Restaurant & Bar Design Talks:
Pennethorne’s, Somerset House


Our latest Design Talks event took place on Tuesday 10th of February at the newly opened Pennethorne’s Cafe Bar, designed by SHH, in London’s iconic Somerset House. The event brought together key experts from design and operations; Levy Restaurants, SHH and Somerset House to talk about the increasing importance of high-quality catering concepts within visitor attractions and the level of design thinking and detail needed to ensure success.

As well as a mixer, the event featured a short speech and question and answer series, featuring experts from Levy Restaurants, who spoke alongside SHH Architects and representatives from Somerset House, each presenting their perspective on the success of Pennethorne’s, as well as the challenges and complexities that arise when delivering food and beverage concepts within cultural attractions.

The speakers included: Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA (Association of leading Visitor Attractions) and experienced advocate for the tourism and heritage sector.

ALVA was delighted to attend this really useful networking event and share our experience of just how crucial food and beverage service is to delivering a great visitor experience at our member attractions. Our members know that a catering outlet which reflects their brand, their ethos, their stories and where great value (ideally locally sourced) good is delivered professionally and courteously can absolutely enhance the overall visitor experience and drive repeat business.

Bernard Donoghue

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Pennethorne’s at Somerset House is a great example of this; telling the story of one of Somerset House’s architects through restaurant design as well as through the choice of food, wine and other drinks.

Speaker Neil Hogan, Creative Director of SHH raised the importance of maintaining good working relations with the restaurant proprietors, working together to maximise the projects achievements and alleviate the constraints of fitting out the Grade I listed building. The protected status meant structural and electrical modifications were not allowed.

What also came to light was the importance of creating a modern restaurant offering that balances and enhances Somerset House’s prestigious reputation, whilst also acting as an extension of the visitor space. All spokespersons cited the crucial function of the project as a connective space, integrating the gallery, the building and the café area itself.

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Throughout their presentation it was clear that Levy Restaurants, SHH and Somerset House recognise the importance of this relationship, citing in turn the Café’s role in spreading publicity on social media and as an extension of the visitor experience, whilst also presenting viable competition to other high-street offerings as a food and beverage outlet in its own right. This was stressed, taking into account the prominence of the building’s other catering ventures, which include Skye Gyngell’s Spring and tapas restaurant Fernandez and Wells.

I thought it was an interesting presentation and a great event.

Richard Lewisohn (attendee)

Named for 19th century architect James Pennethorne, his influence and the cultural echo of his era can be seen throughout the interior and menu design as well as the restaurants branding. References to the buildings heritage are evident in the larder-style cuisine, inspired by the food of the European Grand Tour undertaken by Sir James, and the 50 cameos of him that adorn the fireplace. The separate ‘Drawing Room’ area offers a relaxing space that plays host to daily Somerset House meetings, as well as visiting guests enjoying artisan beverages.

A selection of Pennethorne’s prints, sourced from the RIBA archives, frame the feature wall, whilst deep purple and gold accents found in the walls, tables and banquette seating, blends the artistic inspiration with an elegant modern twist that is both unique and distinctive.

A key aspect of the design is the prominent lighting installation, custom-designed by SHH, that runs across both chambers, hanging above darkened mirrors designed to elongate the two-roomed space, unifying both the café and beverage areas in a manner that utilises the building’s layout and high windows to its full potential.

I’ve always thought that Somerset House was one of London’s nicest buildings, so the insight into how they approach not just their F&B spaces but their approach to tourism and business clients was quite inspiring!

Peter Veale, (Director) Firefly Lighting Design


Singular pendant lights are arranged in what SHH considers their take on ‘the modern chandelier’ whist geometric accents in the picture frames dress the space. Alongside this are a mixture of contemporary plants and vintage books. Thus creating a space that fuses simplicity and modernity with history and culture.

From the 6-week completion time to the success of the interior, it was immediately clear that Pennethorne’s Cafe has successfully established itself as a visitor space and restaurant in its own right, whilst also existing in harmony with the gallery and Somerset House itself.

We were very pleased to have provided such an exciting and thought-provoking event in such a successful venue and we’d like to thank Somerset House for hosting our first networking event of 2015. For more information about future events and new food and beverage spaces, sign up to our Newsletter.

by Jordan Lloyd

Images © Richard Lewisohn

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