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Review: Ynyshir, mid Wales

The view from the chef's table

The view from the chef’s table

Ynyshir absolutely blew me away. Which is amazing, because until I tried to find a promising place for a meal out in mid Wales I had never even heard of it; one of the scant handful of Welsh restaurants to have quietly won itself a Michelin star. It’s not only me. At the time of writing, exactly none of the major UK restaurant critics has visited. Zilch. There are burger joints in Bristol that have had more professional reviews. Possibly because it is at least 3 hour’s drive from absolutely everywhere? And getting on for 5 hours from London. They haven’t made it easy.

Talking to chef Gareth Ward, they are of course banking on becoming a destination restaurant-with-rooms. And they’ve got a big head start over some others: previously a classic country house hotel, their bedrooms are large, beautiful and very very comfortable. Ours had a great view out over the gardens towards the wild and woolly hills beyond. And you do have a magnificent part of Britain to explore for the rest of your weekend break.

But you’ll be wanting to know a bit about the food, eh?

Simple onion broth

Simple onion broth

The tasting menu is long and dazzlingly inventive. But the invention here goes way beyond the tasting menu staples of some quirky flavour combinations and some theatrical touches of presentation. This isn’t just playing with combinations, it’s right down to the cuisine. They’ve stepped right away from classic French stocks & bases, focusing instead on building flavour and depth through misos, kombuchas (go on, look it up!) and other exotic fermentations. This delivers up dishes that are absolutely jam-packed with flavour but also light, fresh and zinging with the vinegary (but not vinegar) punch of these cunning ketchups, glazes, drizzles and gels.

Some of the highlights? Well, the main course was a stunning piece of deeply flavourful local Welsh lamb, aged for no less than 60 days, covered with slivers of Anglesey onion and a mint kombucha gel. Yeah, that’s right, basically lamb with mint sauce. Total revelation.

Or how about a perfect square of dreamy local Welsh wagyu shortrib beef? Made earthy and funky with shitake ketchup and dusted with some crunchy crumbs of dessicated shitake for added flavour and texture. Never have I enjoyed such melt-in-the-mouth beefy-mushroomness.

There was some amazing duck liver, whipped up with tofu and miso to form a smooth and creamy white dollop that bore no resemblance to any duck liver I’ve ever had, and was both much lighter and much finer in flavour too.

I could just keep going! Instead, here’s a gallery of snapshots because frankly every plate was a beautiful culinary jewel.

They love their local produce; as well as the lamb and the beef, Anglesey onions starred in a couple of dishes. And to be honest, I’ve looked back over the whole menu and can’t think of anything other than the dates in the “sticky toffee pudding” (nothing of the sort, and very delicious!) and the chocolate in the other desserts that wasn’t both British and in season – or fermented from last season, of course. Quietly done, they don’t shout about this, but very amazing.

The menus (there are two to choose between) include fifteen jewel-like dishes for £110. Worth every penny. I’d recommend going for the chef’s table if it’s available – the team of young chefs are friendly, deeply knowledgeable, obviously loving their work, and happy to talk to you about the food or pretty much anything. Plus they throw in a handful more dishes over the course of the evening! It’s £130. Ynyshir deliberately doesn’t offer a wine pairing, because they don’t think that much alcohol enhances the experience. I happen to agree, so I applaud them for that too. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of good wine, though I must admit I think they can probably find better. Who cares, we loved every minute and finally toddled up to bed after 1am.

Take a trip to west Wales! Put Ynyshir on the map! I haven’t wanted to recommend a restaurant so much since I-don’t-know-when.

Disclaimer: I have to admit that one of the dishes was duck with SALTY PLUMS ON TOP! So I was bound to be horribly biased from that moment on. : )

Duck with... salty plums!

Duck with… salty plums!

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