Set in the rural Welsh countryside, nestled in a dense forest near the town of Machynlleth, Ynyshir is a remarkable destination that Gareth Ward and his wife, Amelia Eiriksson, have poured their heart and soul into over the last nine years. It’s a place where guests come to relax, enjoy nature’s beauty and experience a unique culinary journey packed with layers upon layers of flavour.
Although Ynyshir has been around for decades, the current fare is a far cry from what was served when Ward first joined the restaurant’s team in 2013. Back then, the hotel was a Relais & Châteaux property, offering classic dining and hospitality. To match this style, Gareth used his experience from Sat Bains in Nottingham to guide the dishes, which were still Michelin-star worthy, but weren’t true to his culinary vision. So, he revamped the menu to represent his philosophy, which is all about bringing bags of flavour to the plate — there are no set rules or guidelines; it’s food that Gareth himself wants to eat and food he is proud of.
“The food that we have on the menu — it’s all about flavour, that’s what’s most important. For me, you shouldn’t waste calories. If you’re going to go out and spend a fortune on food, it’s got to taste absolutely amazing — not just look pretty and taste like nothing. It’s got to be super, super tasty, with the best ingredients you can find. I want people coming here to eat the best ingredients, and I keep it very simple.”
But Gareth didn’t disregard everything he learnt at Sat Bains. His ability to harness flavour stems from his time in the two-Michelin-starred kitchen, where he spent a good three years honing his craft. This, along with a five-year stint at Hambleton Hall, were two defining experiences that continue to underpin his cooking principles to this day.
“It was Hambleton Hall first, with Aaron Paterson, an absolute legend. I worked there for five years, and he showed me how to cook, so when I left Hambleton, I was a solid chef. I could really cook; I could cook as good as anybody. But Sat Bains, basically working there, taught me to think about food differently, create flavours, and treat food very differently from what you are classically taught.”
Classic fine dining isn’t what you’ll find at Ynyshir; instead, you’ll get a window into Gareth’s personal perspective on food and how he skillfully uses ingredients to create an unparalleled gastronomic experience. And it’s this distinctive touch that sets his restaurant apart from others in Wales. And quite simply, it has to be extraordinary; Ynyshir is a far drive out, and Gareth wants to make sure the trip is worth it for his guests. All in all, the restaurant, along with its ten rooms, offers a relief from the preconceived idea of what high-end dining venues and hotels tend to be associated with. Instead of worrying about all the frivolous details, Ynyshir focuses on genuine hospitality. An escape from the everyday where you are surrounded by good people, good food and good vibes.
From the moment you arrive and knock on the door, we look after you, and you’re just given an incredible experience. I want guests to, hopefully, taste the best food they’ve ever tasted in their life and listen to some incredible music and chill out and want to come back. You’re just going to have a great time, eat some things you’ve never eaten before and taste some incredible food. We have a lot of regulars because people love coming here; it’s just such a great part of the world.”
The tasting menu, which consists of an extensive thirty-plus courses, takes your palate on an international taste odyssey. There are dishes influenced by Thailand, Singapore, Korea, China and Japan — all the countries that really inspire Gareth, who simply admits: “I just love their flavours, I love their ingredients, and I love that big flavour punch.”
Served to the backdrop of a moody dining room — designed on the fly by Amelia and Gareth — it takes a good four to five hours to enjoy the full dining experience. But don’t worry, every dish delivers a taste explosion worth waiting for. The menu is punctuated with many meat courses and a good handful of puddings, but the fish dishes stand out as Gareth’s favourite at the moment.
“I’ve always been a big meat man; this restaurant was ninety percent meat at one point, but I’m really enjoying fish — raw fish. We’ve got the minus-eighty freezers, and just freezing something down to minus-eighty and then using it is mind-blowing. The sweetness and the tenderness of the fish — you just don’t have to cook it anymore. A lot of our fish is completely raw.”
Another ingredient Ward is particularly fond of is Welsh lamb — in his opinion, it’s simply the best lamb in the world. As one of sixteen Welsh products denoted with a Geographical Indication, it’s a homegrown product that wholly represents Wales’ dedication to provenance. And this is how the chef guides all of his produce choices: only the best of the best find their way into his kitchen. From here, he works at his own pace to create dishes that fully showcase the excellence of these ingredients, without the need for development kitchens or someone specific on the brigade whose responsibility it is to conceive each plate. Everything happens naturally — and is always in constant evolution.
