Saturday, 25 February 2017

Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth restaurant review 2017

It’s been just over twelve months since my previous visit to Restaurant James Sommerin. In that time, they’ve been awarded a well-deserved Michelin star and named AA Restaurant of the Year for Wales.

My last meal was pretty frigging spectacular so this time around it was impressive to see how Sommerin has pushed on even further with his cooking – bolder flavours and more striking presentation featured throughout.

We ordered the 14-course chef’s table (£150). Chatting with the team during service was great fun and it was interesting to hear how Sommerin has travelled extensively to 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants during the last 12 months to help take his cooking to the next level.

As the alcohol took its toll, my recollection of each dish became a little hazier. So here’s my best guess…

Light garlic foam was topped with mixed toasted seeds whilst mini gougères were filled with tangy Pant ys Gawn goats cheese cream. 

Crisp rice puffs were dotted intense taramasalata and burnt onion powder.

A warm wholemeal and laverbread roll and a caramelised onion wheel were served with house whipped butters, including a lush laverbread flavour. 

Onto our first course proper and it was a beauty - sweet white crab meat, fragrant apple foam, apple batons and curried parsnip puree.

A delightfully smoked venison tartare was served with a sliver of earthy cep, carrot puree and mayonnaise. The smoked meat could have dominated but all the flavours balanced beautifully. This was arguably the standout dish of the meal.

Slivers of salt cod carpaccio were topped with a cream sauce heady with rosemary, ridiculously fine diced vegetables and salty pearls of caviar.

Liquorice is an ingredient that can overwhelm but when served in the right proportions I’m a huge fan. Tender rabbit loin, liquorice sauce and mushroom butter was an interesting but hugely delicious combination.

Meaty monkfish was served with curry puree, salty samphire and broad beans.

A bowl of artichoke and duck was gourmet comfort food at its best – buttery artichoke puree, crisp and chewy deep fried artichokes, shreds and pieces of unctuous confit duck and a generous scattering of artichoke crisps were spooned down with gusto.

Next it was all about the bisque – langoustine soup was packed full of cream and heady with shellfish. A light fillet of seabass and pieces of artichoke, broccoli and carrot were coated in the seafoody goodness.

A dainty morsel of soft and fatty caramelised foie gras was counterbalanced by crisp and sweet nuggets of sweetcorn and granola. We washed it down with a glass of dessert wine. Oofh.

A long proved sourdough (30 hours I think) was complex in flavour with a super dark and toasty crust. Whipped beef dripping butter topped with crisp beef bits is the kind of thing that I’ll be daydreaming about for months to come. 

A 72-hour cooked piece of brisket was packed with flavour but a touch dry. The dish is still a work in progress and Sommerin is hoping to source meat with a higher fat content. Caramelised baby onions, chanterelles, soft parsnips and a stonkingly glossy sauce completed the plate. 

A bit of dry ice wizardry created the aroma of lemons whilst our next dish was served. 

Tangy and creamy lemon tart ice cream sat atop macerated blueberries, soft Italian meringue and shortbread pieces. 

Textures of raspberry combined fresh tasting sorbet, frozen drupelets, meringue and coulis served with a rich set chocolate custard. 

A canny play on rhubarb and rice pudding saw a set vanilla custard (a little too firm for me) topped with bang on poached rhubarb, rice pudding ice cream and crisp rice puffs. 

We rounded off the meal on the most indulgent note – soft sweet baked bramley apple, velvety caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and flakes of puff pastry conjured memories of tarte tatin. 

This was an epic meal of a seriously high standard.

If you’re planning a trip to a very special restaurant then I can see no reason to travel any further than Penarth. If Sommerin carries on at this rate then he’ll have Wales’s first two Michelin-starred establishment.

The Details:

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

Sunday, 19 February 2017

London restaurant guide 2017

I normally visit the Big Smoke a couple of times a year. But, as new restaurants spring up quicker than Trump parody Twitter accounts, my to do list is around a hundred places deep.

This January, I tagged along with Mrs G whilst she was at a conference. When she was doing some serious learning, I was doing some serious eating. Here’s the places I checked out:

Kiln, Soho

At Kiln, blazing heat emanates from the open kitchen where Thai food is cooked on wood burning grills and ovens. I perched at the counter in this no-reservation restaurant that was pretty much full by midday.

