It was raining when I drove the 3.5 hours up through Wales. What else do you expect in mid-August?
Was it worth the detour?
Emphatically yes, from the moment I spotted the open log fire outside the front door. Chef proprietor Gareth Ward, who’d already gained a Michelin star for Ynyshir (pronounced ‘Unna’s here’) has taken it to another level since he became a partner in January.
Though the building is old (it used to be Queen Victoria’s country retreat), the dining room is modern with well-spaced tables but avoiding the deathly hush of a country house hotel.
Dinner is a four-hour, 16-course tasting menu for £110: a choice of two options depending on whether you have lamb or Wagyu beef which comes from Montgomeryshire. I opted for the 150-day-old Wagyu which appeared as a burger, a perfectly cooked tranche of sirloin and (weirdly) a cube of fudge, the former two being a perfect combination with a Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 2007, which was available by the glass. The two-hour, eight-course lunch menu is £55.
Other highlights were a dazzling Asian-style dish of mackerel (maybe the best mackerel I’ve eaten), a perfect single prawn with langoustine sauce and an addictive Caesar salad with anchovy and bacon crumbs. There was the odd miss: raw crab and corn had lost the dimension of sweetness that makes crab so seductive. But in general here taste isn’t sacrificed for effect. At 36, Ward has already spent 20 years cooking at, among others, Sat Bains and Hambleton Hall. It shows.
The wine list, put together by his partner Amelia, is all the more impressive for the fact that she has no sommelier training. Admittedly she inherited an interesting cellar from the previous owners, but for the most part it reflects her own eclectic tastes. She’s not a big fan of wine flights, preferring to try and reflect her guests’ preferences. Creditably, she also doesn’t push the most expensive wines on the list. Her suggestion of a saké (Katsuyama’s Lei Hitomebore Junmai 55%; £15 for a 75ml glass) for the first four courses and Viña de Martin’s lush Escolma Bianco 2011 from Ribeiro (£13.50 for a 125ml glass; £75/bottle), were spot on.
It’s worth staying over in one of the 10 comfortable rooms – not least for the breakfast, which shows the same inventiveness as the night before (don’t pass on the deliciously charred homemade sourdough crumpets!).
While not cheap, Ynyshir offers an exceptional experience that has been rewarded with a number 12 ranking in the Good Food Guide this year and the AA’s Best Wine List in Wales. Go.
Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys, Wales SY20 8TA. Tel: +44 (0)1654 781 209; www.ynyshir.co.uk
Open Tuesday 8am-Sunday 11am. Dinner, bed & breakfast packages from £185 a person, based on two sharing.