Lunch at The Penguin in Leek

An average establishment lacking in direction.


Last Saturday we went for lunch at The Penguin in Leek. It's got quite a reputation locally as being a great place to go, so we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Anneka had, as always, booked a table so we could actually sit inside. It's only a tiny place, with three tables - they have tables outside, but who in their right mind would sit outside and eat lunch in January?!

When we arrived, the other two tables were taken, so we were glad we'd booked. We'd already taken a look at the menu, so we knew what we wanted. Anneka went to order, as it was easier for her from where she was sitting (and she was treating me!) The woman taking our order did not seem to understand when Anneka ordered. She asked for the avocado sandwich for me (which is roasted vegetables, avocado and vegan mayonnaise) and was asked "Do you just want avocado?" Anneka pointed out that she meant the item on the menu - because, you know, that's what it is! Then we were told that they only had white bread. This was rather disappointing as I prefer wholemeal (or seeded where possible) - and there is a bakery in town that sell delicious bread, plus many places within walking distance where they could have stocked up. If we were arriving shortly before they closed, I could understand, but this was the middle of the day. Anneka ordered the vegan miso soup with rice balls. Again, she was met with a blank expression and had to point to the item on the menu. As we sat waiting, they started cooking some bacon for another customer. The café has no extractor fan, so soon all we could smell was frying animal carcass. When you're both vegetarians, this is not good. It was bloody rank, and the smell of cooking meat makes me feel sick. So far, our visit here was not going well...

Anneka also ordered our drinks. Mine was a 'melon crush' smoothie - melon, orange, lime and mint. Anneka had a matcha tea with roasted rice. Our drinks arrived, and mine had a plastic straw. This is a pet peeve of mine, because a straw is totally unnecessary for this kind of smoothie - it's just not thick enough to require one. It's a waste of plastic and just adds to the environmental catastrophe that we as a species are causing. Anneka's tea arrived in a rather contemporary tea pot (which I don't have a photo of) and a traditional Japanese teacup.

Anneka enjoyed the matcha tea - so much so that when a top up of the hot water was offered, she took it. I can't make my mind up about the smoothie though. The mint was a little overpowering, and crowded out the other flavours. I think a bit less mint would bring a better balance to the drink. When our lunch arrived shortly after, I couldn't help but notice something rather odd about the rice balls...

Yep - it's a triangle. I mean, come on! If you're going to advertise something called 'balls' shouldn't they be round?? Oh well... Anneka really enjoyed the soup and the rice. My sandwich arrived at the same time, and I was a little underwhelmed. There was no effort made to present it, no garnish, no inspiration. (I rearranged the sandwich on the plate to take a better photo - otherwise all you'd see would be a slice of white bread from above!)

I spent a little time opening the sandwich to see what the roasted vegetables were. The red onion is obvious, but there was also courgette, mushrooms and kale. The avocado was a tiny bit under-ripe, but I can't blame the café for that. Anyone who has ever used avocado knows what a pain in the arse it is! The vegetables were nice, but the surprising standout for me was the vegan mayonnaise. I'm not really a fan of mayo, but this was really nice. Not too thick or gloopy, and just a little more vinegary than dairy mayo. I quite enjoyed it, aside from the white bread.

While we were sat eating, we overheard the woman tell a customer about the cakes they had in. Neither of us were really paying much attention until we heard "courgette and lime cake." We love courgette and lime cake! Ears suitably pricked up, Anneka got up to order one each, before they sold the last three! When it arrived, it came with a fork - something which so many places forget. It looked promising, with a slither of lime on the top.

Sadly, the only lime part was the slither and the little bit of icing on top. The rest of the cake was a bit of a let down. It had poppy seeds, which we like, but was dry and bland. Rather disappointing sadly.

Overall, The Penguin is ok but we couldn't see what all the fuss was about. The matcha tea, soup and the tasty sandwich filling saved this tiny café from getting one star. However, we wont bother going here again. The seats were incredibly uncomfortable wooden benches, with tiny thin cushions to sit on. I think one of the main problems here though is that there is a general lack of focus. Is it European? Is it Japanese? No - it's a perculiar combination of the two. I think the two woman who now run it are Japanese, so it would make more sense if it was a Japanese café. There's nothing like that around here, so it would be not only unique, but also suited to their background. In fact, I think it would probably be much better!

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