Singing for your Supper

As a blogger, I get invited to go along to lots of different things - press launches, opening nights, tastings and festivals.  Yet every so often something completely different comes along. 

The Hamptons Store in Penarth is many things - part design agency (specialising in interior design, gardens and events), part boutique selling designer furniture, soft furnishings and gifts.  Upstairs, amongst the cushions, throws and a rather gorgeous bear, there is The Blue Pelican Cafe doing a good trade in everything from breakfast through to afternoon tea.  All fairly standard so far, so why the fuss?

After the cafe and store has closed for the day, the team transform it into a dinner and music venue - featuring mainly covers artists ranging from tributes to Michael Buble right through to The Beach Boys and Dolly Parton.  Friday night it was the turn of George Benson, or at least his soundalike Nat Augustin.  Not especially familiar with his work I enlisted the help of a friend for the evening who is a big fan.  And so I found myself heading out of the city and down to neighbouring Penarth for a definite dinner with a difference.

We arrived at Hamptons just after the listed start time of 7.30pm.  We were shown to our table and left with the drinks menu.  We opted for some warm-up cocktails, to be followed by a Chablis with dinner and waited.  Drinks were served promptly but we were slightly disappointed that we waited over 45 minutes for the first course to be served, though perhaps we are just not used to this kind of set up.

The starters were however worth the wait - a deeply flavoured roasted vine tomato and basil soup was served in shot glasses with the sweet tomato flavour continuing with a roasted tomato atop humuss crostini.  This was finished off with a radish, apple and mooli salad, flecked with chilli and served atop a little chinese soup spoon.  It was beautifully presented (sadly my camera phone could not do them justice so no pictures) and the soup with the crostini was a perfect starter.  Whilst we both enjoyed the salad and thought it was a great palate cleanser, we were disappointed that the mooli got a little lost amongst the chilli.

During this time Nat Augustin took to the stage and began warming up the crowd with a few of Benson's hits including "Shiver" and "On Broadway".  My dinner guest was suitably impressed and likened his voice to warm chocolate.  Our fellow diners also seemed to be enjoying, with impromptu singalongs between courses.

Next up we were brought a filo triangle stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and feta which was reminiscent of the borek that I've enjoyed many times in Turkey (and several Turkish restaurants since).  Normally filo is one of my least favourite things, usually dry and almost always prepared in advance.  This was clearly freshly cooked as we had to cut it in half and wait a good few minutes for it to cool down before we could eat it without burning our mouths!  The mushrooms were suitably meaty and worked well with the cheese, but again the peppery spinach flavour was lost.  Not to worry as it was served atop a rocket salad, dressed simply with a little oil and vinegar - again, cleansing the palate ready for the next course.

Augustin continued with his set with "Turn Your Love Around" and other Benson hits before taking a break as we tucked into our mains.  This was probably the weakest in terms of presentation (yet only comparably to the other courses) - breaded chicken served with a side of vegetables and new potatoes plus a small pot of roasted garlic and spring onion sauce.  Whilst my friend's chicken was perfectly cooked, mine had been left in the oven for a minute or so longer and suffered a little from dryness as a consequence.  The sauce helped greatly with this and managed to be rich without being heavy.  The vegetables (cauliflower, carrots and green beans) were served al-dente but were a little lukewarm, a casualty of serving large groups all at once, but the potatoes were perfectly cooked and buttery.

This was swiftly followed by a sublime apple sorbet.  If green had a flavour, it would taste like this.  Fresh, light and sharp.  Divine.  A little almond biscuit served on the side was as delicious and didn't fall into that awful marzipan category of being overly sweet.

Austin returned to the stage and continued with a second half set of classics covering everyone from Lionel Richie, The Four Tops, Luther Vandross and The Temptations.  The crowd joined in, some singing along, others who were, perhaps, more bold even began to dance.  My mind was, as usual, firmly fixed on the final course - a trio of Eton Mess, Creme Brulee and Chocolate Tart.  The Eton Mess was nice enough, a swirl of raspberry and cream, but lacked the requisite meringue that the name suggested.  The brulee was the weakest of the three desserts - the sugar crust didn't have that satisying crunch and the custard was a touch too eggy.  We both agreed that the chocolate tart was firm favourite, rich, dark, bittersweet chocolate and a firm biscuit base.

For a venture that tries to be so many things, The Hamptons certainly doesn't seem to suffer for it.  The ticket pricing, £34 for dinner and the show (drinks extra), is perfectly pitched given that similar tribute acts at St Davids Hall can often be upwards of £25 a ticket.  Whilst I think the team still have a few things to refine in terms of the menu, this is more about rounding rough edges rather than a complete rethink.  If they can achieve this then these dinners will continue to grow. 

For a full list of upcoming events visit the website.


Popular Posts