Gareth Ward won the innovator category in the olive Chef Awards 2019 – read more about his work here
Ynyshir in a nutshell
A Michelin-starred, Japanese-influenced tasting menu restaurant in Wales. Chef owner Gareth Ward has adopted a tongue-in-cheek tagline that Ynyshir is ‘fun dining’ rather than stuffy fine dining.
Gareth Ward won a Michelin star for Ynyshir soon after arriving from Nottingham’s Sat Bains in 2013.
What’s the vibe?
At first, on arrival, nothing quite prepares you for the surprises in store. A stunning white mansion-style property in immaculate grounds close to Snowdonia, it looks like any other top-end country house hotel but then you step into the bar with its black walls, bare floorboards and sheep fleeces draped over chairs. And then you spot the twin decks and shelves of vinyl – essentially a DJ booth within the restaurant with its open kitchen facing the diners. Pure theatre.
What’s the food like at Ynyshir?
The real skill at Ynyshir is the way Ward uses the very best ingredients, be it Welsh wagyu beef, wild garlic or birch water, harvested from trees in the restaurant’s grounds. On arrival, guests staying in the rooms are offered a welcome drink of duck broth infused with chilli, garlic, ginger, mint, miso and mirin. It’s a mind-blowing assault of flavours that sets the scene for what’s to come with the tasting menu later on. Not one dish in the 20 courses disappointed but highlights included chicken katsu, pieces of thigh which had been brined and then barbecued to give it a smokiness before being coated in panko crumbs and drizzled with a tangy katsu ketchup.
Cornish crab arrives live and kept in tanks before being cooked and picked to order to retain freshness. The sauce made from the crab shells was intense and rich, the sweet crab meat and Singaporean chilli sauce was served with a hot steamed bun and coriander. A single Orkney scallop was barbecued only on one side so it was quiveringly fresh and opaque, topped with aged wagyu fat and elder vinegar, while made-to-order Montgomery cheddar macaroni cheese with Wiltshire truffles was simply off the scale. No macaroni cheese will ever get close to it.
A bonkers yet revolutionary combination of white chocolate mousse made with top-grade Japanese silken tofu and served with fermented black bean juice resulted in a surprisingly strong caramel flavour, and sticky toffee pudding came with a twist as it was a flourless medjool date cake, Tahitian vanilla ice cream and muscovado sauce with red miso.
And the drinks?
It’s not just the food that wins awards, the wine list was recognised as one of the best in 2018 by AA. There’s a focus on natural and biodynamic bottles, but the real emphasis is on ones that you’ll want to drink all the time, with most available by the glass so you can have a snifter of a few.
Ynyshir describes itself as a ‘meat-focussed’ restaurant and doesn’t offer vegetarian menus, so be sure to visit with your carnivore pals.
Words by Mark Taylor and Rhiannon Batten