Saturday, 21 November 2020

The Shed by James Sommerin, Barry restaurant review

To say that Barry is on the up is perhaps stating the obvious.

When Hang Fire Southern Kitchen opened four years ago it was a clear sign that Barry was becoming the place to be.

Now, with the recent opening of the Goodsheds container park, Barry has a better selection of places to eat than most parts of Cardiff. Leyli Joon’s Babhaus Mex tacos, Mr Croquewich’s fried chicken sandwiches, Friends in Knead’s baked goods and Anand George’s southern Indian cooking are just a few of the A-list vendors. 

Arguably though, the jewel in the crown is James Sommerin’s new restaurant, The Shed.

I was gutted to read that James Sommerin’s eponymous restaurant in Penarth permanently closed during lockdown, even more so considering all of the good work that James and his family did cooking for the NHS.

But, Penarth’s loss is Barry’s gain.

Whereas Restaurant James Sommerin was a tasting menu special occasion kind of place, the Shed is a more accessible affair. The food is high end bistro; the compact menu’s prices average around £8 for a starter, £19 for a main, and £8 for a dessert; and the bright, minimal dining space is trendy rather than formal. 

But, crucially there’s as much technique on display in the cooking as there was at James’s former restaurant. 

Warm, soft and olive oil rich focaccia (£3.50) was served with a quenelle of salty and savoury seaweed flecked butter. 

Earthy artichoke crisps (£3.50) were dusted with a flurry of funky parmesan; I think I might put parmesan on top of all of my packets of crisps in future. 

Pea and ham soup (£7) is an absolute classic and James’s riff was lovely. A bowl of thick, sweet and creamy pea veloute was intensified further by a dollop of crushed peas. Crisp aromatic sage leaves, a golden croquette of shredded ham hock, and savoury parmesan foam all added extra dimensions. 

A generous heap of sweet white crab meat (£9.50) was twanged with the earthy intensity of brown flesh and vibrant tarragon. It was sat atop a golden tender cauliflower steak and slices of apple provided vital clarity and acidity.

Mrs G’s main course was an absolute belter - a massive fillet of meaty, flaky, precisely cooked butter poached hake (£18.50) was joined by a comforting curry twanged salsify puree whose spicing reminded me more than a bit of Coronation chicken (one of my all time favourite dishes). Wilted spinach, a crisp tangle of salsify fronds, aromatic coriander oil and soft salsify pieces completed the lush dish. 

I’ve got a hell of a lot of time for chicken kiev (£17.50) and James Sommerin’s interpretation ticked all of my boxes. A tender corn fed chicken breast was stuffed with intensely garlicky and herby butter and coated in a next level golden crumb. If it wasn’t indulgent enough, shards of porky serrano ham, a rich chicken butter sauce, and silky buttery cauliflower puree added extra luxury. 

Sides were equally lavish.

Golden, crisp and fluffy triple cooked chips (£3.50) were lovely dredged through the various buttery sauces. 

Crisp-edged and soft-centred hispi cabbage pieces (£3.50) were drenched in warming spiced butter. 

Desserts all grabbed my attention from the sticky toffee pudding to a tart tatin and impressive looking cheese trolley.

“Banoffee Pie” (£7) was a bowlful of treats. Banana puree, salty peanut butter ice cream, crunchy dehydrated banana and pastry pieces, a super light cloud of whipped cream and chocolate chunks all combined with effect. 

A blackberry souffle (£12) occupied the more grown-up end of the dessert spectrum. The light and sweet souffle was heady with berry intensity and balanced beautifully by a crisp, smooth, sweet and slightly acidic apple sorbet.

A very good Americano (£4) was joined by a cracking pair of petit fours; a buttery coconut tuille with a zing of lime and a Solero-esque white chocolate shell filled with an ice cold passionfruit liquid centre. 

We had a cracker of a meal at The Shed by James Sommerin.

James’s take on comfort food classics with Michelin-starred technique delivers in spades. It’s the kind of place I could happily visit every week.

The Details:

Address - The Shed By James Sommerin, Hood Rd, Barry CF62 5BE

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Aktar Islam at Home, Indian curry box nationwide delivery review

One of this year’s trips which fell by the wayside was a weekend away in Birmingham, the focus of which was to be dinner at Opheem.

Aktar Islam’s Michelin-starred Indian restaurant opened in 2018 and has built on the success of his former restaurant Lasan. Mrs G visited Lasan without me about eight years ago and said it was bloody epic (I’m over it, I promise).

During his time at Lasan, Aktar made it through to the banquet of Great British Menu 2011 with a dish of Keralan sea bass with soft-shell crab. Lasan was also named Gordon Ramsay’s best local restaurant.

In the current climate, Aktar is delivering weekly curry boxes which have been on my radar for a good few months. 

Each box contains a changing weekly selection of 10 traditional curries from all across India. Boxes normally cost £60 plus £15 national delivery and are delivered on Fridays. It was £70 the week we ordered as it was a special Great British Menu box featuring Aktar’s sharing lamb dish which he cooked on the show. 

I can’t overstate just how generous Aktar’s curry boxes are - they’re billed as serving a very generous banquet for four but we had eight good portions of food. With the curries all freezing well, it would be a good shout to buy a box and spread the dishes out over a few weeks.

Typically, a box contains a number of meat and fish based curries as well as vegetable sides, rice and breads. As our box contained a whopper of a whole leg of lamb, all of our sides were vegetarian. Almost all of the dishes required a simple reheat on the hob or in the microwave. 

First up, the lamb (sikandari raan) was absolutely killer - so juicy and tender it was bathed in a yoghurt marinade which also didn't shy away from Kashmiri chilli, clove and black cardamom. We served ours medium-well but the instructions in the box direct you towards a medium cook.

It was joined by a Rajasthani korma pouring sauce which was a korma sauce like no other - heady with spice, the richness of pureed nut and a balancing acidity.

The next day we pan-fried Ty Melin brioche buns in lamb dripping and stuffed them with leftover lamb and korma sauce. 

Decadent dhal makhni had a silky creaminess and a meaty savoury depth of flavour. If you're a fan of Dishoom's example then this will certainly tick your boxes. 

Gobi Angara saw big bits of cauliflower with a nice bite bathed in a big spiced curry sauce with a good hit of chilli, onion and nigella and mustard seeds. 

Slow cooked pieces of sweet pumpkin also had plenty of texture; they were coated in a sauce packed with the fragrance of garlic, cumin and sun dried chilli. 

Yakhni pilau rice was fluffy and perfumed with a bevy of spices. 

Vibrant saarson de saag wasn’t a looker but its freshness brought a lot to the party, the soft mustard greens and spinach were punctuated with sweet kernels of corn.

Waxy new potato curry was pretty fiery and peppery but it retained complexity of spice like all of the other dishes.  

Golden samosas (which I shallow fried and then baked instead of deep frying) were crisp of pastry and stuffed with a comforting mix of spiced mashed potato and peas. They were delicious dipped in a tangy tamarind chutney. 

A quartet of buttery parathas crisped up a treat in a dry pan. 

An equal number of soft naan were a good mop for the curries but didn’t travel as well as the other dishes as they were a touch chewy. 

We loved our Aktar Islam at home curry box. Everything has a huge amount of flavour and you get a hell of a lot of bang for your buck. With this week’s curry kit including Lucknowi chicken biryani, slow stewed mutton curry, brisket korma, Malabar fish curry and chilli paneer, it’s almost inevitable that I’m going to order another box very soon.

The Details: