James Sommerin is delivering a taste of his cuisine from the Shed to customers at home, with menus of classic comfort food and homely desserts. Katherine Price reports.
Following the devastating closure of his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in Penarth last summer, chef James Sommerin has set up shop in Barry, offering a weekly Sommerins at Home takeaway of wholesome home comforts and classic dishes.
Luckily, the site in Barry's Gwalia Buildings, called the Shed, was already in the pipeline. The family got the site up and running last October and the restaurant traded for 29 days before lockdown kicked in, forcing them to focus on the takeaway side of the business.
"The takeaway is for us to survive – it's not about making a fortune," says Sommerin. "It's really about us keeping our head above water and being able to earn some money."
Between the three of them – Sommerin, daughter and sous chef Georgia and wife Louise – they are putting together and delivering 60-80 boxes per week, sometimes up to 100. Special occasions such as Mother's Day saw them send out 230 boxes of meals, cream teas and cakes, and they sold 300 boxes for Valentine's Day.
Sommerin writes the five-course seasonal menus on a Sunday, puts them on the website for sale on a Monday, and they are then delivered on weekends.
"I don't want to do a menu for the month, because we have many loyal customers that use us. Some people buy from us every week, so we try and keep it interesting for them so they're not having the same meals over and over," he explains.
All dishes are served pre-cooked and nothing takes more than 8-10 minutes to reheat or finish at home. Dishes are simple to assemble ("I don't sent out pictures of what it's supposed to look like because I think it's entirely up to the customer") and come with wine suggestions that customers can buy themselves. Food is packaged in biodegradable containers where possible and vegetarian options are available.
The meal boxes, priced at £38 per person, are available for collection and delivery, with the team delivering locally for a £2 charge and as far as Cardiff for £5, or nationally via courier for £15.95. The majority are local orders, although Sommerin says around 10-15 go out further afield every week – some as far as Scotland.
Sommerins at Home is serving up similar dishes to what will be found at the Shed: "good, wholesome food", like chicken kiev, sticky toffee pudding and crème brûlée. Recent ‘at home' menus have included desserts such as apple strudel, tiramisù and a mixed berry clafoutis, which Sommerin says "went down a storm… I think people had forgotten about or never had a clafoutis before". Similarly popular was a tournedos rossini made with chicken liver parfait instead of foie gras – "you just don't see that on menus any more," he says.
Desserts have been particularly in demand, in part due to Sommerin's homemade ice-cream. For his almond ice-cream, he toasts almonds and blends them to make an almond butter, which is then added to a milk ice-cream base and churned in a Pacojet.
Apple strudel is made by cooking thinly sliced apples with cinnamon, adding raspberries, and then piping almond frangipane inside a strudel pastry, using a recipe Louise found on the Michelin website during the first lockdown. Customers can reheat individual portions at home at 180ºC for eight minutes – to be eaten with the homemade ice-cream, of course.
Other recent dishes include a cannon of lamb stuffed with kale cooked down with lemon and rosemary, served with roasted celeriac, celeriac purée, fondant potato and truffle sauce.
The chef is using the same suppliers as he did at his Penarth restaurant, including Castell Howell, Douglas Willis butchers, E Ashton Fishmongers and WR Bishop for fruit and vegetables. "I wouldn't source my stuff from anywhere else," he says. "I've been working with my guys for nearly 20 years now, so it's important that we support them as much as possible."
I've been working with my guys for nearly 20 years now, so it's important that we support them
The plan is to keep doing takeaways even after reopening, confirms Sommerin, just on a smaller scale.
"For at least for the next 12 months there will be times when some people can't come out because they haven't had the vaccine, or they're too scared because other people haven't had the vaccine – there's going to be a lot of uncertainty," he says.
"For us, it's important as a business model that we're going to keep this… It might come to the point where we're so busy – fingers crossed – that we can't do it anymore. But I can see that it's going to be here to stay for at least the next 12 months. We might not be able to offer it to the scale that we've been doing, but we'll certainly be able to offer it as an option."
Sommerins at Home at the Shed, 1 Hood Road, Barry CF62 5BE
From the menu
- Roast tomato and red pepper soup, feta, basil
- Salmon and prawn ravioli, coriander, ginger and lemongrass velouté
- Gloucester Old Spot pork, sage, shallot, parsnip, spiced date sauce
- Dark chocolate crémeux, raspberry, mint
- Baked cinnamon rice pudding, toasted coconut, plum
£38 per person
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