James started his culinary career at the age of 12 working on a Saturday morning in an Italian restaurant in Newport, Chez Chiovanni, after leaving school he started his first full time cooking position at the Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel near Usk.
It was from there, at the age of 16, that he decided to move to Scotland and worked at Farleyer House Hotel under the guidance of Head Chef Richard Lyth, it was whilst being taught by Richard that he gained the understanding of seasonality, quality and the essence of flavour. Whilst in Scotland he cooked at the dinner to celebrate the opening of the Scottish Parliament and was also shortlisted as Young Scottish Chef of the Year. after a few years working in Scotland, he met future wife Louise and after marrying and having their first daughter James decided to move his family returning to his home country- Wales.
Back in Wales in August 2000 he started at the Crown at Whitebrook as Sous Chef and became Head Chef in late 2003, four years later obtained his first Michelin Star, an achievement he is rightly hugely proud of. He retained the coveted Michelin star until 2013 when the “Crown” closed its doors. Recently reopened under new ownership as The Whitebrook
2014 saw James and Louise open Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth. James and wife Louise were determined to make the restaurant with rooms a success and are rightfully very proud of what they and their team have achieved. A Michelin star in 2016, AA Restaurant of the Year – Wales 2016-2017, 4 AA rosettes, Restaurant of the year 2016 for Wales at the Food Awards Wales and Number 34 in the Good Food Guide for 2017, also achieving 5 stars for rooms with the AA and Visit Wales.
” We pride ourselves on being a family run business, with myself heading up the kitchen, Louise front of house and our 3 girls never far away “
Chef’s Table Asked:
Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
A: My late grandmother has always been my inspiration, cooking with her on the weekend gave me my love and passion for cooking and I will always be eternally grateful. So I would have to say my late grans beef brisket, gravy & veg
Q: Have you ever been presented with a dish/ingredient that you just could not eat and where was that?
A: Durian Fruit – tried it in Singapore in 2012. It tasted horrendous, I can’t even put it into words.
Q: If there were a “Fantasy League” of Chefs, who would make up your perfect brigade?
A: Richard Lyth, Michele Roux Snr, Grant Achatz, Alex Stupak, Brett Graham & Eric Frechon
Q: What’re the most overused words on restaurant menus’ today
A: where can I start – Textures of, deconstructed & foraged!
Q: Having worked and trained in Scotland what food preparation or styles of cooking did you learn then that you still utilise today. What was on the menu for the opening of Parliament dinner?
A – oh gosh, butchery.
The menu hmmm, I’m sorry I can’t remember back that far it must be a sign of my age now.
Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use ingredients or produce from your most local supplier?
A: Old Cogan Farm Penarth where we get our Welsh Lamb which we serve with Broad Beans and Turnip.
Q: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?
C – That’s a tough one, I couldn’t narrow it down to 1 person.
My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?
Restaurant 1 – The Greenhouse in Mayfair – fantastic cooking, every time we go (and we’ve been a few) staff are all very friendly.
Restaurant 2 – Geranium in Copenhagen, cooking on another level
A couple of weeks ago Favourite Tables was in Norwich to meet with BBC Great British Menu “Veteran” guest chef Richard Bainbridge. When we arrived Benedicts Restaurant was not open. however, the greeting we received from the front of house staff who were preparing the venue, was warm and very professional. We immediately felt “at home”.
Chef’s Table with Richard Bainbridge – Chef Patron at Benedicts Restaurant in Norwich
It may be a bit of an old cliche but Chef Richard Bainbridge really is Norwich “born and bred”. In fact, he grew up within 5 miles of where his Bistro style restaurant Benedicts now stands. Richard and partner, wife Katya, opened the restaurant in 2015. Which was almost 23 years exactly from when his first job in a kitchen started.