“Development kitchens don’t work for us. I am 100 percent happy with everything at this moment on the menu. When we get back into the kitchen, something might change. It’s constant, every day I am constantly questioning the menu, and it’s tweaking it every day. Everything changes, like tiny cooking degrees or a dressing or how much something goes into something else. It’s constantly evolving, but I never get caught up in actually trying to change the whole menu because I don’t need to.”
Much like the menu, the restaurant team is in constant conversation about how things can be improved. Although no negativity is allowed during service, there is a list that enables a dialogue between the brigade to deal with any issues — especially in this industry, where nonstop uphill battles are an inevitability.
“Everything,” laughs Gareth when asked what these difficulties are, admitting that you don’t easily overcome them either. “It’s part of running a restaurant. It never goes away — you never have a challenge-free day; you’ve just got to roll with it. We don’t have negativity in the kitchen. We have a ‘snagging list’ — a thing from builders; when you have a building job done, you’ll run around after the job and make a snagging list, and there will be bits and pieces you are not happy with. So we have a list in the kitchen that we write during the day, and that’s the only time in the day at the end of service that we are allowed to be negative about things, but it always finishes with a positive. That’s kind of how we problem solve, but it never ends — the list is full every single day, so it’s just constant.”
But learning from mistakes and taking advice from one another allows for continued growth in the team, which is essential to Gareth’s leadership method, and one of his favourite parts of running a kitchen. “It’s about building a family and a team and just watching them grow, and watching the restaurant grow and succeed with these people. Sharing your knowledge and taking it from them is important because you never stop learning; people can show you things you never knew. That’s why you have people around you; I think it’s important to have a big team around you so that you can all bounce off each other. It’s great to watch something grow with other people.”
And there’s no doubt that Ynyshir has grown in leaps and bounds since Gareth and Amelia took over its management in 2016. It’s officially the most decorated restaurant in Wales, with distinctions like two Michelin stars and five AA Rosettes trailing its name. In addition, it was awarded the Best Restaurant in the United Kingdom at the 2022 National Restaurant Awards, making it the first-ever establishment outside of England to take the top spot on this list. In 2019, Gareth was also named Chef of the Year by the Good Food Guide. But Ward is clear about his objectives at Ynyshir: it’s not about the awards; it’s just about the food. His restaurant is not driven by the accumulation of accolades.
“There have been loads of awards. I mean, I’m proud of every one of them, but they don’t rule what we do. We don’t round them around, and we don’t have plaques on the walls in the restaurant. We cook for ourselves; we cook to have a great time and enjoy our life. This is our job — if I came to work and hated my job because I thought I had to do it for other people, there’s no point in that. I come to work to cook for myself because I love cooking, so I do this for nobody else. The awards are brilliant, and I am hugely honoured by them, but this doesn’t drive us. We work for ourselves.”
In addition to his passion for his craft, a few other essential elements have led to Gareth’s, and thus Ynyshir’s, triumph: “The key to success is determination, sacrifice, and never giving up. It doesn’t happen overnight. This is nine years of sacrifice and determination. This restaurant almost killed us, you know. And it still does; it’s hard. It’s obviously getting easier now, but it’s still not rosy. Running a business is very tough, but you can’t give up, and I always knew we could make this something incredible. We could have given up when we weren’t cooking for anybody, you know, the restaurant was empty, we weren’t making any money — we were actually losing money — it was very hard times. You’ve got to have conversations with business partners to say, please believe in this because I do, and I will make it work. You’ve got to reassure people. But yeah, you’ve just got to keep going, whatever is happening, you’ve just got to keep going.”
Looking to the future, there are many hopes and dreams that Gareth and Amelia have their eyes on, such as expanding the culinary offerings onsite to include a pub. Over the next ten years, they want to branch out and grow the Ynyshir brand, and in doing so, the duo will continue to put incredible Welsh dining on the global map — and do so as sustainably as they can. “Sustainability is really important,” says Gareth. “I’m running a very high-end restaurant, so you try and do your best, and you’re conscious of it.”
This aligns perfectly with the country’s ‘strategic vision’, through which it hopes to promote Wales as shorthand in people’s minds where food and drink are synonymous with sustainability practices. This vision for the future will create a solid, vibrant culinary sector with a global reputation for excellence — and Gareth Ward’s acclaimed restaurant is spearheading this idea with its showcase of stellar food, stunning scenery and superb hospitality. Ynyshir is Welsh distinction through and through, and if it’s not on your bucket list yet, it should be. It’s more than worth the trip to Wales.