Sunday, 25 May 2014

Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth fine dining review

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.

The details:

Address - Restaurant James Sommerin, The Esplanade, Penarth CF64 3AU
Telephone - 029 20706559


  1. I don't doubt it will win a star. The trick will be turning a profit and staying open.. ;)

    1. @Anonymous - I think affluent Penarth is the right location for it - the table next to us were visiting for the second time in one week. Also, once the rooms are finished it will be one of the most desirable places to stay in South Wales.

      However, I'm curious as to whether they introduce a cheaper lunch menu...

    2. VG food and service, but the room is a bit "canteenish". This could be because of the delayed openings, but something needs to be done as there are far too many "poor" tables.

      Having dined in Nathan Outlaw's restaurant in Rock the previous week (2 Michelin Stars) dissapointed that there was not more fish on the menus in JS.

    3. @Pip - Yes, agree the room lacks a little on the charm front but think an improved view would more than make up for it.

      Nathan Outlaw is always going to be a tough comparison! I wasn't expecting that much fish on the menu at JS but I guess the seaside location might lead you to think otherwise :-)

  2. We had the lunch menu - it was £26 for 2 courses and £32 for 3 courses.
    Dish of the day was my wife's Pigs head starter. I also had the smoked cod as a main meal and was a little disappointed with the flavours. The pineapple dessert was delicious.

    I'd go again but would definitely go for the taster menu next time, the lunch menu was a little expensive for what was on offer in my opinion.

    1. @Anonymous - Interesting, didn't realise there was a lunch menu. Seems reasonably priced to me but i guess it depends on the options / portion sizes. I always tend to eat my money's worth in fresh bread rolls when the dishes are weeny!

  3. we were a table of 19 and had a fantastic evening - would defo recommend having a meal there - the food was excellent

  4. Looks amazing, do you what the waiting list is like? If it is anything like the potted pig when it first opened it will be months. I saw your photos and agree it is a shame that they have taken advantage of the sea views.

    1. @Anonymous - I'm sure you'd be fine during the week but I've heard they're pretty busy on weekends. Good luck with getting a table!

  5. Just out of interest, you mentioned it possibly getting a star, how does that happen? Do the michelin people just turn up unannounced or does the restaurant know they are coming?

    1. @Anonymous - I think a restaurant normally needs three visits from Michelin before they can be awarded a star. The judges turn up unannounced but I don't think they're too hard to spot as they're often familiar to industry veterans and they normally dine alone (I think). However, it'll be a squeeze for James to get 3 visits from Michelin before October - but because of his reputation there's a chance it'll happen. Last year, Tom Sellers gained a Michelin star for his restaurant Story after being open for only five months so it is possible.

  6. The high back chairs obscuring the view is plain silly. Was he trying to hide the cars parked outside the window? Regardless, its disappointing to lose the view when seated. He may as well have opened inland.

  7. I'm going to take umbrage with you for the first time ever, Ed! :-D

    Penarth is *not* in Cardiff. I know you know this, but with due respect to the people of the Vale of Glamorgan, and indeed their council, it's only fair that we recognise that it is they that make Penarth such a desirable place for Somerin to establish himself. Yes, from a geographic point of view, the proximity to Cardiff is a particularly favourable for the chef, but Cardiff - as a city and a county - has enough to go on, let's give the Vale their dues (because I swear to God, if I hear Penarth described as "the jewel in Cardiff's crown" - minus the irony - one more time…)

    1. @Owen - You're underestimating me! I realise Restaurant James Sommerin is in Penarth and think it should be acknowledged (see title of review). I'm just taking the piss out of all the people who will say "It's the best restaurant in Cardiff".