I was invited to attend the ‘Welsh Stars Dinner’ as a guest of Chef James Sommerin. The tasting menu and wine pairing were complimentary, however I was not under any obligation to provide a review of the evening.
Monday mornings. While I’m not quite of the ilk where I develop the dreaded ‘fear’ on a Sunday evening (my current situation sees that I work to live); the prospect of the long working week ahead, sometimes leaves me desiring that seemingly elusive ‘Friday Feeling’ – usually shortly after walking through my office door.
Mondays are standard. Tea, check emails, phone buzzes (another frigging GDPR email) *delete* – I work in Marketing, make of that what you will! More tea, team meeting, phone buzzes (no, I do not want to be able to re-create the Royal Wedding cake) *delete* – I mean seriously, have you seen me bake? Act on (work) emails, actually do some work (because I feel that’s important to note – ha ha), phone buzzes – *almost fall off chair in disbelief*.
Because, there are some moments in life that even on looking back years later, will still bring a smile to your face. And while they may not mean as much to everyone, when Michelin Star Chef, James Sommerin personally messages you to say there is a space on his ‘Welsh Stars Dinner’, he enjoys your blog, and would you like to come along for the evening; there is simply only one intelligent response…yes!
For this experience, is perhaps, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and based on it being a sell-out after only 4 hours; clearly, a highly sought after event. To get five Chefs in the same room is an achievement in its own right. But when these are some of Wales’ finest Michelin Star Chefs, it makes the fact that they have teamed up to celebrate the fourth birthday of Restaurant James Sommerin, all the more impressive.
With a promise of a “unique feast featuring the finest in locally-inspired gastronomic fare”, a quick glance of the menu shows that we are most certainly in for a treat. The wine pairing for the evening, courtesy of Moët Hennessy and local supplier CPA’s Wine, is enough to know that this matching has been well thought out, even with a running joke that perhaps there may have been some (minor), last minute menu changes.
The order of ‘service’ for the evening sees each Chef delivering a canapé and one of the six courses. But there are only five Chefs I hear you holler (well, we’ll come to the sixth shortly!).
A selection of five individual “Snippets” including deep fried laverbread, Jersey Royal potatoes with smoked eel and deep fried Glamorgan sausage with blue cheese are outstandingly moreish, and achieve their objective of awakening the appetite.
But it’s the final canapé, that creates the buzz of intrigue around our table. Accompanied with a warning for those among us who may try to break a tooth on an actual pebble (believe me, it’s warranted; apart from the aged Parmesan crumb it’s difficult to distinguish – especially for those among us whose eyesight is struggling…oh for the days of 20/20 vision). Instead, the white chocolate, cocoa butter and squid ink pebbles in disguise, hold the secret of a vivid orange root vegetable lasagna in their centre. Awe-inspiring, they certainly wouldn’t be out of place in any Michelin establishment, which makes it all the more impressive that these delicacies are the creation of James’ 19 year old daughter – Georgia Sommerin – *please feel free to insert expletive of choice!
The opening dish for the evening, delivered by Chef Bryan Webb is a seasonal starter of asparagus topped with morel and girolle mushrooms. Accompanied with a deep fried duck egg, that gives the welcome ball of fire out in the Penarth sky a run for its money in terms of colour, the beautiful beurre blanc that coats the egg, is rich and buttery. The stars of the show however, are the mushrooms. Bringing a nutty, almost meatiness depth of flavour to the dish, they combine to create a plate that truly celebrates Spring. And while I am being über-picky in saying that perhaps there is one asparagus spear too many on the plate (down to personal preference alone), you only need to glance over to see that there are clear plates all round.
Claremont Farm Asparagus, Morels, Girolles, Duck Egg
Chef Bryan Webb – Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo – 1 Michelin Star awarded October 2010
The arrival of dish two signifies the first of the fish courses. A meaty fillet of lightly caramelised monkfish, sits on a bed of a bold sauce of tomato, basil, garlic and ginger. With a kick of chilli that combines with the ginger, to leave a welcome heat lingering on the lips; the fragrant ingredients boost the flavour of the monkfish. Having had the pleasure of dining at The Walnut Tree Inn on a few occasions. this dish has Chef Shaun Hill’s signature style of interspersing his cooking with his travels, written all over it.
