T&C tests: Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth, Wales

Seasonal fine dining, plus a room with a view

All images courtesy of Restaurant James Sommerin

Overlooking the Severn Estuary in the pretty seafront town of Penarth, just four miles from Cardiff and a two-hour train ride from London, lies the Michelin-starred Restaurant James Sommerin. There are no pretensions of grandeur here – just superlative cooking, panoramic views and the promise of a comfortable night’s sleep in one of the nine beautifully appointed rooms.

In the airy, light-filled restaurant, which looks out over the esplanade, we take our seats for dinner and watch the sun begin to set as we sip our aperitifs, which are accompanied by the “snippets” course. This consists of several delicious canapés – a lighter-than-air garlic mousse served in a miniature glass vessel, a ramekin of taramasalata whose texture is transformed by the addition of tapioca, and a bowl of gougères simply bursting with melted cheese – that whet our appetite for the six-course tasting menu ahead of us.

The sommelier is on hand to recommend wine pairings, starting with a refreshing Pinot Blanc from Germany whose Granny Smith-like flavour perfectly complements our first course of beetroot feta linguine. The wonderful thing about the cooking here is that while there’s creativity in abundance, there’s no sense of ‘testing’ the diners with unnecessarily challenging flavour combinations; I’m able to recognise the classic dish behind each course, even if it’s been given a contemporary twist. The open vegetable lasagne, for example, instantly transports me to the Mediterranean, but its sophistication comes from the addition of langoustine ravioli and quince. The pairing of partridge with parsnip, fennel sauce and toasted brioche, meanwhile, is quite simply autumn on a plate. Desserts come in two stages: first, there’s Sauternes-poached pear, whose melt-in-the-mouth texture is offset by the accompaniment of crunchy peanut flapjack; and then there’s a tarte tatin with delectably flaky pastry. They’re perhaps not quite different enough to work as two consecutive courses, but it would be churlish not to admit that I still eat and enjoy both.

After a banquet such as this, it’s a pleasure to be able to sink down on the comfortable bed in our room above the restaurant, and to wake up the next day to the sight of clear skies (no London pollution here) and the prospect of a stroll along the coast. If you only have an hour, you can simply meander to the end of the pier and back, taking in the estuary views as you go, but if you’re feeling hale and hearty, walk all the way into the Welsh capital via the Cardiff Bay Barrage – a feat of civil engineering that played a crucial part in the city’s regeneration during the 1990s. Take a tour of the Welsh Parliament (free and open to all) and then make your way into the centre of Cardiff, where you can visit the extraordinarily well-preserved mediaeval castle or indulge in afternoon tea in one of the quaint cafés in the Victorian arcade. After all, you’ll need to refuel ahead of the train journey home…         

Restaurant James Sommerin, The Esplanade, Penarth, Wales. James Sommerin is collaborating with four other Welsh chefs – Bryan Webb, Stéphane Borie, Shaun Hill and Stephen Stevens – to host a special dinner on 21 May, with each preparing one course and a canapé. Tickets cost £150 per person and can be booked via the website.

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