Jan 17
James Sommerin – Interview with a Chef
posted by: Gomez in News on Jan 17th, 2014 | | No Comments »
Picture of James Sommerin

James Sommerin
Photo: Huw Jones Photography

James Sommerin is little frustrated. Today is the day that he and I had hoped would be the day that he showed me round his new restaurant. A restaurant that was just going through the finishing touches before opening in a few days. Alas Restaurant James Sommerin, already beset with delays, has suffered one more.

This time it is not the developers or the planners who are at fault it’s the weather. The terrible storms that have lashed us over the last few weeks have had an effect. Fortunately there was no flooding but the storms hit before the windows had been installed in the upper floors of the Beachcliff development on the Penarth Seafront that will be home to James’ new venture. This meant water damage from above and with no glass in place dehumidifiers are useless and so there is nothing to do but wait.

“How long?” I ask.
“The earliest I will get the keys is April 7th”, he says. “Providing they finish getting the windows in and we don’t get any snow. I’m really hoping to be open in time for Easter.”

So rather than looking at an actual restaurant we sit down with a cup of coffee, a pot of tea and a set of plans.

Restaurant James Sommerin will have a 55 cover main dining area, a 12 seat private dining room and a 4 seat chef’s table. Additionally there will be 9 bedrooms. With his name above the door, James has planned every aspect of the restaurant from the kitchen equipment to the tableware in the dining room. There will be a lot of natural wood in the restaurant and bar surfaces will be made of slate but because slate is soft and easily scratched they will be topped with glass.

The design of the kitchen has obviously been done with great care and James has been able to specify top of the range equipment. You can’t cook to Michelin standard on a Camping Gaz and so James is installing a Bonnet Maestro Classic Range costing £70k. Now you start to realise why fine dining doesn’t come cheap. There will be no gas in the kitchen either as James has opted to go induction. One of the reasons for this is that a lack of flame means a cooler kitchen and a cooler kitchen makes for a much more pleasant working environment for the kitchen staff.

In the restaurant the private dining area will be separated from the main area by a sliding glass wall, which can be retracted to extend the main area if required. There will be a lot of glass, including a large window that will afford the diners a view into the kitchen itself. In the kitchen the chef’s table will be right in the heart, just a few feet from the range. Another reason he’s gone for the induction system.

Behind the restaurants small reception area is the lift that allows access to the bedrooms, which will open shortly after the restaurant. Each of the nine bedrooms is large enough to qualify for a five star rating. The bedrooms will be spread over 3 floors. There will be 3 on the first floor, one of which will be an accessible room, 4 on the second floor and 2 suites on the third floor. The suites are large enough to accommodate a table for six if you really, really want to dine in private. A portable station will allow a chef and a waiter to be despatched to a suite for truly personal service.

James has been developing new dishes ready for the launch. Here's a Tomato Gazpacho.

James has been developing new dishes ready for the launch. Here’s his  Tomato Gazpacho.
Photo: Huw Jones Photography

After we had finished looking at the plans I asked James a few questions about the new restaurant and about himself.

MA: James, I don’t want to dwell on the trials of the past but your name is synonymous with the old Crown at Whitebrook, where you gained and held a Michelin Star for  7 years. We all know that the Crown closed in March 2013 but there had been rumours you were looking for your own place for a while before that happened. True or false?
JS: True! I suppose I had decided about 2 years prior that I wanted to move on at some point but that would be subject to finding the right venue. I actually handed my notice in the January, with a view to leaving in the October to give them time to find a replacement for me, but they took the decision to close it in the March.

MA: So what have you been doing with yourself since then?
JS: Well initially all my effort was put into the new site, but due to some of the delays I’ve been able to do some consultancy work in places like Cumbria. I’ve also had the opportunity to eat at a lot more places. One of the problems with chef’s hours is that you rarely get time off to eat in other establishments so I’ve taken the opportunity to eat out a lot more.

MA: All in the name of research! As you say the project has suffered a number of delays which must be very frustrating and costly for you, the latest being caused by the recent storms. How have you coped and are you confident that Easter is a realistic goal?
JS: All good things  come to those who wait. Isn’t that the phrase? I’ve had more time to consider what I want, but it has been annoying not being able to order and fit the things as I’ve decided on them. I am confident that we can open for Easter, once the windows go in on the upper floors and the building becomes watertight we can move ahead at a pace. The other thing is that my style of food is generally light so it will be great to launch with a nice Spring menu.

MA: Speaking of menus, how will the food at Restaurant James Sommerin differ from that at The Crown?
JS: Well my style of cooking is still my style of cooking, so don’t expect a complete re-invention because that won’t happen. However, my role at The Crown was to be Head Chef and run the kitchen but there were still things I couldn’t do. Here it’s all me and I can pretty much do what I want so that will be different. Also, as I said, I have had a chance to look at what other people are doing even at Michelin 3 Star level.

Another development dish - Mackerel Salad, Roast Cucumber with Olive Oil Caviar

Another sample dish – Mackerel Salad, Roast Cucumber with Olive Oil Caviar
Photo: Huw Jones Photography

MA: So can you give us a bit more of a clue what we can expect?
JS: The primary focus will be on the ingredients.

MA: Quality, Local?
JS: Yes but the quality is the most important part. I’m all for using local ingredients but if the local ingredients are poor then there’s no point. So it’s quality first for me.

MA: And?
JS: Well I’ve been experimenting with new methods, I’ve got this great way of making pasta that’s not really pasta but you can get it super thin. You’ll love it. My style is quite intricate, but I think you’ll see more planning and less process. The dishes will be simplified to let the ingredients speak for themselves, hence the focus on quality ingredients.

