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:

Saturday, 7 November 2020

A few of the best places to eat and drink in the East Neuk of Fife and St Andrews

Kincraig Cliffs

With its miles of beautiful coastal paths, top notch seafood and smattering of high end restaurants, a trip to the East Neuk of Fife was just the holiday I craved in 2020.

Comprising of the stretch of pretty villages between Elie and Kingsbarns north of the Firth of Forth, Mrs G and I based ourselves in Anstruther, a fishing village which was originally home to King Creosote (one of my all time favourite musicians). 

Crail Harbour

We spent a week in September walking the coast, spotting birds and eating far too much food. Here’s some recommendations:

Anstruther Fish Bar, Anstruther

I've been to a few places that can lay claim to best fish and chip shop in the UK but Anstruther Fish Bar might just be the best of the lot. Winner of UK fish and chip shop of the year in 2008 there are queues outside pretty much all day long.

Fillets of haddock were beautifully flaky and coated in a really light golden bubbly batter whilst chips were the crispest chippy chips I've ever had.

The old adage goes that restaurants with amazing views don't need to bother about the food as people will still turn up in their droves anyway. It's certainly not the case at East Pier Smokehouse in St Monans. The views out to sea are beautiful and so is their smoked fish. 

To start, a cup of cullen skink was decadent with flakes of smoked haddock and cream whilst a crab cake was loaded with white meat and green herbs.

For mains a golden fillet of hot smoked salmon was gorgeously tender and sweet and served with a big mound of chips. Meaty smoked hake was served with an assertively olivey tapenade.

Reilly Shellfish, Crail

If you're a fan of shellfish then Reilly Shellfish in Crail harbour is the place to head. Based in a basic wooden hut surrounded by lobster pots which have brought their catch ashore, their menu is reassuringly simple - there's fresh lobster cooked to order, dressed crab, and crab and lobster rolls.

We had a crab roll which was big on compellingly earthy brown meat and a lobster roll with meaty flesh bathed in a tangy marie rose sauce. 

A dressed crab was absolutely stuffed with sweet white and earthy brown meat.

The Cheesy Toast Shack, Kingsbarns Beach

“Oh lordy lord", that's exactly what Mrs G exclaimed when we unwrapped our macaroni cheese toastie from the Cheesy Toast Shack on Kingsbarns Beach. Oozing with loose-textured macaroni cheese with an extra layer of melted cheese, it's one hell of a messy and delicious eat.

It actually ended up in second place to a New Yorker. A belting take on a reuben, it had all the key elements - a great ooze of melted Emmental, zingy kraut and pickles, tangy Russian dressing and a layer of well-seasoned pastrami.

Barnett’s Bakery of Anstruther

This small chain of bakeries is legendary on the East Neuk. With an outlet seemingly in almost every village, we worked our way through lots of their baked goods.

Their macaroni pie, with crisp buttery pastry and soft textured pasta coated in a thick cheesy sauce with a warming note of mustard, was a revelation. 

Butteries, a butter and lard enriched bread roll which originates from Aberdeen, were delicious served warm and slathered with tangy marmalade. They reminded me of a crisp soft white roll crossed with the flakiness of a croissant.

Futtle Organic, St Monans

Brewers of farmhouse, foraged and wild beers and sellers of natural wines, we got hold of Futtle’s first canned beer and it was a belter. A gose with foraged alexanders and sea salt, it was delicately sour and salty with a mild herbal note. 

East Neuk Kilnhouse, St Monans

Located on an industrial estate on the edge of St Monans alongside a number of other fish merchants, East Neuk Kilnhouse make banging hot and cold smoked fish. We had sweet and smoky kipper fillets for breakfast and golden flaky fillets of hot smoked salmon.

The Cellar, Anstruther

One of the culinary gems of the East Neuk, we had a superb meal at the Michelin-starred Cellar.

Slow cooked buttery ox tongue topped with an intensely savoury, light-textured and decadent 36 month aged parmesan cream and shavings of funky summer truffle was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. You can find out more on my dedicated blog post here. 

Fisher & Donaldson, St Andrews

Fisher and Donaldson bakery in St Andrews serves brilliantly retro baked goods which match their awesome pink branding. 

A rocking rhubarb pie was packed to the rafters with sweet fragrant rhubarb and topped with a sticky strawberry glaze. 

Jannetta’s, St Andrews

Jannetta’s is a St Andrew's institution which has been open for over 110 years and is now in the hands of the fourth generation of the same family.

Their gelato is super light, smooth, and milky; we worked our way through some kick ass flavours including butter pecan, Scottish tablet, rum and raisin, and salted caramel.

Haar, St Andrews

Haar is the first restaurant by Masterchef Professionals 2018 finalist Dean Banks. With a focus on Scottish produce and intricate presentation, we had a really good meal including some of the best lobster I've ever eaten. You can find out more on my dedicated blog post here. 

I can’t recommend a trip to the East Neuk of Fife highly enough. If you’re looking for beautiful walks and equally beautiful food then make the journey.

The Details:

We stayed in Carstairs Cabin in Cellardyke, which we booked via Airbnb. It worked out around £75 a night and we had a lovely little private outdoor seating area.