When it comes to food, I love a dish with a story. Whether it’s a family recipe handed down through the generations, one that evokes childhood memories, or simply a plate that is the product of a chef’s culinary imagination; a story can bring a dish alive, and provides a great insight into the individual behind the pass.
No more can this be seen, than in the BBC cooking programme – Great British Menu, where chefs from throughout the UK, battle it out for the honour of preparing a course at the series-end banquet. With a set brief, usually celebrating the ‘Best in Britishness’; while many of the competition dishes could be contenders to feature in the Top 10 list of ‘We Want Plates‘, the level of creativity often demonstrated by the chefs is mind-blowing.
In Series 12 (2017), a Michelin-trained chef by the name of Tommy Heaney hit the headlines here in Wales. While based in the previously named Leicester’s Restaurant in The Great House Hotel, Bridgend; he actually represented, and subsequently went onto win, his home region heat for Northern Ireland (we’ll forgive him though!). With a series brief to celebrate Wimbledon, his four courses were exceptional; but naturally it was his dish of a giant bird’s nest that caught my attention. Entitled Rufus Beets the Pigeons Away, the starter of pickled, smoked and emulsified beetroot, pickled berries, smoked pigeon and confit pigeon leg, paid homage to the hawk who keeps pigeons away from the SW19 courts.
Aside from saluting scary pigeon chasing celebrity hawks, (who incidentally have their own social media accounts…it must be a challenge to tweet with talons!), Chef Tommy Heaney has gone from strength to strength; so much so that in July 2017, the hotel restaurant rebranded under his name.
Having dined at The Great House previously, albeit the last time being 10 years ago; on entering the modern and comfortable dining room, it is clear it has been brought roaring into the 21st Century…with menus to match.
The choice of a £55 – 6 course tasting menu, is full of temptation. But the promise of scallops on the à la carte is too much, and at the risk of engendering ‘starter envy’ among us all, the kitchen receives a ticket for three.
The bread offering for the evening comes in the form of a choice of sourdough, walnut or white…that’ll be one of each then. Accompanied with a subtle Marmite butter, you won’t need a gene test kit for this one, as it makes for a delicious spread. Although, I am the anomaly/weirdo/wrecker of marketing campaigns (*delete as appropriate), that detests it on toast, but will avidly embrace its use in cooking.
Diver Scallop, Salt Baked Celeriac, Seaweed, Sour Dough Consommé | £12
While I’ve experienced some impressive scallop dishes over the years, the majority of which have featured in restaurants with accolades to match; as I sit and gaze as a sour dough consommé is elegantly poured from a glass teapot above – if presentation alone, is anything to go by, I’m clearly onto a winner. As it is, the taste exceeds all expectations; a silky, soft scallop is lightly caramelised, providing a sweetness that works well with the seaweed and subtle nuttiness of the salty celeriac purée. Combine this with a richly flavoured sour dough soup (having not come across this before, I am still a little intrigued as to how this is made), and this is a starter that I would happily choose, time and time again.
35 Day Dry Age Beef, BBQ Steak & Ale Pie, Burnt Shallot, Carrot | £23
If you check out the website before you hit ‘book a table’…hint, hint – aside from the relative standard restaurant profile text “we pride ourselves on using the finest locally sourced seasonal ingredients”; I love that Tommy describes his food as “honest, delicate and pure but packed with flavour, where each element on the plate has an important role to play.” Because, I simply cannot argue with this statement.
With a choice from six mains, we opt for two. And while I will say I only manage to grab a forkful of the rich steak and ale pie, the individual elements (I am assured from the silent nod that comes from across the table), combine beautifully, to create a plate of food that leaves you with a big grin on your face.
However, my ‘victor’ for the evening is the exquisitely, tender, melt in the mouth Ibérica Presa. Hailing from free-range Spanish pigs that live off a diet of grass and acorns, if I spot this on a menu again – another dish does not stand a chance. Nutty, with a smoky finish, and complemented by delicious free range pork belly with a crispy skin, and a crunchy croquette with a soft pork filling – dish presentation is elegant, but homely and as stated ‘honest’. Add to the ‘party’ celeriac, kale and two little balls of apple, quietly hidden away on the edge of the plate, and this is one perfectly executed dish, delivering a celebration of beautiful produce.
While I have experienced Jamón Ibérico, I personally think Presa is a ‘cut’ above (being next to the neck, it would be – ha ha!), and having missed this delicacy on my last visit, clearly a return trip to Paco Tapas is also now in order (as if I needed an excuse!).
Ibérica Presa, Free Range Pork, Pork Croquette, Celeriac, Kale, Cider | £21
Triple Cooked Chips, Rosemary Sea Salt | £4
The additional portion of salty triple cooked chips are so immense, it would be wrong of me to miss them off this post. N.B. it will be an absolute disgrace if you read this, visit and then don’t order them…you have been warned!
Chocolate Orange, Grand Marnier, Blood Orange | £7
Based on the standard of the two courses that precede it, when the dessert menu appears, it seems only fair that we put a third and final sweet dish to the test. On this occasion, a 3 spoon affair is on the cards though, as the general consensus is one of fullness, but evidently room for chocolate pud!
With a minimal descriptor of ‘chocolate orange, Grand Marnier and blood orange’, I’m a little intrigued as to what will arrive. And while I’m still a little puzzled when it’s delivered, primarily in the slight lack of the orange element, it is a stunning triumph of a cocoa dessert both in elegance and taste.
- The menus at Restaurant Tommy Heaney change regularly, and where possible dishes are created using locally-sourced and organic ingredients.
- Aside from the à la carte and tasting menu offerings, there is also a lunch-time and Sunday lunch menu, and what I would consider a ‘sensible’ children’s menu – you’re not going to find a frozen fish finger here.
- A knowledgeable front of house team are so welcoming, and clearly well versed in the dishes that are coming out of the kitchen. They are also particularly understanding, especially when your sister deems it necessary to spell out ‘Cointreau’ to one of them…he was French!
- A hotel restaurant this may be, but it’s an exceptional one; and one that I believe, deserves a few additional accolades than it currently holds.
Would I recommend Restaurant Tommy Heaney?
Oh…that would be a resounding yes. A wonderful dining experience in welcoming and relaxed surroundings, that truly reflects some of the best in Welsh cooking.
Tommy Heaney also spectacularly announced on Twitter last month that ‘the hunt for his next up and coming restaurant is now over’ #WatchThisSpace #Wales – well we’re all intrigued, and eagerly awaiting the news! I’m not sure what the odds are, but this Octopus is hazarding a guess at somewhere in the Vale, or a little further west in Swansea?*
Either way, wherever his next adventure lies, I can safely say this Chef is going places. And while my gamble may not pay off in regards to guessing the location of the next culinary abode, I will say I would certainly place him as a contender for Wales’ #8 (and I’m not talking midfield!).
Address | Restaurant Tommy Heaney at The Great House, High Street, Laleston Bridgend CF32 0HP
Web | www.tommyheaney.com
*UPDATE 10th April ’18 – the plot thickens…the location of Chef Heaney’s next restaurant is Cardiff (damn it, let’s hope I’m correct on my other prediction – ha ha!)