Coming from a single parent family, not much money and being a Dyxlesia sufferer throw up its own challenges, which he dismissed as “the old sob story”. However starting at age 13 he worked hard took himself off to College where he had a chance meeting with and then started to work for the Chef Patron of local Michelin Stared Morston Hall. After Morston Hall and having never been on an Aeroplane, Richard left the UK at age 18 and took on a role at the Red Lion Inn, a 500 room hotel, in Stockbridge Massachusetts. The difference between the 32 covers at Morston to the mass catering of two dining halls at the Red Lion taught him a number of important lessons. When 9/11 happened one of only three people who called him from the UK (His Mum and Sister being the others) was Galton Blackiston from Morston Hall. Richard returned to Morston Hall two months later.
Later that year he moved to The Waterside Inn starting as a Junior Commis and left 4 years later as a Sous Chef, one of the youngest to work there at that time. He categorises this period as like going to University
Q: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?
A: I wanted to be a Postman… But I’m Dyslexic so I could not read all the postcodes. It would have been my dream job because I could have got up early and be done by lunchtime that was in my head, plus my Mum told me they did a great pension.
This is a good story, well not really a story as it’s true. My mum did the books at a local pub/restaurant and my sister worked behind the bar, this was when I must have been thirteen, in fact, it was the day after my thirteenth birthday I did my first shift as a kitchen porter at the same pub. I immediately felt “at home” I really did. I felt this is something I can do. It may be because I realised that I could watch a chef put a dish together, I did not have to write anything down, and I could make that dish. So I watched everything I could to learn and still do. The end of that story is that twenty years later almost to the hour, so I was 33 and at six o’clock the day after my birthday Katja my wife and I got the key to my own restaurant.
Q: Who influenced you in the past? Who influences you now?
A: My Grandmother, she cooked in a very homely way and that has stuck with me. I want people who dine at Benedicts to have an experience that when they leave be it one or two hours later, they feel that they have just spent time being immersed in something that feels almost homely, a pleasurable time that evokes memories as much as creates memories. They don’t need to think its the best food they have ever had, but as they walk down the road after leaving us and if they think that was really lovely and a couple of hours well spent with the family or friends they are with, that’s perfect for me.
Also, a big influence in my career was and still is, Michel Roux Snr and my time at The Waterside Inn. Everyone worked really hard for 11 months without a break and would be flagging by the end of the year. He could have 70 staff in a room, talk in three different languages and by the end of a meeting we would all be skipping back to work full of his enthusiasm, which at the age of sixty-something which he was then, was inspirational.
and Galton Blackiston who still plays a big part in my career. I worked for him at Morston Hall between the age of 16 – 18 and then I went back when I was 26 and was his Head Chef for 7 years. It was a chance meeting with him while I was at Catering College that lead to me working a couple of summers in his Michelin Stared kitchen, not really knowing at that time what a star was and how important it was. Starting off at the age of 16 working with a team of 4 chefs, Galton being one, and having that 1-on-1 time with him was a real springboard for my career.
Q: How important is a Michelin star? A chef in France, who has 3 Michelin stars, recently asked that they are removed because of the pressure – your thoughts
I’m not sure we fit the perfect model for Michelin. Benedicts is just my wife and me, no big backers and no millions in the bank. So we will have to be around for awhile to even think of a Star. They have visited several times and have been really supportive of us as an independent restaurant, as have the AA and we think that Rosettes, could, be on the cards maybe next years. Which is incredible when you think we opened with just four members of staff two and a half years ago, to now where we have a team of 20 members of staff. Just knowing the guidebooks are paying an interest into us is massive. I would love to put Norwich on the culinary map much as North Norfolk is now. It would be great to have people come to the city for a foodie break and sample all of the great produce we have access to not just from around the coast, but from the farms and estates just outside Norwich.
Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
A: It would have to be my mum’s roast chicken dinner. Even thou it is a bit bland overcooked and the greens are grey, sorry mum… but without doubt, the one thing we would have every Sunday, we would sit down and have a roast chicken it would be the highlight of the week, I would want peas and my sister would want sweetcorn, the Bisto would be wiped up and poured over. All that gives a sense of what food is all about and that represents to me now everything that food is about and what families are – Food is family and family is food and all the rest of it, and you can tie everything to one dish and that’s the one thing now that if I knew my time was coming to an end I would say mum cook me one of your roast dinners and bring it in to me… and I know I would say you’ve overcooked the chicken again. But something in my head would say this is so simplistic but perfect I would be ready to go then…. oh and a Muller Fruit Corner a Strawberry one
Q: How did you feel about being called a “Veteran” when you were a judge on the BBC Great British Menu. From the Central Region Chef’s Pip, Ryan and Nick who’s dishes impressed you the most.
A: I know right.. I have to be honest I was immensely proud, from being 26/27 when I first did the programme and I was too young and I wasn’t ready, I messed it up. But then to have the opportunity and be invited back on was incredible. I can remember Glynn Parnell sending me home on the Thursday and me saying to myself, I’m gonna prove you wrong and I will get to the banquet, alright it took me a few more attempts than I would have liked, but I got there and I remember halfway through when they judged me thinking I’m going to be you one day, I’m gonna have that position. Then to get the call to go on as a veteran, thinking this is brilliant. Getting to the banquet was great but this was the pinnacle of everything I’d started.
As for the Chefs from the central region, the minute Pip put up that starter I knew it would go all the way to the banquet, from the minute I tried it. Not saying the others did not put up some incredible food it’s just Pip’s dish had everything for the brief and the banquet. Then later sitting at the banquet next to Angella Hartnett and seeing Pip’s starter come out first, I felt good to have been a small part of that.
Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use produce from your most local supplier?
A: The supplier is Thornage Hall which is an amazing place that provides supported Living, work & learning opportunities for Adults with Learning Difficulties on a biodynamic farm in the beautiful Norfolk countryside. The organic vegetables we get from them changes throughout the seasons the quality is incredible and consistent. At the moment as we go into winter some of the dishes on the menu become more simplistic, more wholesome. So we have a carrot dish on just now that uses a nobbily looking carrot that is so pure and nurtured by the guys at Thornage. We roast that in Goats Butter with Chamomile and we roast it off, roast it off so it’s almost deep-fried in foaming butter. Then we finish it off with Chamomile Mayonaise, a carrot top sauce so we make an emulsion from the tops and then some pickled carrot discs, then we have some deep fried carrot tops and some raw carrot tops, some chickweed, that grows around the carrots, so they work together. It just shows perfect respect for the carrot and how it is grown for us by the people at Thornage Hall.
We know that everything is picked during the day and then drop it off at my house in the evening and we cook with it the next day and we respect every part of it.
Q: If you could invite any Chef past or present to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?
Wow that’s a bit like what’s your favourite album or film. But I think to get the chance to work alongside Escoffier or to even just get a coffee would be incredible because the way that we cook in this modern world is based on his structure, the way that a kitchen is set up is because of him. A lot of the base things we use or expect in a kitchen today were revolutionary in his time.
Again someone like Paul Bocuse just to spend a little time to understand how things have changed. It would be incredible, the industry has changed so much and I think we do need now and again to just remember that.
I have just bought a book about Eugénie Brazier this first woman to have a three Michelin Star restaurant and the first chef, male or female, to have six stars across her two restaurants. Who then went on to set up a school for chefs that produced some of the top French Chefs including Paul Bocuse.
My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and Why:
Restaurant 1) would be La Grenouillere just outside Calais http://lagrenouillere.fr
Head Chef Alexandre Gauthier
We closed Benedicts for a couple of weeks in the summer and headed to France. La Grenouillere is built inside an old farm building, just beside a stream. A magical place filled with “Steam Punk” ironwork (your phone doesn’t even work) with incredible classical French cuisine and regionality turned on its head, but at the same time we felt very “at home”
Restaurant 2) would be St. John’s this place is not about the Glam-Rock of cuisine just great tasty food. St. John’s is my go-to place for a Sunday lunch.
The easiest way to start is review is to say that this is one of the best Turkish meal I’ve ever eaten, the flavours of each course were amazing.