MA: Any other differences?
JS: Well there will be no à la carte in the evening, it will be tasting menu only.

MA: Just the one?
JS: No I’m thinking that we will offer 3 different tasting menu’s starting with a 5 course, then a 7 course and finally a 10 course. The 5 and 7 course will be written and the 10 course will probably be blind as it will be based around the freshest daily ingredients and we won’t know what is available until the day.

MA: Do you have a price point in mind?
JS: Yes, the 5 course will be priced at £55 and the 10 course will be £85.

MA: Considering the picture you’ve painted of the restaurant and the fact that I’ve had the good fortune to eat your food in the past that sounds quite reasonable. Now what about lunch times?
JS: We’ll probably offer a 3 course light lunch menu for about £25 and we will also offer a quick turn round for the corporate customer who needs a business lunch in a reasonable time frame.

Marinated Trout, Pickled Samphire & Dashi Crisp - Is your mouth watering yet?

Marinated Trout, Pickled Samphire & Dashi Crisp – Is your mouth watering yet?
Photo: Huw Jones Photography

MA: Excellent. Now you did mention your chef’s table, can you tell me more?
JS: Yes, the chef’s table will be a true experience. Unlike a lot of restaurants that have a chef’s table in a room near the kitchenn ours in right in the heart of it. You’ll have to come through the restaurant like everyone else, enter the kitchen, walk right through it to the table which is just behind the range. You’ll be in the thick of things. No waiters, you’ll be served both food and wine by the chefs. There is no limit on courses the food will just come as we cook. You’ll be able to see the cooking and the plating right up close and talk with the chefs throughout the service.

MA: Sounds amazing, dare I ask how much?
JS: Well it’s only a table of four so you won’t be stuck with trying to find a group of a dozen to come along or be faced with paying a grand or so to have it for a couple. You’ll be able to book it as a couple or a group of four at £150 per head and for that you can stay in the kitchen all night from the beginning of service to the very end.

MA: Well I now know where my wife and I will be going for her birthday this year!
JS: (Smiles)

MA: Now The Crown had quite an extensive cellar, what’s your take on wine?
JS: I’ve been doing a lot more with wine and food pairing now I’ve had some time, which has been very interesting and I’ve learned a lot. I don’t want to try and hold a massive cellar stock like The Crown did, but we are having a custom built wine fridge fitted and a purpose made area to store the reds. I see the majority of our wines being in the £25 – £40 range with a few better ones available for special occasions.

MA: One more question about the food. Michelin?
JS: I make no secret of the fact that I want my star back.

MA: I didn’t doubt it. So can we talk about service?
JS: Please.

MA: Not to upset you but the last time I was at The Crown I was very unhappy with the service, not because it was bad but because it was so stuffy. In fact I ate my food really feeling that the waitress disapproved of us for some reason. Now, how is your quest for quality going to reflect itself at the front of house?
JS: The service has to be first class, but I’m much more relaxed and so it won’t be stuffy. I want an atmosphere and a buzz not a whispered silence. The wait staff will be friendly, although not familiar, but they will all be excellent at what they do. I’m starting to interview at the moment and I know the kind of people I’m looking for. Also we will have music in the dining room, which we would never have had at The Crown. I’ve even been putting some playlists together.

MA: From what you’ve said about the restaurant, the food and the ethos I can’t wait for you to open.
JS: Neither can I! (laughs)

Raspberries, Air Rated Chocolate, Lime & Miso

Raspberries, Aerated Chocolate, Lime & Miso
Photo: Huw Jones Photography

MA: For those people that don’t know you, didn’t visit The Crown and have never eaten your food, can I ask you a few things about you?
JS: Sure.

MA: You were born in Caerleon, you worked in Scotland, came back to Wales, started at The Crown as sous chef in 2000, became head chef in 2003 and won your Michelin Star in 2007. Yet you credit your grandmother as being a huge influence on you, what was the most important thing she taught you?
JS: Well she was the one that taught me how to cook when I was a child and gave me an appreciation for good food. I would spend every Saturday at her house and we would cook together.

MA: In late 2007, just after you had won your Star, Jay Rayner in the Observer said you were a ‘chef to watch’. At the time you were quoted as saying that your ambition was to win another star. Would you still like to be the first Michelin two-star in Wales?
JS: I would love to hold two stars, I would love to be the first in Wales to do so, but if I don’t I’ll happily be the second.

MA: James, what is your favourite comfort food?
JS: Shepherd’s Pie. It’s a real ‘hugger’ and proper home cooking.

MA: What’s your essential kitchen item?
JS: I have two. A good quality knife and a Pacojet.

MA: How do you pick your suppliers?
JS: Well obviously they must supply quality products but I look for people with the same ethos as I do, that have a quality service, are honest and want to support me because that, ultimately, supports them.

MA: What’s your favourite restaurant?
JS: The Ledbury.

MA: Money no object, where do you want to eat that you haven’t?
JS: Coi in San Francisco (Chef Daniel Patterson, 2 Michelin Stars)

MA: You’ve cited Gordon Ramsey as someone you admire, are you as shouty/sweary in the kitchen?
JS: No I admire him for the business he’s created. I’m a lot more relaxed, I like a laugh and a joke in the kitchen, and I like music in my kitchen. I do have very high expectations of my staff, but if I ask them to pull an 18 hour shift I’ll be there side by side with them.

MA: How have customers changed during your career?
JS: Well they are lot more informed than when I started and I think they have a better appreciation of good food. Nowadays they understand the process more and I also think that they are proud of the industry, and realise how much work and effort is put in.

