ‘half an hour before everyone else’, so we settled down with some drinks to wait for our friends. I just had a simple lemonade, but he spent some time perusing the beers, ciders and ginger beers menu before choosing the Northern Beaches-based Brookvale Union Ginger Beer. Despite the hefty price tag on this local brew, K was disappointed to find that it didn’t taste all that different from a simple Bundaberg Ginger Beer.

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Once others started arriving, a number of beers, wines and spirits started flowing to our table (order and pay at the bar!). One friend who was feeling a little under the weather chose to have a whiskey tasting, featuring lesser-known whiskies such as the Big Black Cock. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not quite game enough to play with it or tease it out…

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If you order something off Black Penny’s food menu, you get presented with your custom order number to place on your table for their staff to bring your food out to you. Ours was Michaelangelo and a friend had Raphael – quite the pair! It makes me wonder what happens when they have any more than four food orders at any given time – do they move onto other action figurines like He-Man? Do Doctor Barbie and Astronaut Barbie get a showing as well?

Crispy pork belly bites with burnt orange and cardamom glaze, $16
Crispy pork belly bites with burnt orange and cardamom glaze, $16

Given that we had had a little snack before we headed out for our late dinner, K and I chose to simply share an entree and a main and keep it relatively light. (Also, we wanted to go for a late dessert at Erciyes down the road, because I never spend time in the area without buying a walnut dessert pide to go!)

Our entree was the Crispy Pork Belly Bites – little squares of roasted pork belly topped with the crunchiest salty crackling. Unfortunately the rest of the pork didn’t quite live up to the promise of the crackling, as it had been overcooked and parts of it were quite dry.

Vegan stack - roasted field mushroom, eggplant, toasted brussel sprouts, bush spiced cous cous, basil, chilli and bush tomato sauce, $18
Vegan stack – roasted field mushroom, eggplant, toasted brussel sprouts, bush spiced cous cous, basil, chilli and bush tomato sauce, $18

Our healthy choice for our main was the Vegan Stack. I have a colleague who is vegan gluten-free and I often make the mistake of thinking that her diet is really boring. When you have options like this available to you though, it’s really not a terrible lifestyle choice! This was a highlight, with a thick and juicy mushroom topped with roasted eggplant and tomato, as well as an amazing spiced tomato sauce that mixed really well with the cous cous. I really enjoyed this dish – it felt really clean on the palate, and filling too.

The main highlight of Black Penny is its extensive drinks menu, something that I find hard to take advantage of as a non-drinker. If you like a cocktail or two, and don’t mind the idea of a spirits tasting, this is the place for you. If you’re solely after food, there’s probably better and cheaper alternatives available in the area.

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