James Sommerin

James Sommerin

James Sommerin

Noted for his innovative, flavourful food, James Sommerin has won multiple Michelin stars throughout his career, most recently at his lauded Penarth restaurant, Home.

You’d be hard pushed to find a Welshman who isn’t proud of his roots, and none more so than James Sommerin. The Caerleon-raised chef has remained faithful to Wales, garnering a reputation that has helped elevate the country’s gastronomic status. What sets him aside from his region’s peers is his characteristic cuisine, which he explains, is focused 'on more unusual products, to show there’s more to Wales'.

His modus operandi has certainly evolved since the Saturdays he spent making bread and corned beef pasties with his gran, whom he credits for giving him an appreciation of good food and a passion for cooking. As a teenager he earned his stripes at an Italian restaurant, went on to formal training after school, then worked at the Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel near Usk before making his way to Scotland. It was here, at the Farleyer House Hotel in Aberfeldy, where a youthful James learned the pared-back French style of Richard Lyth, a chef who – whilst not holding the same culinary rank as celebrated mentors such as Pierre Koffmann – had a profound influence on him. 'If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. He taught me the important things like seasonality, quality of ingredients, and respect more than anything else,' he affirms.

Scotland proved fortuitous for the fledging cook – he was shortlisted for Young Scottish Chef of the Year and met his wife Louise, with whom he has three girls. In August 2000, after five years at Farleyer, he returned to Wales to work as a sous chef at The Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire. In late 2003 he became head chef; in 2007, the recipient of his first Michelin star – something he is immensely proud of, given his non-Michelin background. The Observer marked him as a Chef to Watch in 2008; potential he realised in 2009 when he won the Welsh regional final of BBC2’s Great British Menu (he also competed in 2008, 2010 and 2012). He maintained the coveted star – Wales’s longest-standing – until The Crown closed in 2013.

In summer 2014 he opened Restaurant James Sommerin on Penarth’s esplanade, a short drive
from Cardiff. Menus were succinctly scribed with just three to five ingredients disclosing each
dish – a bold format that was perplexing to some, tantalising to others. Jerusalem Artichoke,
Egg, Truffle was one example; Turbot, Carrot, Cockles, Ginger is another – unexpected flavour
medleys which delighted diners. The restaurant was awarded a star from the Michelin Guide in
2016, an accolade it held until its closure, mid-pandemic, in 2020.
During that turbulent time, James and family ploughed their time and energy into looking after
local NHS staff: they worked up to sixteen hours a day to ensure over 26,000 meals were
prepared, cooked and delivered to the frontline, and wrote the cookery book 'A Little Help From
My Friends' to raise money for the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board's official charity.

Soon after, James opened Home in Penarth in August 2021. It was added to the Michelin Guide
within four months and soon regained the Michelin Star the previous restaurant had held on the
seafront. The business is very much a family concern, the kitchen run by James alongside his
daughter, Georgia- who has represented Wales twice on Great British Menu- and with front of
house overseen by his wife Louise and her twin sister Cath.

James' contemporary cuisine is inspired by France though keenly British, loyal to good quality
local produce and the seasons, light on the stomach – and unique.
It’s fair to assume that James' hero is the food itself. 'I don’t like to overshadow the ingredients',
he says. The key, he feels, lies 'with fantastic produce and treating it sympathetically'. Although
his approach is modern, he’s chosen not to deconstruct too much or be fancy for fancy’s sake.
'It’s not about having masses of complicated elements on the dish; you want the main element
to really speak for itself. When we serve scallops with Iberico ham, it’s literally scallops and
Iberico ham. The flavours are really pronounced and there’s something slightly earthy about it.
That’s what it’s all about.'

At Home, the focus is very much on the family's hospitality. Once diners ring the bell for admission and the thick velvet curtains part, they are welcomed into a dining room which frames
the open kitchen as a stage. Whether they choose the short or long tasting options, which change every five weeks, everything is served with menus unseen, with the dishes described only as they are served. The menu is then presented in a sealed envelope at the end of the meal, so diners can relax and let
it all unfold in front of them over four or eight courses.

That element of the unseen is key to Home, the selection driven foremost by picking ingredients
at their peak, so they can be presented at their seasonal peak.

With a first-time inclusion on La Liste, a Top 50 showing from the SquareMeal list, an ‘Exceptional’ rating from the Good Food Guide, and Michelin Star retained year on year, James Sommerin goes from strength to strength.