Cardiff’s hottest new restaurant in years has finally opened its doors.
Sorry, I mean Penarth's...
Restaurant James Sommerin is the spanking new, eponymous restaurant of decorated chef James Sommerin.
Caerleon born Sommerin held a Michelin star for 7 years whilst at the helm of Crown at Whitebrook, making him one of the daddies of Welsh cooking.
After months of delays, Sommerin’s new gaff in the newly built Beachcliff development on Penarth Esplanade is open for business. It’s so new that some of the building is still covered in scaffolding.
Whilst the dining room is smack bang opposite an impressive vista of the Severn Estuary, the best view to be had is into the kitchen through a window in the back of the dining room. It’s rather therapeutic to watch the kitchen team serenely doing their thing whilst the orders come in thick and fast.
In fact, the sea view is partially blocked by high-backed leather banquettes that run along the windows – somewhat of a missed opportunity.
Whilst the view is obscured, there’s no hiding Sommerin’s talent. His stellar cooking combines first-rate classical technique with clever flourishes and interesting ingredients.
On the basis of just one meal, I’d confidently say that Cardiff (sorry Penarth) now has a destination restaurant to call its own.
The menu offers a choice of 3 tasting selections to be taken by the whole table; a 5 courser for £55, 7 courses for £70 and a surprise 10-course menu for £85.
We opted for the 7 courses.
Amuse bouches included an intensely cheesy and light gougere, a dainty truffle arancino and a sweet corn panna cotta topped with smoked haddock and crispy bacon.
Next up was a little dish of indulgently cheesy and beery Welsh rarebit cream. A scattering of toasted rice provided crunch whilst a soldier was ideal dipping fodder.
A heavily-laden plate of warm white & wholemeal bread for the table was a cracking alternative to a one-time proffered bread basket. Whilst it wasn’t the most adventurous selection, it meant I was never short of something with which to wipe my plate clean.
The first substantial course comprised of a perfectly al dente raviolo filled with creamy pea soup and accompanied by fresh peas, fragrant deep-fried sage leaves and salty ham crumbs.
The ultimate cheese on toast followed; oozing Perl Wen topped toast was accompanied by asparagus cream, buttery asparagus pieces, truffle foam and wild mushrooms.
The first meat course continued the brilliance. Slow cooked, deeply meaty shredded oxtail was joined by caramelised onion pieces, sweet onion and parsnip purees, meaty jus, pearl barley in a vibrant green parsley sauce and a parsnip skin crisp.
The only fish course of the night also happened to be the only dud of the meal. A piece of watery and flabby smoked cod was joined by under-seasoned egg yolk, slightly too crunchy lentils, a few bits of cauliflower and a non-descript sauce. In fact, some interesting flavoured foraged leaves were the best thing on the plate.
A phenomenal plate of pork forgave everything. Blushing loin, fatty belly and unctuous shredded head all put in an appearance.
A super-light brie and vanilla cream provided an ingenious segue between savoury and sweet. The cleverly balanced dish was topped with finely diced apple and delicate crisps.
Dessert, another inspired combination of sweet and savoury, was unquestionably my favourite dish of the night.
A subtle anise flavoured parfait was sandwiched between a golden biscuit base and a vibrant Del Monte-esque pineapple ring. A spiced shard of caramel, finely diced cubes of ras el hanout infused pineapple and a couple of sprigs of dill completed the picture.
Teas and coffees were of course ordered to secure a clutch of petit fours.
Served on individual boards, we each received a wobbly cube of raspberry jelly; a raspberry and chocolate macaron; a white chocolate and coconut truffle and an ingenious banana & bubblegum panna cotta which tasted exactly like those childhood banana foam sweets.
Restaurant James Sommerin is utterly brilliant and he deserves to reclaim his Michelin star at the earliest opportunity.
If and when he does, Cardiff will finally have its first star.
Sorry, I mean Penarth will.
Address - Restaurant James Sommerin, The Esplanade, Penarth CF64 3AUTelephone - 029 20706559