MA: What about cookery on TV, with Masterchef in all its forms, GBBO, The Taste etc. is that good or bad?
JS: Good, I’m sure it’s a bubble but it’s good and is partly why the customer has changed. Oh and I love Bake Off!

MA: (Laughs) Would you do more?
JS: If they asked me.

MA: How do you cope with bad reviews? Do you read them? What about Trip Advisor?
JS: I try not to fixate on them. I think for any chef that is creating dishes, a knock on their food is hard to swallow because we take it so personally. I try to step back and remember that they are a window looking in and they may see it differently to me. Sometimes it offers an opportunity to improve.

MA: And what about food bloggers? (Smiles.)
JS: Well you guys are new territory really. My first real exposure was when I was reviewed by the Critical Couple when at The Crown. That was a positive experience. Hopefully, passionate people writing about food are always a good thing.

MA: Well James, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you and Restaurant James Sommerin definitely sounds like it will be worth the wait. I’m really excited by what you’ve told me, I can’t wait to come back in a few weeks for an actual guided tour and, more so, I can’t wait to be able to book a table.
JS: Well actually I’ve already had some enquiries and so I’ve opened a diary and I’ve taken some bookings already.

MA: You mean people can book now? I’m sure there will readers of this blog that have been chomping at the bit waiting for you to open so they can get a table. If they can do that now, we need to tell them and give them the number.
JS: Right. Okay. Let’s do it. They can call on 07722 216727


Restaurant James Sommerin
(Opens Late April, exact date TBC)

To pre-book call 07722 216727

Jan 12

lagunaI’d been to the Laguna Restaurant at the Park Plaza once before when I had sampled a pre-theatre dinner before a visit to the New Theatre. What had impressed me at the time, and still does, is that it is a hotel restaurant that doesn’t feel like a hotel restaurant. A feat rarely achieved outside of London.

At the time of my first visit I was also quite impressed with the quality of the food, so an invitation to try out their take on a Chef’s Table was eagerly snapped up. Okay, so first up this isn’t really a chef’s table in the true sense, as you are not in the kitchen at all. Rather you are sitting at a high table in the restaurant a few feet from the pass. Also half the table have their back to the kitchen but as you’re actually not in it, there’s not much to see anyway so this isn’t too much of a problem.

The Chefs Table menu is a no choice gourmet tasting menu, paired with wine. And what a menu it is.

We started off with a bread selection with the obligatory oil and vinegar before moving onto a Mise en bouche.

Bread Selection

Bread Selection

The Mise en bouche comprised smoked slices of Brecon venison, some delightful Neal’s Yard goat curt, heritage beetroot and slices of muscovado baked peaches drizzled with truffle honey. This was paired with a Del Fin Del Mundo Extra Brut.

Mise en Bouche

Mise en Bouche

Our next course was an incredible sharing seafood platter billed as a Spectacular Selection of the Finest Hot and Cold Sea Food Coastline Vegetables, Welsh Tracklements. Wow! This was a visually stunning dish and if you are seafood lover you would be in heaven. Baked lobster and prawns, pickled cockles and samphire, a trio of cold smoked, hot smoked and beetroot cured salmon, a selection of mussels, octopus and baby squid were all excellent but the star of the show was a pastry topped scallop with chorizo served in the shell. The wine pairing was a very nice 2011 Chateau Fontaine Sancerre.

Spectacular Selection of the Finest Hot and Cold Sea Food Coastline Vegetables, Welsh Tracklements

Spectacular Selection of the Finest Hot and Cold Sea Food Coastline Vegetables, Welsh Tracklements

Seafood Platter in close up.

Seafood Platter in close up.

Before moving from the sea to the land we had a palate cleansing sorbet made from Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic. Now I’m not a gin lover but this had a nice citrus acidity that set us up for what was to come next.

Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic Sorbet

Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic Sorbet

Just as I was wondering how the next course was going to be able to hold its own against that platter an Open Beef Wellington with Roasted Shallots, Wild Mushrooms and Port Wine Jus was set in front of me. Ah so that’s how!

Another triumph, a tender, flavoursome beef fillet accompanied by a soft rich parfait of goose liver with a crisp pastry astride a lovely fondant potato all brought together by the port wine jus. Impressive! Paired with a 2011 Del Fin Del Mundo Malbec Reserva.

Open Beef Wellington with Roasted Shallots, Wild Mushrooms and Port Wine Jus

Open Beef Wellington with Roasted Shallots, Wild Mushrooms and Port Wine Jus

Dessert came in the form of a Jersey Cream Crème Brulee, Passion Fruit, Short Bread Biscuits. Wow this is good stuff, thick, smooth vanilla custard, thin but crisp sugar top, a nice short shortbread and the natural sourness of the passion fruit to cut through it. Delightful! Add in a glass of a great dessert wine in a Moscato Passitto and away we go.

Jersey Cream Crème Brulee, Passion Fruit, Short Bread Biscuits

Jersey Cream Crème Brulee, Passion Fruit, Short Bread Biscuits

To round everything off we were served a selection of raspberries and Home Made Petit Fours to accompany our coffee.

Home Made Petit Four

Home Made Petit Four

Experienced Laguna head chef, Justin Llewellyn, has certainly done a great job of forging relationships with local Welsh suppliers to put together an exemplary tasting menu. The quality of the food on offer is as good if not better than anything else you will currently find in Cardiff.

So good to see a glass of water served with a coffee.

So good to see a glass of water served with a coffee.

The Chefs Table is available to book for groups of between six and twelve. At £45.00 per head including the wine pairing this must be the best value fine dining available in Cardiff at the moment.

Go! Go round up your friends and book the Chefs Table, you won’t be disappointed.