A crisp, fatty lamb skewer (£2.90) was spiced with heaps of cumin.

Clay pot baked glass noodles (£5.75) were tossed with a spicy gravy flecked with earthy brown crab and pieces of fatty mangalitsa pork shoulder. A sour citrus dipping sauce cut through the richness of the dish.

A short rib curry (£7.50) saw yielding slabs of beef in a sauce that hummed with wild ginger.

Bao, Soho

After a mere ten-minute wait in the queue, I was finally ready to experience the hype of this Taiwanese restaurant.

A pillowy soft classic bao (£4.50) was stuffed with shreds of meaty pork topped with powdered peanuts and coriander.

Another was filled with tender confit pork belly (£5) in a tangy sauce and crisp fried shallots.

A side of richness busting house pickles (£2) were on the nail.

The highlight of the meal was dessert, a fried bao (£4.50). The uber-fresh dinky doughnut like bun was stuffed with delicately malty and seriously creamy Horlicks ice cream.

Brasserie Zédel, Soho

It’s often said that meals can transport you to another time and place - Zédel, a subterranean French brasserie on the grandest of scales, achieves this more than most. From an accordion playing chanteuse to our aperitifs in the Bar Américain, everything was pitch perfect.

The food, whilst not life-changingly brilliant, was good and well-priced for central London. But, it’s more than worth a visit for the experience alone.

A crisp-crumbed cassoulet (£14.25) combined soft beans dotted with tender duck.

Choucroute Zédel (£15.75) was a big brute of a dish. Sauerkraut fragranced with clove and caraway was topped with boiled potatoes, thin pork belly slices, a hunk of pork knuckle and a snappy frankfurter. It wasn’t refined but it was perfect for a cold winter’s night.

Dessert was the highlight. An ile flotante (£4.50) saw floaty light meringue sat in a bowl of creamy vanilla custard topped with candied nuts, caramel and pistachios.

A silky smooth tarte au citron (£4.25) had a big thwack of lemon but the base could have been a tad crisper.

Chick ‘n’ Sours, Covent Garden 

It’s hard to take a fried chicken and cocktail shop like Chick ‘n’ Sours too seriously and thankfully they’re not at all po-faced. From the irreverent logo to the friendly barman who chatted to me throughout lunch, this place had good vibes. 

Sticky wings (£6) were crisp and plump as heck. They were coated in finger licking sweet and tangy sauce.

Xian xian spiced chicken tenders (£9) were super crisp of crumb and tender of flesh. The Asian spicing and pink pickled onions made for a top-drawer fried chicken dish. A little pot of fiery sriracha mayo (£1) was a lovely dip.

The knockout dish of the meal was an epic pickled watermelon salad (£5), the perfect foil for all that fried food. The ever so delicately pickled fruit was still sweet and juicy and topped with crushed peanuts, fresh mint, coriander, red chillies and a lime and fish sauce-based dressing.

Four Seasons, Soho

At Four Seasons in Chinatown, people crowd in at midday to try their legendary roast duck. Described by Nicholas Lander as the best in the world, this is what old skool hype is all about.

I ordered the triple roast meat (£9.30) with rice so I could put a number of their meats to the test.

Roast duck was tender as you like with glossy thin skin. Char sui pork was also excellent with its beautifully sweet marinade. Barbecue ribs however were disappointingly cold and tough.

Soft sticky rice, rich dark sauce and steamed greens completed the plate along with a trio of chilli – oil, sriracha and pickled green chillies.

Dumplings Legend, Soho

Dumplings Legend, another Chinatown institution, was also pretty full by midday. It’s all about their Siu loung bao (£6 For 8).

The delicate dumpling cases cleverly contained a spoonful of rich pork broth and a light pork mince filling. Dipped in vinegar, each mouthful was a compelling proposition.

Cinnamon Club, Westminster

Located in an old library in the heart of Westminster, Cinnamon Club is the swankiest of Indian restaurants. Mrs G and I played a game of spot the politician as we ate breakfast.

Bombay scrambled eggs (£7.50) were heady with spice and flecked with tomato and caramelised onion. They were joined by a serviceable flaky parotta and an under-baked tomato.

