I’d been following the Instagram accounts of Ynyshir and Gareth Ward for some time, but when I visited Alchemilla to interview Alex Bond and he said the one place I must visit was Ynyshir, I couldn’t help but book a trip…
Located in mid Wales near the Snowdonia National Park and Dyfi estuary, Ynshir is tucked down a country lane, and sits surrounded by lush mature gardens
Holding a Michelin star and 5 AA rosettes, the ‘restaurant with rooms’ is owned by Chef patron Gareth Ward & partner Amelia, and is currently ranked No. 12 in the country by The Good Food Guide 2018
We arrived just before midday but as check in isn’t until 3pm, we changed into more suitable attire and took a walk up the road behind the restaurant to Ynys-hir RSPB nature reserve for some much needed fresh air
After a good couple of hours’ wet, muddy and freezingly cold walking, but with a little more time to kill before our room was ready, we headed inside for coffee and to thaw out!
The dark & moody decoration in the downstairs of the house is very appealing – they’ve kept all of the period features and updated them in such a way that compliments the building, whilst giving a modern edge
Instantly defrosted we made ourselves comfy in the bar – have you ever seen such a beautiful coffee set up? With stunning and superbly tactile ceramics from Sarah Jerath & deliciously smooth coffee, we got a little taste of how things were done at Ynyshir…
A short while later we were shown to our hugely spacious and very comfortable room ‘Matisse’ with views over the garden to the front. From what I gather the bedrooms will eventually be refurbished as the rest of the building has been – they’re by no means decorated like downstairs but instead still have the higgledy-piggledy charm of an old country house
I was particularly taken with the enormous bed which was 3 pillows wide and waist height!
Having already snaffled the gorgeous palmier biscuits left in our room, we ordered a few snacks and drinks to tide us over until later. As with our recent stay at Coes Faen, a benefit of only having a small number of rooms is that room service is very efficient!
After a relaxing couple of hours, we got ready and excitedly padded downstairs to begin our evening…
We ordered a couple of drinks in the bar – I chose the ‘Plantation’ which was basically rocket fuel with fermented pineapple – too strong for me but perfect if you’re a neat rum drinker!
You can’t have a trip away without including a fizzy toast to good health (in our opinion!) so we each had a glass of Gusbourne blanc de blancs sparkling chardonnay from Kent – a really fresh and green tasting sparkling wine
We had originally made a reservation to dine at the communal chef’s table, but when we heard about the new 2-person ‘Pass Bench’ right in the heart of the kitchen, we just had to upgrade! We were shown through from the bar and got nestled into our sheepskin covered seats
The menu at the pass bench is a complete surprise, meaning we had no idea what we would be eating until it arrived. We did however have a clue as to how much we would be eating, due to the cutlery rolls on the table (we had one of these each!)
Wine pairings aren’t offered at Ynyshir – this is understandable as with potentially 20+ courses each, that much wine is not going to enhance the food. A lot of wines are available by the glass if you so wish, but we decided on a bottle of red (a 2013 Clos Henri pinot noir) and a bottle of white (Ludovic Chanson Montlouis Sec – Les Cabotines 2015 chenin blanc) so we could switch between the two depending on the dish. For us, this worked perfectly and easily lasted us through the 19 savoury courses
Much of the food at Ynyshir is foraged locally by the team themselves, and a lot of elements are preserved by pickling and fermenting, meaning they can use ingredients all year round
We started off with ‘Not French onion soup’ – concentrated onion flavour was complimented by miso & dashi, with seaweed giving an ever so slighty briney sea taste (this was eaten with a delightful hand carved wooden spoon from The Whittlings)
‘Duck part 1’ was Aylesbury duck leg – sticky and lightly crispy on the outside, but beautiful and juicy inside, topped with raw spring onion & sesame seeds
Bread was a course in its own right and was served third making it seem less of a token nibble to begin your meal and more of a proper dish. The 7 day proved sourdough had a blackened crust, and was served with salty, caramel-y miso cultured butter and velvety wagyu dripping with wagyu fat crumbs – all heavenly
The first three dishes seemed to come in quick succession and I was a little worried about the pace, given how much was to come… however this was clearly to get your attention and tastebuds going (which it certainly did!) and the pace steadied down from there on in
Fish then followed – mackerel cooked under the heat lamps on the pass – warmed through but still semi-raw in the middle and very fresh tasting, with sharp pickled elderberry
A couple of dishes were served in hefty rocks which had been collected from the beach by the staff at Ynyshir, and had then been polished down to create bowls by a local specialist – something that can take up to a day per rock! The next dish was crab & pickled turnip with sea purslane
‘Duck part 2’ was served with black bean & garlic and was superbly intense, the meat itself had an incredible texture
The two-bite Wagyu ‘burger’ with shallot, gherkin, ‘burger sauce’ & sesame for the ‘bun’ tasted so much like a burger it’s unreal (albeit the best burger you’ve ever tasted!) Ridiculously juicy but with the tang from the gherkin & onion, I was torn between wanting more and being excited about what else was still to come!