This little restaurant set in the streets of Shoreditch was a real delight with a fantastic menu created by chef Selin Kiazim. When we looked at the menu, believe me, we just wanted to try everything but in the end, we went with the recommendations of our excellent & friendly waitress and so glad we did as they were fantastic choices. They also have a great selection of wine and most also seem to be by the glass
They also have a great selection of wine and most also seem to be by the glass as well plus a great Izmir Beer.
The restaurant has an opened kitchen so you can smell the amazing flavours before they reach the table. Well, I suppose I better get to the food which started with a delicious Baharat Spiced Bread & Date Butter before the amazing Pastirma Sausage & Grilled Hellim, this was followed by a stunning Flatbread which included Octopus, Ricotta & Caper Leaves then a fantastic Aubergine dish.
I then came to the mains, Crispy Pomegranate Glazed Lamb & Seftali Kebab just food heaven. Do remember to leave room for dessert as you won’t want to miss out on these. One was a Kinefe a Crispy Kadayif & Cheese Pastry & the other a stunning Chocolate! Prune & Cardamom Delice matched with a delightful Turkish dessert wine. I definitely can’t wait to return and I would highly recommend a visit as the food, service and general friendliness of the place makes it a real pleasure.
The Flying Scotsman:
Chef Adam Handling could be described as the “Flying Scotsman”. His culinary career is certainly steaming ahead with cook books, artisan chocolates, olive oil and even his own branded Gin. His restaurant, Adam Handling at Caxton and Adam himself have received critical acclaim and accolades over the past months since he came to the attention of restaurant goers, foodies and the avid fans of the BBC MasterChef, the professionals in 2013, where he reached the finals.
Adam has recently parted company with the Hotel Group which housed his restaurant and Adam Handling at the Caxton is to be rebranded with a new image and a pared down menu, introducing a grill restaurant, offering steaks and burgers. So the leap forward, excuse the pun, for Adam is the opening of the first of a series of restaurant he plans to open over the next 8-10 months. Welcome The Frog (brilliant logo concept created by the inimitable @fatpunkstudio )
Plans will see another two “Frog” concept locations and an eponymous flagship restaurant in the West End. The first Frog will be found in East London in part of the Old Truman Brewery (Hanbury Street/Brick Lane area). When Favourite Tables meet with Adam and the team, Head Chef Steve Kerr, Development Chef Jamie Park and Sous Chef Connor they were all on site, shirt sleeves rolled up. Work was just starting on converting what was previously an Italian restaurant in Ely’s Yard.
When we re-visited a few days later, lots had changed in the kitchen area, the bar and cocktail area.
Equipment suppliers, installation companies, builders, electrical engineers and Adam were all onsite and working very hard to meet the opening night date of 7th June. When asked how confident Adam was to having everything ready for the 7th, his immediate reply, “oh we will be open”
The menu, still in development, will be based on a 5 course taster menu, at around £40 per head, which will be listed on a daily blackboard. As much as possible, ingredients will be sourced from the local suppliers on their doorstep. So if they only have six mackerel then the course will be replaced on the Blackboard when all have been sold. When pushed for a little more detail of the types of dishes available the detail of “Mad as a Box of Frogs’ were explained: Frogs Legs and Chicken lolly pops with a Wild Garlic emulsion served in a wooden box. An A La Carte menu is also under development, which, knowing Adam as we do, will be worth waiting for.
On the day of our revisit to Ely’s Yard, it had just been announced who this years BBC Great British Menu chefs would be and Adam Handling was confirmed as representing the Scottish Region.
Although filming had taken place several months ago, whilst he had been competing in the Chef of the Year, Adam remained tight lipped about how he got on and the outcome. Some secrets are meant to be kept!
We will be glued to the television when the programmes are aired later this month and cheering him on nonetheless.
The Frog, 2 Ely’s Yard, Old Truman Brewery Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR
Last week Mrs. FT and I were driving back from Edinburgh, on the A1, so knowing we would be passing close to Newcastle we thought it could be a good idea to call in and see Chef Kenny Atkinson at House of Tides. We hoped that we could persuade Kenny to become one of our stellar Chef’s Tables.
