Wednesday 4 May 2016

Ynyshir Hall, Wales.

What to do on a cold and grey, rainy Bank Holiday Monday? The answer is of course to visit a wonderful restaurant where it doesn't matter if the weather is bad as it inevitably is when we have a day off. I didn't tell Mrs Bacon where we were going, we just set out after I secured a last minute lunch booking that morning. Ynyshir Hall had been on my one to try for some time but I had no idea how good it'd actually be. Two and a half hours from Manchester and driving through torrential rain, we finally arrive and things brighten up. It's a 'country house hotel', these places can sometimes be stuffy and the food very 'safe' but not so here.
We're shown to the kitchen table which is a semi private open bright space. The whole experience for the next four hours or so is one of the most memorable all year. Head chef Gareth Ward (previously of two starred Sat Bains) is one of the friendliest down to earth chefs we've had the pleasure to meet (they're not all so modest, believe me). In fact the whole team make our time sat at the kitchen table such a fantastic experience.
Onto the food, it's exquisite, the flavours are just so powerful bold and punchy, Gareth tells us that if it doesn't knock his socks off, a dish never makes it onto his menu. We ask for a few extras to the lunch menu and agree on £55 which ends up being 16 small courses.
We begin with a dish that's always on the menu, Not French Onion Soup, a complex taste explosion of slow cooked onions, miso, tofu, sea purslane, onion oil, pickled shallots and dashi. This sets the scene for everything else we eat that afternoon. The food here is all very much of it's own unique style.
The bread is as good as anywhere (including Hedone), a crunchy charred crust and springy chewy crumb, so perfect I had to beg for another piece. I could eat the accompanying Welsh Wagyu dripping with a spoon from a vat.
Chef Gareth tells us about his passion for carefully picking local suppliers where he can. One just for the Wagyu beef, another for the lamb etc.
Sweet & Sour Mackerel. Plating is considered but not obsessive, here it's so much about those all important  flavours.
Turnip, Crab.
Wild Garlic Prawn. It has that intense deep sea flavour you find in a good prawn head but in the sauce mixed (I think) so effectively with verdant green wild garlic. Gareth told us of his plans to use the wonderful seasonal wild garlic in quite a few of the dishes at the beginning. We love it we assured him, it links many of these spring dishes together.
Asparagus - Wild Garlic Salt Pollock. A cracker of a dish, beautiful.
Fruit and Nut Duck Liver. It's foie-gras I tell Mrs B, trying to make it last as long as possible. One of my dishes of the year, I can't recall the exact complex processes chef told us he uses, (with tofu I think) I just know it was mind blowing-ly good! 
River Bacon - Garlic Pork Belly. Again as good as any pork belly we've ever had. To paraphrase Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel, these flavours are all turned up to 11. There is something a biting acidity which can occasionally be at the very top end of my own palate. 
Caesar. The flavours of a caesar salad in concentrated form.
Shiitake Salt Wagyu Rib. My word, this aged Welsh Wagyu is incredible stuff, we get four different small plates utilising it, one of the many highlights of the afternoon. The little burger is insanely good, pure concentrated meat flavours times about a thousand.

The Wagyu 'fudge' at the end is a genius touch. I would happily part with good money for a box of these.

All the desserts too are extremely accomplished. 
Shiso - Lime 64% Manjari, Tiramisu & Marjoram Rhubarb Pudding.

Nettle. (A little theatrical smoke giving the scent of nettles across the table).

It really was an incredible afternoon at Ynyshir Hall. The kitchen table is a unique experience, we were able to relax and lick the plates where necessary, in our case this was pretty much every dish. This was without feeling we had to be on our best behaviour in front of other diners. Also to be able to talk restaurants and food with Gareth and the whole team was truly inspiring. Not only must Ynyshir Hall be the finest food in Wales, I think even if it were in London, it would be considered one of the capital's best.
Above the nearby beach at Borth.
* We paid £55 each for an extended lunch menu.

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