*This post is sponsored by Bulmers and middle age. It comes to you from the comfort of a bed. In no way, shape, or form, is it an endorsement to drink the aforementioned beverage…
Rugby International days sure have changed.
Long gone is the first pint at 10am, and a cooked breakfast to purposefully line the stomach to limit the effects of 12 hours of solid drinking…it never worked. The mile long queue up Guildhall Place to bag a BK Whopper, and the inevitability of cheesy chips down Caroline Street to wrap up the night.
Twenty years later, and the view looks a little different. It’s 1.30pm, and I’m sat here smothering salty Marmite butter on fresh sourdough, while drinking a pleasantly chilled glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Apparently, this is what you do when you’re 40. Naturally, I will neither confirm nor deny that a period of regression took place soon after, but for two hours let’s pretend I displayed a level of sophistication appropriate to one’s age.
And when it comes to Thomas in Pontcanna, this is very much the look and feel – relaxed sophistication, down to earth fine dining- whatever you want to call it, it’s far from pretentious. It is, however, launch day and Chef Tom Simmons’ return to his home country has evidently sparked an interest with the locals; with the paint barely dry on the forest green walls, the restaurant is packed out.
Joined by his partner Lois in front of house, Pembrokeshire-born Tom has been at the helm of his flagship restaurant Tom Simmons Tower Bridge since 2017. However after three years, it seems the pull of the green green grass of home has been too much for them both. A brief chat assures that Tower Bridge is very much alive and kicking, with Tom’s established team continuing the success of bringing the best in Welsh produce to London. He simply says “I’m home”…and you sense that he’s missed Wales.
Chef Tom Simmons
As with Tower Bridge, the menu at Thomas is inspired by Tom’s rural heritage. Influenced by both British and French cuisine, there is a prominent focus on sustainable produce sourced from Wales. While it’s certainly succinct with just 4 or 5 dish choices in each course, it’s far from short of exciting options including king scallops (£14.50) and Dyfi gin-cured salmon (£10.50) to start, miso carrots (£17) and 10oz ribeye of beef (£24) from the grill for main; and if you still have room, a chilled rice pudding or apple frangipane (£8.50) will leave you under no illusion that you’ve eaten well. Although, a small tip- if you’re into perusing menus- remember your glasses, otherwise accept that someone with 20/20 vision will need to read it out for you- even in the daylight I struggle with the pale grey font. To be fair, Leigh Halfpenny is also sat in the corner…well he was, until it was kindly pointed out that he was probably a little too busy for lunch today. TMO decision rules…should’ve gone to Specsavers.
In favour of a lighter lunch- in more ways than one, starters are sidelined on this occasion and instead we opt for a couple of dishes for the table. Slices of warm sourdough arrive with the house butters of Marmite and more randomly leek and ash. It would be harsh to make comparisons when it comes to the use of the ‘Love it, or Hate it’ yeast extract, but until now the best Marmite butter in the city has resided 2 minutes down the road…until now. As usual, it’s highly addictive stuff; as is the vibrant green leek alternative, which has been whipped to create a silky spread that should be sold as an add on at the end of the meal. Put me down for two tubs!
Crispy mushroom croquettes are consumed in two mouthfuls- but if you were looking for two exceptional bites, these are an essential order. Generously topped with grated Caerphilly cheese and accompanied with a chive mayo, they are decadently rich and creamy, and crammed full of flavour.
As it turns out, it’s the indirect recommendation from the table to my right that leads me to a decision on a main course. I mean if Siân Lloyd tells you it’s going to rain- you take an umbrella. If she announces that this is the mother of all fish and chips- who am I to argue? Needless to say, while she may not have always been entirely accurate with the weather forecast, she can rest easy in the knowledge that her judgement of seafood is faultless. As is the dish…
‘Fish and Chips’
In hindsight at £23.50 for ‘Fish & Chips’, I wish I had placed a bet on Dillon Lewis being the first try scorer for Wales later that afternoon- although my justification for ordering the somewhat pricey dish appears unwarranted. Tom Simmons’ signature dish has thankfully made the 150 mile trip west from Tower Bridge- it’s also a million miles away from your local chippy’s battered cod. Whilst it still has the desired effect of transporting you off to the seaside, the beautifully flaky fish topped with tempura ‘batter bits’ is deserving of its fine dining price tag. Plated with a pea purée and warm tartare sauce, smoky mini lardons and a vinegar gel to raise the eyebrows, if you were looking for a lesson in the execution of taste and texture on a single plate then this would be it.
Accompanying the fish…chips. But these are no ordinary chips- six crispy stacks of thinly-sliced layers of potato with Parmesan and garlic and thyme-infused butter are insanely good, achieving light and fluffy status with a satisfying crunch.
Considering Thomas is in full flow on its day of launch, I forgive the fact that we’re not asked if we would like a dessert. It’s fine, as it turns out I’m full. Given time, I know the front of house will be outstanding, simply because they have Andrew- we first met 18 months ago further on up the street. Needless to say the memory of his exemplary service remains with me today, and once the lunchtime rush calms, it’s clear to see that little has changed.
As with any new opening, there are always going to be a few minor issues to iron out. At the time of booking, and subsequently writing, a menu is still not available to view on the website. We went in blind, not a problem when it came to choosing dishes, but we were slightly taken aback by the price. For a 2-course lunch and a bottle of wine, you can expect to pay upwards of £50pp- I’m not quite sure how sustainable this is for Cardiff, but I’ll certainly be watching with interest. Talking of which, I will add that if your PR is very much focused on the use of Welsh produce, evidence of traceability may be the touch that ensures people are prepared to pay that little extra. On this occasion, I’m not sure that the menu’s single line statement of- “All our meat is sourced sustainably from farms around Wales” covers it.
En conclusion…while the rugby score didn’t quite end up going Wales’ way, it’s great to see two nations inspiring this level of cooking. It’s also exciting to have yet another Chef set to make a considerable mark on the capital’s dining scene; and in that Thomas is a welcome addition.
Address | 3 & 5 Pontcanna Street, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9HQ
Telephone | 029 2116 7800
Web | thomas-pontcanna.co.uk