Laguna Kitchen and Bar
Park Plaza Hotel
Greyfriars Road
CF10 3AL

Tel: 02920 111 103
Email: lagunarestaurant@parkplazahotels.co.uk
Web: www.lagunakitchenandbar.com

We were invited to attend the Chefs Table by Working Word PR and as such all food and drink was complimentary.
Laguna Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Dec 17
Holiday Meals & Wine Pairing Advice
posted by: Gomez in Products on Dec 17th, 2013 | | No Comments »

Bottle of moscatoWith the holiday season just about to kick off, many will be focused on some of the delicious meals to come. Indeed, holiday recipes are a significant part of what makes this time of year so special for many of us, and there’s great value in perfecting a dish over the years to give the family something to look forward to. And for many food enthusiasts, the best way to take these perfected holiday recipes to the next level is with the ideal wine pairing.

Finding wine for the holidays can be tricky enough on its own, simply because you’ll probably want a special bottle or two on hand. One interesting option is to look through Marks and Spencer online, where the wine section not only offers variety, but provides you with options for selecting entire cases (allowing you to sample various bottles). Alternatively, your local wine shop may well be featuring a few special bottles for the holidays, which can always be fun to try. But before you bother with selecting wines, you should still give some thought to pairing them. And with that in mind, here are a few basic tips for pairing wine with traditional holiday meals.

    • Ham Entrees – Ham is one of the most popular meats for holiday entrees, and as noted by a Huffington Post article on the same subject, it’s often accompanied by a sweet sauce or glaze. The combination of flavorful meat with sweetness makes for a tricky combination to match, though a smoky or slightly sweet red wine will usually be the best accompaniment, as it will stand up to the dish. Syrah may be your best bet.
    • Turkey Entrees – Along with goose, turkey is a very popular bird for holiday feasts (often Thanksgiving, but for Christmas as well). Many like to suggest that white meats should always pair with white wine, but in this case it may be wise to make an exception. A red Zinfandel is a wonderful choice. These wines tend to be complex without being overpowering, and can handle both the light and dark meat, as well as the various sides (cranberry, stuffing, etc.) traditionally present.
    • Duck Entrees – Duck is perhaps the most unique tasting of the birds popular in holiday entrees (though if your family tends toward pheasant or quail you’ll be used to other unique options), and can be tricky for wine. Duck is a very fatty meat, and therefore demands a wine with a bit of punch to it. However, like turkey and ham, and really any holiday meal, it’s often accompanied by sweet complements. Pinot Noir is worth considering, as a strong enough red to handle the fattiness, but with enough fruitiness to pair well.
    • Holiday Desserts – Holiday Desserts take all forms, and for many sparkling wine is the ideal pairing for any dessert or festive occasion. However if you’re looking for an alternative, a Moscato or sweet Zinfandel can be a great accompaniment to traditional rich desserts.

This is a guest post by Damon Miller. Damon is a freelance writer and food and travel enthusiast who particularly enjoys visiting and sampling different vineyards across the world.

Dec 2
Foodie Penpals – November 2013
posted by: Babette in Babette's Ffest on Dec 2nd, 2013 | | 1 Comment »

I was so delighted with my first Foodie Pen Pal experience in October that I decided to do it again in November. I was matched with Kate from England whose brother used to live in Swansea and enjoyed visiting Swansea market, so I sent a parcel containing Welsh cakes, laver bread and other Welsh goodies.

Vanessa from Greece was given my name; she put a lot of thought and love into my parcel! What a joy!

Greek Foodie Penpal Parcel

Greek Foodie Penpal Parcel

The crowning jewel of the package is the Kalamata olives which are my favourite olives and the pride of Greece.

There is one item that I have never tasted in the package, stamnagathi, a type of wild chicory which grows in difficult to reach areas of the mountains in Crete. The stamnagathi was baked in some bread sticks.

I also learned something new with this package. I have heard of mastic chewing gum but what I did not know is that mastic is the resin from the mastic tree, which is indigenous to Chios in Greece. Also included are candies that have mastic.

Finally in the package are things that I am familiar with but am very excited to try the Greek varieties of them: tomato paste from Kyknos, green sage which can be used as a tea or as a herb for cooking, halva, and a dark chocolate wafer (Vanessa’s favourite from her childhood).

Foodie Penpals will be taking a break in December and will start up again in the New Year. If you live in the UK or Europe, you can read more about how it works here. If you live in the Americas you can read more about it here.

I will participate again in January and will be searching my farmer’s market for locally made non perishable food items that are light to post. According to the guidelines, the cost of the parcel should not exceed £10 excluding postage. You may adjust how much you spend on your parcel to reflect the higher cost of postage if sending to a foreign country. If you have any ideas for a foodie parcel, please do leave a suggestion!

Nov 28

What makes Otley Beer so delicious and unique?

Otley Brewing Company is a family run business started by Paul, Nick, Robert, Charlie and Matthew Otley in 2005. The idea brewed as a conversation over a few pints of beer…the start of many an idea! As the family owned pubs, they knew what people liked to drink but more importantly what was missing from the market. Driven by the love of great beer and a desire to craft unique ales, they decided to make their own beers.

Where the Beer is Brewed

Where the Beer is Brewed

As a small family run microbrewery they are not afraid of being innovative and are committed to using the finest ingredients to make their ales. The water for their beer comes from the Brecon Beacons; the Malt comes from Tucker Maltings, which is one of the few Malthouses that produces malt in the traditional way, and their hops are sourced from all over the world.

Malt and Hops

Malt and Hops

It’s not just the ingredients that make this an excellent quaff but the unique combinations of hops, often decided over a pint of beer, which gives them a fresh and modern award winning range of beers.

