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In for a penny…the first look at Kingston's Penny University

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“The first coffeehouses that originated in London in the 17th Century were called Penny Universities. People would pay a penny to come in, and once inside, had access to coffee, the company of others, newspapers, bulletins and the latest news and gossip.”

It was this idea of a cafe as a place for a community to come together that’s behind the latest cafe to fling open its chic timber bifolds in Kingston, Penny University. And with the first day of trade (yesterday, Tuesday 26 November) seeing hordes of people pack the stylish space, it seems Canberra is backing the concept.


It’s like walking into a Donna Hay set – gorgeous vintage pieces and curios sit comfortably alongside more modern features. An old laundry tub filled with ice holds glass jars of juice; a timber dresser that looks like it spent years happily ensconced in a country farmhouse is laden with freshly baked goods; wooden crates of fresh fruit adorn the white-tiled wall behind the counter; a mock fireplace positioned against an exposed red brick wall adds a sense of warmth to the back corner; and a communal table boasts an aged timber top and mismatched retro chairs.


When we spoke to owners, Effie Kochinos and Ellie Raymond, back in September, they told us they were going for an eclectic mix of industrial and vintage, with an emphasis is on homey and warm. They’ve nailed the brief. It’s a welcoming space, bursting with knick knacks that add personality to the space – there’s none of the minimalism that is so hip right now. And it’s the tiny details that reveal the love that went into creating this place.

The open-style kitchen adds to the feel of stepping into someone’s home – it’s bustling, alive with the noises that go with food preparation (and cleaning up) and an honest-to-goodness working space.  It’s a great experience just to watch Alex Siu (ex-Malamay) and his team in action. Service is fast and friendly, the team obviously hitting the ground running.


Effie and Ellie told us they were going for simple, homestyle, honest food inspired by different cultures. It’s an interesting menu, offering all day breakfast seven days, lunch, and dinner Thursday to Saturday nights, and sporting some cute names…from Quack Quack (five spiced duck stir fry with flat rice noodles, asian greens, coriander and fresh chilli) to the Smoked Chook Salad (‘pialligo’ farm’s smoked chicken salad with israeli cous cous, green beans, orange, fresh herbs & labneh) seen above. It was delicious – light, fresh yet filling. My only quibble was with the garnish curls of capsicum and shallot, which I thought was a bit RSL and at odds with the rest of the Penny University’s young personality. But really? I’m being totally picky. Maybe because the rest of the experience was pretty much faultless.

For breakfast, there are all the ‘old favourites’ you’d expect, but there are also some unexpected options, like Baked Miso Cured Snapper (served with avocado salsa, charred corn, sunny egg, toasted multigrain and toagarashi); Cazuela (soft poached eggs with spicy harissa baked beans, greens, pistachios, dukkah and labneh); and the Health Board (farmer joe’s muesli, honey infused yoghurt, seasonal fresh fruit, stewed rhubarb and shot of green juice). The vegetarian, gluten free and dairy free options are fantastic.


I sat at the back of the room, where I had a bird’s eye view of the very serious coffee roasting equipment. At least I think that’s what it was…as a non-coffee drinker, I’m pretty clueless. This, of course, means I can’t comment on the quality of the coffee, either, but with Allan Smith of Lonsdale Street Roasters fame in charge of roasting and staff education, it’s sure to be pretty damn good.

The back is also where you’ll find some gorgeous retro sinks, and the door that leads to a tiny outdoor courtyard that seats just six people. It’s gorgeous. I love it. A serene little escape from the busy cafe environment – I can’t wait to head down on a balmy evening and enjoy a quiet tipple.

So, how’d Effie and Elli go in their first big University test? Passed with flying colours. And we shouldn’t be surprised – these girls are veterans of the business despite their young age. Personally, I’ll be going back for further study…

the essentials

What: Penny University
Where: 15 Kennedy Street, Kingston
When: Monday to Wednesday 7am to 5pm; Thursday 7am til late; Friday 8am til late; Sunday 8am til 4pm.
Contact: 6162 1500
Web: Penny University on Facebook.

And by the way, as usual, I paid for my own meal. I am just naturally very enthusiastic and love my food.

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4 Responses to In for a penny…the first look at Kingston's Penny University

Trish says: 3 December, 2013 at 10:38 am

I went yesterday to meet a friend – it was lovely! Really great coffee, and the fruit toast was delicious. Can’t wait to go back for a proper meal.

Amanda Whitley says: 3 December, 2013 at 10:48 am

It’s a lovely place…I think the only thing the team will need to watch is their pricing. We went for dinner on Saturday night (which was yummy) and my very small lamb dish cost me $38, which is really getting up there…

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