Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth – review

This particular chef will always hold a special place in my heart. My very first Michelin Star experience was when I was 17 at Mr Sommerin’s former restaurant, The Crown at Whitebrook. Since then, I have probably tasted food just as good, but in my mind it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten because it was a first. Or maybe it was because it was my first taste of foie gras parfait, which – rightly or wrongly (probably wrongly) – is now my favourite thing to eat in the whole world. Either way, I take full responsibility for developing a taste for it.

I had wanted to revisit James Sommerin at his restaurant in Penarth for some time, but I was lacking a good excuse for a special meal. A blog post from Gourmet Gorro very helpfully pointed out an Amazon local voucher which discounts the five-dish tasting menu from £60.50pp to £36.00pp, valid for 89 days and valid from Tuesday through to Sunday at lunch and dinner. Fantastic value, meaning we could justify a special meal on a random Wednesday evening. We even upgraded to the seven courses for an extra £20 each – it seemed rude not to with such a great discount.

Lots of other people had the same idea and were taking advantage of the voucher, which meant that the restaurant was almost full and had a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. As much as I loved my experience at The Crown at Whitebrook, it was a little bit over-posh and stuffy!

And then came the food. A mixture of Italian and French classics with British and Welsh influences. Each dish had a distinctly comfort-food feel refined by clever presentation and unique textures.

It has to be said that James Sommerin knows how to draw you in with a fab amuse bouche – on this occasion a truffle arancini, a sweetcorn panna cotta with bacon and haddock served in a little jar, a cheese and onion mousse and warm cheese puff pastry gougere. Great start.

Another favourite of the evening was a pre-starter of creamy basil panna cotta with olive crumble and parmesan foam. Light textures and delicious combined flavours.

The most stand-out dish (if only because of the Heston Blumental-style presentation – we all love a gimmick) was the rosemary and thyme-infused lamb cawl served in a vacuum syphon coffee maker. Once the maitre d’ deemed it had spent enough time bubbling in front of us, making our mouths water, he poured it over a dish of sweetbreads, barley and diced carrots.

I’m not usually one for desserts, but the blood orange souffle with prune ice cream also made an impression. Simply scrummy.

The best way to describe our meal at Restaurant James Sommerin was consistent. I didn’t come away thinking “this course was nicer than that one” or “I wasn’t keen on that dish”. Even though I’ve highlighted a couple of dishes above, the truth is it was all lovely. I’ll remember the overall meal for being an evening of good food rather than any singularly outstanding dish in particular. Definitely worth a visit for a special occasion, or a random Wednesday.

My eat of the week

  • Truffle arancini, bacon, haddock and sweetcorn panna cotta, cheese and onion mousse and cheese gougere
  • Basil panna cotta, olive crumble, parmesan foam
  • Pea ravioli with Serrano ham, sage, parmesan foam
  • Potato risotto, hens egg, new season asparagus, dehydrated chicken skin, truffle shavings
  • Lamb cawl infused with thyme and rosemary, barley, carrots
  • Pan-fried seabass, carrot, ginger and butternut squash, artichoke and smoked butter
  • Beef, polenta, salisfy, shallot
  • Poached rhubarb, cream cheese, oatmeal, rhubarb jelly
  • Blood orange souffle, prune ice cream, blood orange
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