A unique range of ingredients

A unique range of ingredients

Otley is one of the first breweries to add unique but subtle flavourings to their beer. All of their beers drink well on their own but they also shine when drunk with a meal. Their Thai Bo has a subtle hint of lime leaf, lemongrass and galangal and is perfect with Chinese or Indian food. 09 Blond is a clear wheat beer with roasted orange peel, coriander and cloves and is scrumptious with salad and fish. The Oh Ho Ho has a background note of blueberries and goes well with steak and the Porter is sublime with dessert.

The Current Otley Range

The Current Otley Range

Otley is located in Ponytpridd, just up the road from their friendly and welcoming pub and restaurant The Bunch of Grapes.

Thanks to the generosity of Otley, we are running a contest to give you a chance to win a Minikeg of their beer. You must be over 18 to enter and, due to delivery issues, live in the mainland UK, excluding Northern Scotland.

Note you need a Facebook account to be able to enter this competition, sorry. Use the Widget below to confirm your email address, name, city and date of birth (you must be 18 or over to enter). Then click the like button to become a fan of the Otley Brewing Co on Facebook.  If you have a Twitter account you can get a second entry and better your chances of winning if you use the bonus screen to follow the Otley Twitter Account.

Full rules are at the end of this post.

Click here to view this promotion.


  • The deadline for entries is 23:59 GMT Friday 6th December 2013.
  • The competition is open to U.K. mainland residents only (excluding Northern Scotland), sorry.
  • You must be 18 or over to enter.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries.
  • The editors decison is final and no correspondence will be entered into
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • The prize is one mini keg of Otley Beer of unspecified type, as shown above, and includes free delivery anywhere in mainland UK excluding Northern Scotland.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by the Otley Brewing Company.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Corpulent Capers accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • One entry per person only.
  • Entrants must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • By entering you agree to join our mailing list. You may unsubscribe at any time and we will never pass your details to any other party. Your privacy is very important to us.
  • The winners will be notified by email. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.
Nov 23

This is the recipe I will be using for my Christmas Pudding this year. Stir Up Sunday, the traditional day for making your pud is on the 24th November.  Sainsbury’s is reviving this tradition and has kindly supplied the ingredients.

This year, Sainsbury’s has enlisted the help of baker and food writer Dan Lepard to inspire families up and down the country to revive this old unifying family tradition.

On Sunday (24th November), Dan will be hosting a live Christmas pudding Tweet-a-long between 2:00pm and 4:00pm. He’ll be on-hand to answer all your questions – sharing his insider tips and helpful videos to ensure your Stir-up Sunday is a success.

Dan Lepard's Classic Christmas Pudding
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A classic Christmas Pudding Recipe from an award-winning baker and food wriiter
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: British
Serves: 8
  • 385g Sainsbury's mixed dried fruit
  • 80g Sainsbury's ready-to-eat dried figs, roughly chopped
  • 75g Sainsbury's glacé cherries, roughly chopped
  • 100ml basics brandy, plus some for flaming
  • 1 small cooking apple, peeled cored and grated
  • 1 small orange, zest and juice
  • 100g shredded suet (vegetarian if you wish)
  • 3 medium British free-range Woodland eggs by Sainsbury's, beaten
  • 100g Sainsbury's ground almonds
  • 200g soft muscovado sugar
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 20g Sainsbury's almonds, halved
  • 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice by Sainsbury's
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon by Sainsbury's
  1. Classic Christmas Pudding
  2. Put the mixed fruit, dried figs and glacé cherries into large pan with the brandy and bring to the boil; turn down and simmer for five minutes. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to soak overnight.
  3. Grease a 1 litre pudding basin.
  4. Mix together the cooking apple, orange juice and zest, suet, beaten eggs, ground almonds, sugar, and flour in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Stir in the soaked fruit, almonds, mixed spice and cinnamon. Pour into the greased basin. Cover the basin with two large circles of greaseproof paper and one of tin foil and secure around the top of the basin with string. Make a handle across the basin with the string.
  6. Place the basin in a large saucepan, with a lid, and pour in boiling water until it comes half way up the basin. Cover with the lid and steam for two hours. Allow to cool, then wrap the whole basin in foil and store until Christmas (see tip).
  7. One hour and 30 minutes before you want to serve the pudding, place into a large saucepan, as before, and steam for 1 hour and 30 minutes until cooked through and springy to touch.
  8. To serve, pour over a couple of tablespoons of brandy and light the pudding. Serve with brandy butter, cream or vanilla custard.
Cook’s tips: Store your prepared pudding, well wrapped and in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months.

Flaming your pudding
Warm a little brandy, pour over the undecorated steamed pudding and light.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 Calories: 586 Fat: 18.9g Saturated fat: 5.7g Sugar: 49.6g Sodium: 0.28g


Nov 19

Picture of Sea Island Coffee TinSo we’ve all heard of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, haven’t we? Traditionally grown at elevations between 900 and 1700m in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica (obviously) it has gained a reputation for being one of the most expensive and sort after coffees in the world.

So what’s this RSW Estate Peaberry stuff then? Okay so let’s do the Peaberry bit first. Nearly all coffee beans split into two halves as they mature. This pair of flat shaped beans is the typical coffee bean. However, some don’t split and grow to form a single rounded bean in the shape of a pea, hence ‘peaberry’.

Now the number of beans that mature this way is very small and so the peaberry beans only make up around 5% of the coffee crop. Experts disagree as to why the peaberry appears to produce a superior cup. Some say that there are more nutrients in a single bean whilst others state that the rounded shape offers advantages during roasting. Whatever the truth just know that we have the creme de la creme of Jamaican Blue Mountain here.