I had an epic time eating in London. I hope I'll be able to make further inroads into my London to do list in 2017.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Happy Lok Diner, Cardiff Chinese restaurant review

Roast meat. 

The alchemical crisping and caramelisation of flesh as it spends time in a hot oven is one of the true joys of life.

Roast lamb with mint sauce.

Roast beef with horseradish and Yorkshire pudding.

Roast chicken with herby stuffing and crisp spuds.

These are a few of my favourite things.

The Chinese have their own magic way with roast meats and on a recent trip to London, I tried the so called “best roast duck in the world” from the Four Seasons. I’m not sure about that accolade, but it was pretty lush.

On my return to Cardiff, I was keen to track down the city’s own best efforts.

Four Seasons, London
Happy Lok Diner on Crwys Road has taken over the former site of KatiWok (who’ve moved down the street). The hallucinogenic colour scheme has remained from the previous owners with the addition of a few Chinese lanterns.

Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean rice and noodle dishes dominate the menu and it’s clear from the packed house on a Saturday lunchtime that it’s popular with the local student population.

A pot of Jasmine tea (£3) was our go to option due to the lack of booze available.

On the recommendation of the waitress, we ordered tempura prawns to start (£3.50). Yes, £3.50. A quartet of gargantuan prawns were coated in light and super crisp batter. Mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce were nice dips - the mayo provided a guilty pleasure McChicken sandwich-esque flavour combo. 

Tempura vegetables also (£2.50) demonstrated Happy Lok’s skills at deep frying. Tender aubergine, peppers and wafer thin onions were coated in bubbly grease free batter. 

Squid with salt, chilli and garlic (£3.50) were devoid of any of the advertised seasoning so were essentially first rate tempura squid. 

Having exceeded our weekly allowance of deep fried stuff, we moved onto mains.

I ordered the San Bao rice (£7.50), offering a trinity of roast meats with various accompaniments.

All the meats were excellent, but a tad tepid - roast duck with its soft flesh and burnished thin skin, belly pork with the crispest of crackling and char sui pork with its sweet glaze.

Rice, cucumber, wilted greens, a runny yolk fried egg and a good drizzle of soy sauce completed the lovely plate of food.

Nasi Lemak (£8.50) was a great example of the dish. Sticky coconut fragranced rice, a crisp-skinned chicken portion coated in a deeply spiced coconut sauce, jammy chilli sauce, cucumber, fishy dried anchovies, crunchy nuts and cucumber slices all combined to make a deliciously comforting plate of food. 

Happy Lok Diner is a great place to satisfy my roast meat cravings and the other food is lovely too. I'd highly recommend it for a great value bite to eat. 

The Details:

Address -  Happy Lok Diner, 53 Crwys Road, Cardiff CF24 4ND
Telephone - 02920 371407

Happy Lok Diner, Cardiff CF24 4ND Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bara Menyn at Ffandango's, Llandaff - hunt for Cardiff's best breakfast

I never managed to visit Bara Menyn cafe at their initial location in Cardiff city centre. Perhaps being tucked away off Womanby Street wasn’t the best location for passing trade but their move to Llandaff’s Ffandango’s deli last August seems to have paid off. 

Over the last few months, I've heard great things about their menu of Welsh influenced crowd pleasers - 12 hour pulled pork on sourdough rarebit, huevos rancheros and Mamgu’s cawl with rarebit all put in an appearance. 

Mrs G and I had planned our visit around Bara Menyn’s restorative fry ups (served until 12.30pm).

We were warned there’d be a 25 minute wait as more Glamorgan sausages needed to made from scratch. In reality, the wait dragged to a hefty 45. A sincere apology and the quality of the food made up for it.

Flat whites, made using Coaltown coffee, tasted great. 

I ordered the full Welsh breakfast (£9.95) with an extra Penclawdd cockle bomb on the side (£2.50).

It was a proper looker and the highlights came thick and fast.

The crisp crumbed cockle bomb filled with smooth mash studded with salty cockles, savoury seaweed and a big twist of lemon was the pick of the bunch. Beautifully crisp and caramelised black collar bacon, a beguiling field mushroom topped with truffle and mustard laced rarebit and smoky baked beans flecked with shreds of pulled pork were also right on the mark.

