Powys' Michelin star restaurant is this year’s finest according to the Good Food Guide
Ynyshir – a fine dining restaurant near Machynlleth in Powys - has been rated the top restaurant in Wales by The Good Food Guide 2018. It ranked 12 on the UK list, jumping 28 places from the previous year.
Welsh Border Life editor Catherine Waterfall reviewed Ynyshir for the August 2017 issue of Welsh Coastal Life. Take a look at what she had to say…
Taste the difference
Still a luxurious place to stay, Ynyshir has been reinvented as a fine-dining restaurant with rooms - and offers a foodie adventure you'll never forget
The sun beats down on the turquoise waves while, on the sandy beach, walkers throw balls for their dogs, laughing at their boisterous antics. Ice-cream cones are bought from the traditional ice-cream van and people sit sheltered from the sea breeze behind the raised boots of their cars, devouring sandwiches and flasks of tea.
Ynylas beach, near Borth, on a sunny May morning, epitomises the British seaside and along with our anoraks and shoes we’ve shed our stereotypical restrained demeanours for a lighthearted, jovial mood.
Yet over in the sand dunes, the silhouette of a serious-looking young man combing through the foliage stands out. We give him a second, puzzled glance and then join the other dog walkers in their reverie. It’s only later that evening that we recognise this studious individual as one of the chefs at the Michelin star and four AA rosette-awarded Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, just a stone’s throw from the Mid Wales coastline. To make sure the ingredients are always at their freshest, most days the chefs venture out to forage for wild herbs on the beachside and in the surrounding countryside.
This is not our first visit to Ynyshir but head chef Gareth Ward and his partner, Amelia Eriksson, have recently taken the helm and there are many noticeable changes. Our large suite is as impressive as it was previously and still the perfect place to rest after a day at the beach, but Ynyshir is now all about the food rather than the hotel side of the business. The white-painted exterior of this period building is as pristine as ever and the manicured gardens well tended, yet the reception area, bar and restaurant have shed their country-chic style for a more minimalist, Scandinavian feel. Black fleece throws are scattered over the chairs in the bar and the darkly painted green walls are bare, bar a few quirky pieces. This young, ambitious couple have well and truly put their stamp on the hotel and the result is surprising and impressive in equal measure.
The transformation doesn’t stop at the interior decor, either. Bands such as The Strokes, Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys are played on a record player in the bar and guests are encouraged to bring their own vinyl to play at their leisure. “We don’t like background classical music or the sound of cutlery scraping on plates,” laughs Amelia, as she changes the record. “We are creating a more relaxed and contemporary atmosphere, which matches our food. We’ve very much taken Ynyshir from a hotel to a restaurant with rooms, so the emphasis is on the food and dining experience. The rooms are a bonus, allowing guests to stay over after dinner.”
Our last visit was in 2014, just a few months before Gareth was awarded his coveted Michelin Star, and it was clear then this talented chef was going places.
It’s with high expectations, therefore, that we take a seat at our rustic table just feet from the open kitchen. Initially it feels strange and a little awkward to be so close to Gareth and his four chefs buzzing about in their immaculate whites, while we sit and drink wine leisurely.
Yet we soon relax and after a couple of courses it becomes more like an interactive theatre experience, where all the senses are stimulated, particularly taste and smell.
White tablecloths, cutlery, cut-crystal glasses and hovering waiters are nowhere to be seen. Gareth and Amelia have torn up the silver-service rule book and are doing it their own way. Bar a couple of earthenware bowls, which are constantly replenished with chilled water, the tables are bare and cutlery only appears when required. Even the crockery is unique.
“We have a potter called Sarah Jerath who makes everything for us,” says Amelia. “She takes shingle and stones from our garden and the nearby beach and folds them into the clay, creating bespoke pieces. It’s fired on a very high heat, so is almost like stoneware rather than pottery.”
Apart from a vivacious young waitress who keeps our drinks topped up and clears the tables efficiently, the chefs serve all of the 14 courses, with an enthusiastic description of each dish.
As an example of the astounding attention to detail, the bread course consists of a seven-day proved sourdough, using fermented and ground grains from Felin Ganol watermill, Ceredigion. Steamed in a Le Creuset pan, the crust is then burnt to add flavour and to soften the texture.
This is served with a delicious, salty Welsh Wagyu dripping and cultured miso butter. All the courses are bursting with flavour, offering myriad textures with each mouthful, but there are stand-out moments that leave us speechless. For instance, the sweet and sour mackerel is an extravagant mix of lightly cooked, tender fish topped with a delicious sheet of fermented pineapple, sweet and sour ketchup, crunchy bean-sprouts, puffed rice, coriander and charcoal oil, all finished with a mackerel soy.
We’re also lucky to be here during the six-week St George mushroom season and Gareth has created an innovative dish around this short-lived ingredient. The fungi is prepared several ways and we’re encouraged to “dig our spoon right to the bottom and enjoy”. Much thought has gone into its preparation and the result is an earthy, yet delicate flavour.
Our penultimate course is also seasonal and tantalises the senses. We’re brought a large jar of smoking nettles, which is placed in the centre of our table and immediately immerses us in the scents of summer. A light, creamy goats’ curd with zingy grated lemon is contrasted with a crisp nettle sugar tuille, which results in a fresh, light dish, perfect for a summer’s evening.
After eating every morsel of the 14 courses, we feel satiated but not over full. As the hard-working chefs clear down for the evening, we grab a quick chat with Gareth. “The food is very much made by Ynyshir, at Ynyshir and is ingredient-led, flavour-driven food,” he says.
Over the past two years Gareth has enjoyed huge success but this enterprising chef has even greater ambitions still. “We want to be a destination restaurant and the first ever two Michelin Star establishment in Wales.”
This may seem a lofty aspiration but Gareth has a steely determination and possesses the talent to deliver.
At £110 per person, Ynyshir may be a pricey evening out but if you’re a true foodie, it’s worth every penny as this young, progressive team make dining out an adventure you’ll never forget.
Welsh Coastal Life stayed in a deluxe garden suite, with the chef’s table dining experience plus breakfast; £305-£370 per person per night. The four-hour dinner menu is £110 per person. Two-hour lunch menus are available for £39.50.
Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA. Tel: 01654 781209. www.ynyshir.co.uk
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