Yeah but what about the RSW Estate stuff? Well whilst this is a 100% Arabica, it is produced by three of the oldest coffee farming families, namely the Langfords, Diekmans & Allgroves, on three estates; Resource, Sherwood Forest and Whitfield Hall. Hence the RSW.

Map of Jamaica

Blue Mountain Region of Jamaica

Right, enough questions and enough explanations, let’s get a brew going!

Opening the packet of Jamaican Blue Mountain RSW Estate Peaberry from Sea Island Coffee was, if I’m honest, a little disappointing as there was little to tickle the olfactory organs. However, I was soon to learn that this rare Peaberry bean is too clever to give of it’s secrets to the air, preferring to hold on to them until they can be released into the steamy depths of hot water.

When I tried Sea Island’s Geisha Coffee a while back I discovered I needed an extra scoop, that is certainly not the case with the Peaberry. This produces an intense coffee, dark, rich and full of flavour. For me the best flavour came a few minutes after pouring when the temperature had dropped a few degrees.

Despite the intensity of flavour there is no bitterness here at all. In fact I think this is one of the smoothest coffees I’ve tried, with lovely chocolatey notes that develop into a complex smokiness on the palate. Little wonder that it won a gold star at this years Great Taste Awards.

If you can get past the price (£16 for 125g bag) you’ll find a coffee with an excellent balance, a long smooth finish and a complexity of flavour. All in all an exceptional coffee.

Jamaican Blue Mountain RSW Estate Peaberry is available from:-

Sea Island Coffee
111a Walton Street
London, SW2 2HP
United Kingdom

Tel: 020 7584 7545
Web: www.seaislandcoffee.com

My sample of  Jamaican Blue Mountain RSW Estate Peaberry Coffee was provided free of charge by Sea Island Coffee.





Nov 16

I have been a big fan of Waterloo Tea since I discovered it several years ago. At their Teahouse, a wide selection of the worlds finest teas and coffees are on offer, the work of local artists is on exhibit (available for purchase as well), and homemade cakes and light lunches are available. Waterloo Tea has one draw back; they do not have a license to cook food on the premises so the lunch menu is limited to mainly sandwiches and salads.

Enter stage right Washington Tea! Washington Tea is the sister teahouse in Penarth which opened in June 2013. You can find the same great tea, coffee and cake as you find in Waterloo Tea but Washington Tea has a liquor license and the license to cook. Now having the ability to provide hot food, owner Kasim Ali hired Chef Joe Rowson who worked at Le Gallois in Cardiff and was Head Chef at Arboreal in Cowbridge. To take advantage of having a highly skilled Chef, Washington Gardens offers fortnightly supper clubs. Mr. A and I were delighted when Kasim invited us to Washington Gardens for a supper club. The supper club can accommodate about 30 people with the evening beginning at 19:30 and the first course being served at 20:00. For £35.00 you receive a 5 course meal paired with teas of different origins. As Washington Tea has a liquor license, you can also buy wine by the class or bottle as well.

On the night we attended, the menu was very inspired by the food of Yotam Ottolenghi: primarily vegetarian with a fusion of flavours and spices from various countries in the Middle East. You’ll find spices and condiments such as sumac which has a tart flavour, dukka an Egyptian spice blend typically containing sesame, cumin, coriander, hazelnut and salt and pomegranate molasses, a thick tangy reduction of pomegranate juice. Theses spices and condiments are used very subtly and add a nice touch to the dishes. If you have never used these spices, I think after the supper club you may be inspired to try them at home. Washington Tea also takes pride in the quality of ingredients that they use. Produce is sourced from The Organic Fresh Food Company based in Lampeter, Riverside Market Gardens in Cardiff and Tortoise Bakery which specialises in slow fermented bread.

For the first course we were served a bright and fresh organic beetroot and ginger soup with a golden beetroot and goats cheese crostini, which was paired with a Blood Orange puerh tea. This earthy tea flavoured with blood orange was a perfect complement for the earthy zingy soup.

Picture of organic beetroot and ginger soup

Organic Beetroot and Ginger Soup

Our second course was a flavoursome smoked trout, mackerel and saffron potato terrine served with a dill crème fraiche, caper salsa and sumac paired with Wuyi oolong tea. Wuyi has a subtle smoky finish so was a fabulous match with terrine.

Picture of smoked trout, mackerel and saffron potato terrine

Smoked Trout, Mackerel and Saffron Potato Terrine

The third course was squash falafel with a rainbow carrot salad seasoned with dukka, and mint yogurt, paired with a take on Moroccan mint tea. A twist on a Middle East classic dish paired with a traditional Middle Eastern tea.

Picture of squash falafel with a rainbow carrot salad

Squash Falafel with a Rainbow Carrot Salad

The forth course was aubergine roasted with pomegranate molasses, braised pearl barley with red tomato and feta; paired with Phoenix Orchid oolong. This dish was a balance between earthy aubergine, salty cheese and sweet pomegranate and was paired with a rich tea with notes of honey and lychee.

Picture of aubergine roasted with pomegranate molasses

Aubergine Roasted with Pomegranate Molasses

Finally for dessert, we had Braeburn and almond tart served with ice cream, and paired with an iced sparkling hibiscus infusion. A lovely way to end the evening.

Picture of Braeburn and almond tart served with ice cream

Braeburn and Almond Tart served with Ice Cream

There are many things I enjoyed about the supper club: they use spices that are not typically used in Britain, a vibrant and fresh menu, the friendly staff who were really excited and knowledgeable about the menu and tea pairings, the buzz from the diners as they discovered new flavours in food and tea, and of course having each course paired with a tea. I have quite a collection of tea from Waterloo Tea in my house and I learned quite a lot in the evening for me to start pairing teas with my meals.