A single sliver of white pudding (I’d have snaffled a few more slices), a lightly herbed sausage, earthy black pudding, a wodge of wholemeal toast topped with a runny fried egg and a scattering of savoury Welshman’s caviar (dried seaweed), undercrisp sautéed potatoes and a sweet baked tomato completed the dish.

Mrs G’s vegetarian breakfast (£9.95) wasn’t quite as hefty but it was equally lush. Accompanying her fried egg on toast, beans, sautéed potatoes, rarebit topped mushroom and baked tomatoes were a couple of thick slices of golden halloumi and the main event, a whopper of a Glamorgan sausage. A mega crisp and grease free exterior gave way to soft mash humming with cheese and leek – this was as good an example of the Welsh classic as I’ve ever eaten. 

The breakfast from Bara Menyn was first class. Granted, these aren’t greasy spoon prices, but you’re paying for quality.

The Details:

*Update - 16/06/2018 - Ffandango's has now closed. Bara Menyn will be reopening in Cardiff Bay soon*

Address - Bara Menyn, Ffandango's, 25 High St, Llandaff, Cardiff
Telephone - 07814 033760

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Slice, Sketty, Swansea restaurant review

It’s taken me three months to snag a weekend dinner reservation at Slice.

However, there’s good reason why it takes so long to get in.

Firstly, it’s Slice by name and by nature. The tiny wedge shaped restaurant in the Sketty suburb of Swansea sits a mere 16 people.

Secondly, co-chef patron Adam Bannister has been the Wales champion on Great British menu for the last two years with his hearty yet refined cooking. Adam and co-chef patron Chris Harris take it in turns to have a week in the kitchen whilst the other runs front of house. On our visit, Adam was cooking whilst Chris was serving.

At dinner there’s a choice of two menus – a three course a la carte (£42) and for 13 quid extra, a six course tasting menu (£55). It was really only ever going to go one way.

I’m firmly of the opinion that if the bread is good in a restaurant then you’re in safe hands. Slice’s was excellent.

An olive oil and sea salt rich loaf and a caramelised onion loaf were both straight out of the top drawer. Served with the the lightest of whipped butters, they could have been a meal in themselves.

A dainty amuse saw a light and creamy cup of celeriac veloute joined by an unctuous pig’s head fritter. 

A luxuriously rich confit duck scotch egg and shreds of smoked duck were tempered by pickled, pureed and roasted beetroot, dressed leaves and sweet onions. 

The fish was my standout of the night despite the main element being a touch overcooked. Smoke-licked barbecued halibut was served with massive flavoured garnishes – cockle beurre blanc laced with lemon, fragrant seaweed and plump molluscs, sweet and smoky charred baby leeks and sea leaves. 

A partridge dish came a close second for best dish of the night. Tender, full-flavoured partridge breast and crisp leg were served with a sticky, meaty sauce, a slice of proper thick-cut bacon, a dinky fondant potato and sprout tops. A squiggle of fruity cranberry sauce balanced the dish perfectly. 

A blushing pink fillet of venison was served with beetroot leaves, wine poached salsify, celeriac puree, beetroot tops, another glossy sauce and an absolutely banging mini venison pie filled with yielding shreds of meat. A slightly bitter note (chocolate or coffee perhaps?) didn’t quite work for me. 

Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits so it’s always good to see it on a menu. An uber-rich and smooth baked egg custard was topped with tangy rhubarb jelly and serve with bob-on poached rhubarb, creamy as heck rhubarb ripple ice cream and a delicately gingery and buttery biscuit. This was exactly my kind of pud. 

A hyper-dark and rich chocolate mousse coated in tempered chocolate could have overwhelmed if it wasn’t for its accompaniments - a cleansing and sharp blood orange sorbet, citrusy blood orange coulis and crisp candied peel. 

A chilled Merlyn cream truffle and pistachio and cherry nougat completed the excellent meal. 

I like Slice a lot – it’s intimate and friendly and the food is gutsy yet refined. I’d recommend joining the queue and bagging a table.

The Details:

Address - Slice, 73 - 75 Eversley Road, Sketty, Swansea SA2 9DE
Telephone - 01792 290929

Slice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato