Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth

IMG_9076[1]I am a massive foodie and I’m engaged to a chef (utter bliss!) As you might imagine, between the pair of us we have a massive passion for eating ALL of the food. With my fiancés birthday coming up I knew I wanted to book a table somewhere special for us to eat. I wanted somewhere we hadn’t tried before and somewhere that was fancy enough to give us an excuse to put on our glad rags and make the most of the rare night off together (unsociable chef working hours be damned!). I quickly decided on James Sommerin’s Michelin starred restaurant, a place we had been eager to try for far too long!

Location

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The restaurant itself has a prime location, situated right next to the Penarth Pier with stunning overhead views of the water. From the outside the building is pretty impressive, with the top half spanning faux Tudor style architecture decorated in modern colours. There are multiple large glass windows and the overall impression is pretty sleek and stylishly on point. The inside continues this theme, with a cool toned colour palette and plush seating. I have to admit that walking in was a brilliant experience purely for the thick bouncy carpet which felt beyond luxurious. There’s a large glass window which looks directly into the kitchen, and we were actually lucky enough to be seated right next to this and to be able to catch glimpses of the team hard at work.

Food

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We actually decided on the six course surprise tasting menu for our evening, which essentially means that each dish was a surprise and entirely up to the head chef’s own decisions. The chef’s were actually the ones to bring the food out to us (a nice touch), explaining what each dish was in the process. Coming in at £75 per person, we figured this was a pretty reasonable price for the quality of food and overall fine dining experience.

I’m not going to go into great depth with each course for several reasons. Firstly, and most important, every single thing I ate was bloody lovely and I don’t think anyone wants to see me ramble on and on with the same variations of it was ‘delicious’. Secondly, six courses is quite a lot, so I want to make this as concise as possible. Thirdly, I can’t give you many fine details about each course because each one was a surprise and I can’t quite remember the exact ingredients in every dish. Suffice to say that everything was incredible and I hope the photos are as enticing as the real thing! I should also just mention that I had the pescatarian option whilst my boyfriend opted for meat as well.

To start we had a little trio of what I guess you could call appetisers. These didn’t actually count as a course, but they were still just as worthy of being served up in their own right. My favourite things from this were probably these little doughy balls which were served warm with a cheesy inside. The reminded me of a luxurious version of something you might see in Pizza Express with ten times the amount of flavour.

For our first course we had what was probably my favourite course of the entire evening; the pea ravioli. If ever there was a dish made to encapsulate summer, I feel like this is it. I was astounded by the sheer volume of flavour within this and the way in which the chef’s had managed to bring forth such vibrancy from the subtle sweet taste of the humble pea. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the overall dish was a master class in how to make the most out of something as seemingly simple as the garden pea. I think this was actually the dish made famous by James on the Great British Menu, and its easy to see why. Fresh, light and bursting with flavour, I’m understandably still thinking of this today.

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For our second dish we had lobster with a seafood bisque. I’m not a massive lover of lobster as I’m not overly keen on the texture, but the taste was spot on and you could tell how fresh the meat was. Having said that, the star of the show in my eyes was undoubtedly the actual bisque itself. I have no idea how something so transparent and delicate could have such a full body of flavour. I honestly could have eaten a bowl of this liquid entirely by itself and have been completely content!

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Next up we had another vegetarian course which was something of a revelation to me. Called an open lasagne, the cleverness behind this left me amazed. The main bulk was a  ragù full of finely diced vegetables with a fantastic texture. The pasta came in the form of a finely sliced turnip, something I’ve never actually tried before but which has definitely sparked my interest for the future. My favourite part was actually the cheese sauce substitution, which was an epic tasting celeriac puree. How on earth the team got a root vegetable to taste so smooth and creamy I will never know!

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Onto the fourth dish which for me was monkfish.   I adore a great piece of white fish and this piece was tenderly cooked to perfection. The bed of kale was good and supported the fish well, with the sauce really bringing the dish together. I’m not even sure what spices were used on this but it was something quite different to anything I have ever tried before. It was almost reminiscent of a curry, with that unique blend of warmth and flavour which amazingly never proved too much for the delicacy of the fish. Instead of the fish course my boyfriend actually had a meat dish comprised of rabbit loin and confit rabbit leg with a tarragon infused sauce.. He practically inhaled this which I think is a testament to both his appetite and the quality of the food. I did manage to sneak a bit of the sauce which had a ridiculously rich taste and was a delight.

Moving onto desserts, we have my second favourite dish of the night. Again, this was the chef’s take on a classic, this time in the form of a rhubarb crumble. The rhubarb itself was a pleasure to eat, gently falling apart with the spoon without the dreaded over sharp fruit. The white chocolate was a dream, as was the sweetened cream, with the essentially crunchy texture of the crumble underneath it all. What really took me by surprise, and what I fell immediately in love with, was the parma violet flavoured ice cream. That unique taste so many of us love in the form of sweets was definitely present yet was subtle enough to avoid feeling as if you had a mouthful of perfume. It was refreshing and almost similar to a sorbet in its consistency. I wish I could buy a tub of the stuff to take home!

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For our sixth and final course we had a raspberry and granola soufflé. This was probably my least favourite dish of the night, even though it was still great! The soufflé itself is actually a wonder to behold, and I saw the eyes of several other diners cast enviously in our direction as we began to dig in. I’m not a massive lover of the texture of a soufflé and prefer a cold mousse to it, but the bittersweet tang of the raspberry sauce was delicious and the added granola made for a great change in texture.

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Although not actually part of the tasting menu, we did also opt for the cheese board to end, because quite frankly who can resist cheese?! The cheese itself was great, as was the additional crackers and grapes, but what I loved most was the attention to detail when our board was initially made. I’m not sure if he was actually a cheese connoisseur or if this was just part of his normal service duties, but we had a brilliant man who came over and asked us if there were any kinds of cheeses we didn’t like or anything we particularly wanted to try. I haven’t really had that kind of service anywhere else and it really elevated the experience for us.

Service

As you can probably tell from the above, the service here was second to none. All of the staff including the chefs were incredibly friendly and happy to help. They made our experience all the more special, even bringing out a little desert for the birthday boy, complete with a candle! Drinks wise the menu was pretty hefty, especially where the wine was concerned. Although cocktails weren’t on the menu as such, I asked for several and they were more than happy to make them up. I also found it far too thrilling and amusing when our tablecloth was wiped free of crumbs with a special knife, taking me instantly back to the opulent glamour of dinner at The Savoy.

If you enjoy fine dining with carefully cultivated dishes and excesses of flavour, I really couldn’t recommend this restaurant enough.  It’s easy to see why James has earnt his Michelin stars, and the location only enriches what was most definitely a stunning evening. After an evening of delicious food were were able to walk along the waters front with the twinkling fair lights of the pier turning this into something even more enjoyable. All in all an unforgettable evening on all counts.

Restaurant Website

James Sommerin’s Twitter

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