If you would like to attend a supper club bookings can be made on telephone, 02920709158, email washington@waterlootea.com and through the online shop waterlootea.com

Penarth store details:

Washington Tea
1-3 Washington Buildings
Stanwell Road

T: 029 2070 9158
E: washington@waterlootea.com

We invited to supper club as guests of Washington Tea and as such our meals were complimentary.

Nov 7
Foodie Penpals October 2013
posted by: Babette in Babette's Ffest on Nov 7th, 2013 | | 3 Comments »

Through the magic of the Twitterverse I learned about Foodie Penpals. Foodie Penpals started in the US and the lovely Carol Anne a.k.a. @ThisIsRockSalt took the initiative to start one up for the UK/Europe. Foodie Penpals is a great way to meet bloggers, blog readers, and discover new foodie products.

October was my first month. I sent a parcel to Claire at Clairey Fairy’s Cooking and you can read what she thought about the parcel I sent to her on her blog here.

Before I sent Claire her parcel, we exchanged a few emails so I could learn more about her foodie tastes. As she predominately likes to bake, I decided to send 2 dessert items and something I thought would be new for her to experiment with.

My parcel was from Inga in Lithuania. Well I couldn’t imagine what would be in my parcel! I basically told Inga that I love everything. As I do not know food from Lithuania, I did not want to put any limitations on her and miss a foodie gem.

Wheat Biscuits, Warming Herbal Tea and Gooseberry Jam from Foodie Penpals

Wheat Biscuits, Warming Herbal Tea and Gooseberry Jam

What a parcel I received. Inga said the items she posted represented autumn in Lithuania: A small jar of Honey from her uncle who keeps bees in his garden, warming herb tea, gooseberry jam and wheat biscuits, cinnamon biscuits, chocolate drops, and dried bay boletus mushrooms.

Foodie Penpal Inga sent Home Produced Honey, Dried Bay Boletus Mushrooms, Chocolate Drops and  Cinnamon Biscuits.

Home Produced Honey, Dried Bay Boletus Mushrooms, Chocolate Drops and Cinnamon Biscuits.

I will certainly enjoy the treasures of my parcel and looking forward to finding out who my Food Penpal is for November!

If you live in the UK/Europe and would like to join Foodie Penpals then full details are on the This Is Rock Salt blog, just click here.

Oct 29

Turning off the B4589 onto Llansantffraed Court Hotel’s private drive, I am immediately reminded that this four-star country house hotel and restaurant sits in a stunning location. The William and Mary style, grade II listed building is surrounded by 20 acres of lawns, and is complete with its own lake and walled kitchen garden, whose content is to feature heavily on our menu this evening.

Also in the gardens is a small church, parts of which may date back to the 16th century. The church is named after St Bridget who is often portrayed as having the power to multiply such things as butter, bacon and milk. I take this as a good sign for the night ahead.

View of St Bridget's Church across the lake

View of St Bridget’s Church across the lake

As we reach the head of the drive the authentic sound of gravel under the tyre heralds the arrival at the main entrance to the Llansantffraed Court Country House Hotel and Restaurant. Let the evening begin.

After our excellent summer, there is a noticeable drop in temperature as we move through autumn and so we opt to peruse the menus in the bar, where Mrs A can seek warmth from the fireplace. Llansantffraed’s Court Restaurant offers a number of menu choices including a set dinner menu at around £27.50 and an individually priced à la carte menu. We have come for the six course Chef’s Tasting Menu at £50 which may be paired with a wine flight, if desired, for an additional £35. Llansantffraed has a very extensive and eclectic wine list (the .pdf on their web site is 22 pages long!) and a very expensive preservation system allows them to offer the vast majority by the glass, which is very good news indeed.

I particularly like the fact that even the Tasting Menu can change on a daily basis to reflect whatever is freshest in both the walled kitchen garden and at their suppliers. It is worth pointing out that Llansantffraed proudly displays a list of its main suppliers alongside their menu and on their website. We all want to support and enjoy local produce, but as well as being local it has to be good. Fortunately in this area local and good is readily available, allowing the restaurant to source 75% of its ingredients within a 20 mile radius. Produce from the walled garden is of course measured in food yards not miles!

Picture of the Walled Garden at LLansantffraed

The Walled Garden

Back inside we have the option of choosing to have the Tasting Menu served to us “blind”, an option which appeals to me or, more traditionally, with prior knowledge an option that appeals to Mrs A, not normally one for surprises. So, of course, we opt to see the menu in advance and I am delighted to find that it is suitably vague with each course simply listed as its main ingredient e.g. scallop, bass, lamb. I like this form of menu presentation as it still tells you what you are going to be eating but doesn’t mean that you get the chance to prejudge the dish in terms of content or presentation.

Even though we were now aware of the main ingredient of each course, the excellent and friendly staff took time to ensure that we had no allergies, intolerances or dislikes that could have affected our enjoyment of what was ahead.

Whilst all this was unfolding we received some canapés from the kitchen. There were some delightfully light and savoury cheese gourgères, a small raft of cockle ‘popcorn’, savoury anchovy palmiers and a turkey mousse.

Picture of Canapes at Llansantffraed Court Hotel


The restaurant, some parts of which date back to 1670, is tastefully done; the walls are lined with images from a local photographer (and are available for sale). Comfortable chairs, an increasing rarity in the rush to style over substance, are accompanied by white linen tables giving an intimate ambience that still manages to feel relaxed and not stuffy.

Inside the Court Restaurant

The Court Restaurant

‘Amuse Bouche’

First to arrive is the Amuse Bouche, a Kataifi wrapped Quails Egg served with Mushroom, Pea Three Ways and slices of Truffle alongside a Truffle Custard. I love truffle so I was in heaven already, but you know that the make or break for this dish is going to come when you slice into that quails egg. Will the yolk be runny or not? These things are so small that only a few seconds separates delightful, runny, unctuousness from the disaster that is hard boiled. Oh well done Chef, right on the money!

Kataifi wrapped Quails Egg

Amuse Bouche – Kataifi wrapped Quails Egg

Delightful, Runny, Unctuousness

Delightful, Runny, Unctuousness

After the Amuse Bouche we get to try some of the home baked breads which are so good Mrs A, knowing my penchant for all things doughy has to stop me from asking for more on the basis that we have a few more courses to come yet.


Our first course, labelled simply as “Scallop”, turns out to be just a little bit more than that. Beautifully cooked scallops, served with sea spinach and sea aster alongside different types of cauliflower – purple, quenelle , puree and even a cauliflower panna cotta – accompanied by apple cured belly pork and apple purée. A great combination of well-tried flavours is in evidence here, with the innovative cauliflower variations introducing some nice texture changes.

Picture of Scallop Dish



Next up is “Bass”. Here we have line caught Bass served with Artichoke, Artichoke Crisp and Octopus. Expertly cooked fish, from a Chef who prides himself on his fish preparation and who even spent time at Ashton’s fish market in Cardiff to master the skills. He cooks it as well as he prepares it, trust me on that. The Octopus was cooked in a Greek style and added a rich texture and taste to the dish.

Picture of Bass Dish



Following the fish courses it was time to move onto “Lamb” in the form of Lamb Loin, Lamb Breast and Sweetbread. Served with vegetables from the walled garden such as leeks, potatoes, butternut squash, wild garlic, Gower samphire and a flavourful lamb jus this was rich and hearty.

Picture of Lamb Course

Lamb Course

Second picture of the lamb course

More Lamb



The first of our sweet courses is entitled “Lemon” and presents as sharp lemon custard with blackberries, blackberry sorbet, blackberry coulis, pistachio and meringue. This is a beautiful light harmonious dessert celebrating the bounty of blackberries in the hedgerow this year!

Picture of Lemon Course


Another picture of Lemon

More Lemon


Our second sweet bills itself simply as “Chocolate”. Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream, Molten Chocolate Cake Cup and jug of warm booze! As Mrs A put it “This is chocolate milk and cookies for adults.”

Picture of the Chocolate Dessert Course


To summarise, Mrs A and I truly loved the meal. It’s a great reflection of what dining in a country house hotel should be. High quality, local ingredients cooked superbly by a chef that understands both flavour and texture. There is a high level of skill on display here, in both process and cooking. Credit to Chef Hendry for being able to demonstrate both, whilst not being distracted from what, for us, is the primary objective, flavour.

At the end of our fabulous dinner, our waiter arrives looking slightly perplexed. “I’ve never done this before” he says, leaving me wondering what ‘this’ is. Fortunately he goes on, “Chef was planning to pop out and say hello at some point, but we’ve got another party due any minute and so he’s a bit busy. So he’s asked me to come and ask you if you’d like to visit him in the kitchen instead.” From the look on his face I can see that he really never has done this before and I am reminded of a certain 1970’s sit-com in which a Mr Rumbold was prone to mutter “This is most irregular.” Irregular or not we jumped at the chance.

‘The Kitchen’

The one thing that most country house hotel kitchens seem to have in common is that they have, by necessity, been shoe-horned into totally unsuitable amounts of space. With a restaurant and a strong wedding trade you really expect the kitchens at Llansantffraed to be much bigger than they actually are. That food of this quality is coming out of them is a testament not only to the skills of the Chef, but also to how he runs his team. It is the teamwork (or lack of it) that can make or break a place and so credit must also go to owner Mike Morgan for investing both money and time in building his team and integrating front and back of house so well.

Picture of owner Mike Morgan and chef Mike Hendry

Llansantffraed Court Hotel Owner Mike Morgan and Head Chef Mike Hendry.

So who is this Chef that is revitalising the hotel’s restaurant and adding yet another destination to the local Monmouthshire food scene? Well he goes by the name of Mike Hendry and is originally from Ayrshire. Mike began his career as a Chef aged 21 and came to Wales in 2003 after being offered a position at the Michelin starred Crown at Whitebrook where he remained until it closed early in 2013. Mike rose through the ranks to become Sous Chef; his six years of working in a Michelin starred kitchen has given him great experience for his first role as Head Chef of a fine dining restaurant seeking to establish itself on the Monmouthshire culinary map. He has also been able to bring some other members of the old Crown team to the Llansantffraed kitchen with him to help create a formidable and experienced brigade.

This area of Monmouthshire has quite a few restaurants of note. Names such as The Hardwick, The Foxhunter, The Walnut Tree and The Bell have long been shouted out as reasons why people should make the foodie pilgrimage to the area. With food as competent as this coming out of the kitchen I suggest that they’ll soon be adding another restaurant to the list.

As for us! Well, so happy were we to be back eating great food in such a great location, that we decided shortly after our visit to book ourselves in for the most important meal of the year, Christmas Lunch. Do you really need a better recommendation than that?

Clytha, Llanvihangel Gobion
Nr. Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
Wales NP7 9BA

Tel: +44(0) 1873 840678
Fax: +44(0) 1873 840674
Email: reception@llch.co.uk
Web: www.llch.co.uk

The Court Restaurant on Urbanspoon

We were invited to dine at Llansantffraed Court by their PR company and as such our food items were complementary.

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