Wagyu rib with cabbage & shiitake – again meltingly tender and rich with an earthy undertone from the mushroom
Sublimely smooth duck liver mousse was accompanied by a grain crisp, diced raw apple & shaved smoked eel – I’m loving the popularity of smoked eel at the moment and the flavour is up there with my favourites, especially when used unexpectedly like here
The grouse with pickled elderflower, elderberry ‘capers’ & 100% Valrhona chocolate combined such contrasting flavours and yet worked so well, I’d go so far as to say it was the best tasting game I’ve ever tasted
Langoustines were barbecued on the Big Green Egg and served with a prawn emulsion
The more the evening progressed, the more we relaxed into being in the kitchen and were made to feel really comfortable chatting to everyone. If you can, book the pass bench – not only for the never ending dishes but also for a small insight into how everything runs and to spend time with the chefs – although being a small restaurant, none of the tables are too far away from the action
It’s wonderful to watch a team working so well together and enjoying what they do – their passion is obvious and makes for a really enjoyable atmosphere
What you see below is a whole swede bake in a salt crust, the tender middle is then scooped out to use in the next dish and the swede itself is lit from within & serves as an impressive centrepiece!
The swede is made into a cawl which is a broth with grains and here, also includes pork back fat
To make the ‘chicken curry’, the chicken is brined for a day then marinated for another couple of days before finally being cooked. There’s no fiery heat from chilli, just a mellow depth from spices, and shards of crispy chicken skin add a gorgeous moreish crunch
‘Lager & lime’ balanced creamy beer yoghurt with a sharp fresh lime kick – perfect inbetween the chicken curry and the next dish…
… a teeny Lamb rib with pickled shallot, soy & mint was eaten with fingers – the fat on this was so delicate and light and just melted in the mouth
The final meat dish was lamb with mint gel – really fresh tasting, the mint lifted the flavour of the lamb and gave a twist on a classic combination
We both agreed that the meat used by Gareth and his team is some of the best we’ve had, each cooked to perfection. The oriental feel of many of the dishes was really up our street too, as these are flavours that we favour using a lot at home (although ours pale in comparison!)
As a sort of sweet/savoury crossover, the miso fudge with wagyu fat crumbs was reminiscent of Sat Bains, which isn’t surprising as before Ynyshir, Gareth worked at the Nottingham restaurant
The cheese course was warm Beauvale blue with finely sliced fresh pear – a simple but delightful combination. At the recommendation of Amelia, we accompanied this dish with a glass of plum sake which was delicious
The first dessert was a sweet & salty mix of white chocolate & black bean
A spoonful of ‘treacle tart’ followed, capturing all the sticky liquorice qualities of the classic pud in one mouthful
Stout porridge was topped with brambles, rye & foraged wood sorrel – this was the only dish I wasn’t totally sold on, the sorrel being a little overpowering for me
As with most of the dishes we ate, the ‘tiramisu’ looked nothing like expected…
…but certainly tasted like it! Smooth mousses were placed on the plate and sandwiched with a crystal clear sugar shard
I loved the interaction with each dish, the way everything was explained and some of the dishes finished at your table…
…the final stage being a grating of 100% Valrhona chocolate
The last dish of the night was white chocolate, injected with a eucalyptus gel and frozen in liquid nitrogen at our table
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the taste of the eucalyptus so much but it was quite subtle and worked perfectly with the sweet white chocolate
If I had to sum up our 4-hour meal in one word it would be ‘intense’! The exceptional flavours were very bold but not overpowering (a little bit extra of each ingredient could easily tip it over the edge but instead were expertly balanced) leaving us nodding to eachother in appreciation throughout the night
We were left to leisurely finish our drinks at the table, so we got a sneak peek of breakfast being made…
After a great sleep in the worlds largest bed, we woke to a drizzly morning which only made us feel cozier snuggled up inside! There was something so calming about being at Ynyshir, surrounded by the peace and quiet of the countryside
Now you’d think that after all that food the night before we wouldn’t need breakfast…but you know me better that! There’s no choice of breakfast (apart from how you’d like your eggs), but when you’re at somewhere like Ynyshir you know you needn’t worry…
Breakfast is served to a mellow soundtrack which I loved – there’s nothing worse than a silent breakfast room where everyone feels like they have to whisper!
We started with homemade museli, stewed apple & yoghurt
Deep orange smoked salmon was served with bread, and cream cheese with onion oil
Loose leaf tea with more of the delicious palmier biscuits that were left in our room
Then the homemade crumpets which we watched the team make the night before, slathered with miso butter
Golden scrambled eggs, streaky bacon & lamb sausage completed our lavish breakfast and set us up for our journey home!
I had in my mind an idea of what the food would be like from looking at other people’s pictures and reading reviews, but actually dining there surpassed every expectation I had and I wholly agree with all those that are saying Ynyshir is worthy of 2 Michelin stars. Keep doing what you’re doing team Ynyshir – the incredible food, beautiful surroundings and amazing staff make for an unforgettable experience. We thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed our visit and I would urge everyone to make the trip!
(They also do gift vouchers so if there are any foodies you’ve not sorted Christmas presents for this might be the answer – they’ll love you forever, promise!)