Is London really ‘All That’? Or can we learn something from the Germans?

cologne river

London’s My Lobster went on a bit of a trip recently. This trip was to the far away land of Germany, specifically to the awesome city that is Cologne. Living in London, we (mostly) all think that this is THE city to be in – London has it all, doesn’t it? When people gawp at the fact we have chosen to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, one overwhelmed by tourists, high rents and delayed trains, we brush off their ignorance. Sometimes, it takes a visit to a completely different place, in this case, Cologne, to look at London in a new light. I think we could learn a thing or two from our German counterparts….

 

Cologne vs London

 

Train prices:

London: 40 min train ride from London Liverpool Street to Stanstead airport: £22 (return)

Cologne: Half-hour train ride from Cologne city centre to Bonn/Koln airport: €2.80 (one way)

 

Beer/Bar Etiquette

London: queue for approx. 30 mins at the bar, elbowing punters en route, to pay a fiver for a mediocre pint.

Cologne: in the Brauhaus, people come to your table with beer, and simply tally on your beer mat how much you’ve drunk (at a rate of about €1.70 for (an admittedly small) 0.2l Kolsch right out of the brewery)

 

Live Jazz

London: approx. £10 entry to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Cologne: free jazz every night at Papa Joe’s Jazz-Lokal, with all drinks being a couple of euros more expensive than other places in order to cover costs

 

Supermarket Booze

London: £7-8 for a bottle of fizz

Cologne: €5 for a pretty decent bottle of Prosecco

 

Student Love

London: about 10% discount for those of us slaving away at uni, and paying £9,000 a year tuition fees.

Cologne: consistently discounted entry prices at all museums, galleries etc. (some at nearly 50% off regular adult price). Oh, and university here is FREE people!

 

Perhaps London could take a leaf out of Cologne’s book. Of course, I’m in no way advocating that we Londoners immediately start sporting Lederhosen or having sausages on the menu at near every restaurant (note: this is not being stereotypical, these things actually happen in Cologne), but maybe if transport was cheaper, pubs were more chilled, people were more trustworthy and education was free we wouldn’t get that look of shock, horror and disbelief from non-Londoners when we say we live in London. Instead, they would say ‘well aren’t you lucky, living in a place with such good principles and ideas. One might say, slightly German?’ I wait with bated breath…

 

P.S. further comparison in the area of stairs: if you think that Covent Garden station is a bit hard work with their 193 stairs, try the Cologne cathedral – 533 steps up a narrow spiral staircase (not pretty when you meet a school trip coming down when you are attempting the epic journey upwards). TFL, do not take on this idea for future tube stations.

Brunch at The Black Penny, Covent Garden

Black Penny

Brunch is one of those fabulous concepts that makes you feel somewhat sophisticated without the need for dressing up, parting with huge amounts of cash, or forfeiting an early night. Perhaps that is why the popularity of the breakfast-lunch convergence has increased significantly over the past couple of years: Instagram is now awash with Prosecco selfies and pancake snaps destined to make anyone munching on a solitary bowl of cornflakes green with envy.

A visit from friends, not so au fait with the ways of the big city, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get on the brunch bandwagon. Having had a lovely coffee date in The Black Penny a few weeks back, I decided to revisit this gem of a spot to see what mid-morning offerings they provided. So on Sunday morning, we trekked the onerous 5 minutes to Great Queen Street, where the fairly covert café is situated.

Only 5 minutes from Holborn station, past the gaudy fronts of various chains, The Black Penny revels in its subtlety. In fact, many people, as I did at first, walk past it without batting an eyelid; the few tables outside, black frontage, and small sign reading ‘The Black Penny’ could easily go unnoticed by a passer-by headed for the lights of Covent Garden. But the hidden vibe, the feeling that you’ve come across a city secret, is part of this café’s charm.

Rustic décor, and an immediately inviting counter of freshly baked goods means that on entry, the café feels homely yet cool, quirky but comfortable. Those wise ones who have realised this are already sitting down enjoying a fry up and a latte or a croissant and a cappuccino. What also has drawn a good few punters in is the ridiculously good offer of Prosecco: have brunch at this café and a glass of bubbly is only 1p. Yes, you read that right – ONE WHOLE PENNY. Clearly playing on the namesake, and that is no bad thing.

The coffee, I have to say is second to none. Smooth and almost chocolatey, this is a million miles from a bitter filter or your more usual Sunday morning Nescafe. It really is noticeable when you have a Proper Coffee like this; you start to doubt the authenticity of a Starbucks latte and realise this is what the real stuff is meant to be like.

Sweet-toothed Friend opted for French toast with caramelised apples and ricotta, whilst Savoury Friend chose the chorizo baked beans with goat’s cheese and an egg. One for a classic, poached eggs on sourdough was my brunch of choice, and a fabulous one at that – simple, yet so easy to get wrong. Here, however, it was so right. We agreed that The Black Penny was perfection on all three fronts. Price-wise, this is as good as you’ll get for a stunning brunch, fabulous coffee and a quirky independent café in central. Expect to pay £10-12 for a delicious mid-morning fuelling that will last you till late afternoon.

Despite not making the most of the Prosecco offer, brunch here is available until 4pm at the weekends, and a post-midday glass of bubbles may indeed feature in the coming months. Service is fantastic – utterly efficient, ridiculously friendly and that manner which makes you feel not only like a customer, but a valued friend. The Black Penny is made all the more appealing by the fact it is on my doorstep: it’s basically my local, and I will indeed be frequenting this coffee haven a lot more for my caffeine hit. Whether you make a special trip of a weekend for brunch here (definitely worth it) or are in need of a sit down and a cuppa when negotiating the streets of Covent Garden, (step away from the Pret), The Black Penny should be firmly penned in your Black Book.

http://theblackpenny.co.uk/