Monkfish, Ginger, Garlic , Tomato
Chef Shaun Hill – The Walnut Tree Inn, Abergavenny – 1 Michelin Star awarded October 2010
The second seafood course denotes one of Chef Stephen Stevens signature dishes of his own modern take on fish and chips. With a base of an addictive (some mopping up, may have been required) yeast purée, the beautifully salted cod is generously topped with the slightly more obscure ingredient (obscure being, I have never had the pleasure of experiencing it) of ox heart shavings. However, it’s the wonderfully crisp, mini puffed pommes soufflées and pickled onion rings, which add texture, and balance out the flavour intensities of the salty fish.
Cod, Yeast, Onion, Potato, Ox Heart
Chef Stephen Stevens – Sosban and The Old Butcher’s, Menai Bridge, Isle of Anglesey – 1 Michelin Star awarded October 2016
I guess even if the tongue in cheek comment that “straws were picked” is remotely true, it would have been only right that Chef James Sommerin takes on the main course. I mean…everyone has the right to be the centre of attention on their birthday, and oh boy does this dish demand that you sit up and listen, drool uncontrollably and then savour ever single, glorious mouthful.
A wooden board of a beautifully presented rack of Welsh lamb arrives; topped with wild garlic, it’s certainly enough to keep the most persistent of vampires away! Teasing with its pungent aroma, luckily seconds later wafts of cumin flood the dining room, as the remaining elements of the dish are swiftly delivered.
Plated – a skillfully cooked, tender lamb loin is accompanied with a celeriac purée, broad beans and a cumin and mint sauce – and while we all grab for, what will turn out to be a rib to end all ribs, this dish in its entirety is one to be admired, before you go in for the attack.
Welsh Lamb, Wild Garlic, Cumin, Mint
Chef James Sommerin – Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth – 1 Michelin Star awarded Oct 2016
If awards are being given out based purely on presentation, then hands down Chef Stéphane Borie, would be the outright winner for the most elegant plate of the evening. Fully utilising the ingenious tableware; the dessert of a creamy white chocolate and passion fruit mousse in a nougatine cigarette lies perfectly parallel alongside one side of the porcelain tree. While a simply stunningly light and refreshing Gariguette (French strawberry) salad, accompanied with a strawberry sauce, elderflower jelly and mint leaves drop masterfully from the branches above.
Nougatine Cigarette, Passion Fruit, White Chocolate, Gariguette Salad
Chef Stéphane Borie, The Checkers, Montgomery – 1 Michelin Star awarded October 2011
Now usually I am not much of a pud lover, but with my sweet tooth triggered, I am only grateful that the finale of the night is a shout out to the (apparently) annually observed culinary date of National Strawberries and Cream Day. For as if one dessert isn’t enough, the second sweet treat delivered by Georgia Sommerin is a beautiful marriage of the two, twisted by the addition of diffused basil and coconut to the light as air cream.
Gariguette Strawberry, Coconut, Basil
Georgia Sommerin, Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth
A small country Wales may be, but we’re a small country that can demonstrate a plethora of culinary talent. Combine this with our wonderful local produce, and while I personally believe that the ‘Land of Song’ deserves more recognition than our current 7 Michelin Stars, the achievement alone, and on-going retainment of the prestigious accolades by these restaurants and chefs is to be applauded.
Over the past year, I have had some memorable dining experiences, but I can honestly say that I was honoured to have been invited to this unique evening. It truly was a celebration and showcase of both accomplishment and the creativity and innovation that Welsh dining offers.
However, I will conclude this post by saying that this may have been the current ‘Welsh Stars Dinner’, but there is a rising star in that kitchen; because if you can produce dishes like that at just 19 years of age – Georgia Sommerin you have a very bright future ahead of you, and I for one will look forward to watching your career with interest.
Address | The Esplanade, Penarth, CF64 3AU