Could we just turn up unannounced and sit down and chat… Mrs. FT came up with a plan of sorts – how about a little innocent bribery? A freshly shot large traditional Haggis was obtained, could Kenny resist?
Luckily for us, Haggis is a favourite for this “just a Geordie lad” as Kenny describes himself.
He has always had a strong work ethic and can remember working at the local market when very young to get extra pocket money, even working in local pubs and bars, whilst slightly under age. Leaving school at sixteen with 6 GCSE’s Kenny had got the bug of working in pubs and behind the bar in hotels. So he approached an uncle who owned Ravensdene Lodge Hotel, planning to attend a Hospitality and Hotel Management course, focused on running a bar and cellar management. When it was pointed out that he was still too young to work legally behind the bar his uncle suggested that he start the catering specific course and work in the hotel kitchen.
Obtaining NVQ’s I & II with distinction he moved to a number of local restaurants gaining experience before a spell working in Crete. It was whilst working in a hotel in the Midlands that he worked through his fortnights holiday, without pay, for Simon Radley at his restaurant within the Chester Grosvenor Hotel and Spa. Following a conversation one evening with Chef Radley, Kenny took his advice and progressed his career by moving to London securing a position at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, before moving to take on his first head chef position at a restaurant within the Greenway Hotel in Cheltenham, where he gained three AA Rosettes. The island living of Crete revisited and he moved with his young family to the Scilly Isles to work at the St Martin’s on the Isle restaurant. His first Michelin Star was awarded shortly after.
The family had the opportunity to move back to the North East when a new head chef position at the White Room restaurant within Seaham Hall in County Durham was offered. Soon after moving Kenny won his second Michelin star. It was whilst here in 2009 that the BBC came calling looking for a Chef from the North East Region to join the Great British Menu programme which he went on to win, with one of his dishes making it all the way to the final banquet.
Kenny made a second appearance on the Great British Menu the following year as well as regularly being seen on Saturday Kitchen, also on the BBC. This television exposure help secure him a position heading up three restaurants at Rockcliffe Hall in County Durham, as Food Director. He was very candid about struggling with this position and the distance it place between him and the pass in the kitchen. He told us that the administrative role, which would stand him in good stead later, meant that he was not cooking as much as he wanted.
2012 and 2013 saw more Television appearances and number of “guest chef” events at a few of the UK’s best known restaurants including Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow. It was around this time that the disciplines he learnt in the Food Director role paid dividends as, along with wife Abbie, early plans were developed to open their own restaurant. January 2014 saw the opening of House of Tides in Newcastle
The restaurant, Kenny’s food and the food of Head Chef Danny Parker has received unanimous praise since it’s opening. His third Michelin star was awarded in 2015.
The bright lights of the TV studio will be shining on him again in 2016 with a new programme for Channel 4 will see Kenny following a few key ingredients from field/farm through to the kitchen and on to diners plates.
So chef, with all this going on, when you get a chance to eat away from your restaurant where would you consider to be your favourite tables:
Number one would be The Kitchin, in Leith, Tom Kitchin is an amazing chef with a great ethos in how food is sourced, then how much or how little the ingredients are prepared to maximise flavours. We have been here regularly and keep returning.
I’m finding it impossible to pick between two other favourite tables we love, so i’d like to mention both.
The Black Swan at Oldstead incredible food and great service. This place looks like a gastro pub but is so much more.
And Michael O’Hare’s Man Behind the Curtain the whole experience is fascinating. The restaurant, the food, all the artwork and Michael himself. All your senses are touched by every element of a dinner at man behind the curtain.
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About Favourite Tables
Our ethos is about places people love – always has been, always will be.
We know that most people choose where to eat based on recommendations from friends and family, a social interaction – a Social Marketplace
Favourite Tables is just that – our recommendations and reviews are from people who love where they go and go back to.
The popularity of each Favourite Tables restaurant is assured on the Social Marketplace and through the restaurant reviews they receive.
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