Ynyshir Hall is one of Wales's best-known country house hotels. But beside luxury rooms, its restaurant, overseen by head chef Shane Hughes, is equally worth the trek. Gemma Sharkey explores the menu.
Hidden in a remote part of middle Wales in what general manager Joan Reen likes to call her "little corner of heaven", the nine-bedroom Ynyshir Hall country house hotel in Powys is also hiding a culinary treasure in head chef Shane Hughes.
Born in South Africa but raised in the UK, Hughes has worked in the kitchens of some of the country's most prestigious eateries, including a year as chef de partie under John Burton Race at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant at London's Landmark hotel - an experience he describes as "the benchmark" for everything he does.
This was succeeded by stints at other Michelin-starred restaurants, including Juniper in Greater Manchester, Whatley Manor in Wiltshire, and two years as head chef at Le Poussin, at Parkhill in the New Forest, under the guidance of Alex Aitken.
Hughes joined Von Essen-owned Ynyshir Hall in 2006, replacing former head chef Adam Simmonds, whose cooking had gained the restaurant a Michelin star that year. While Hughes lost the star the following year, he says the move to Wales helped him find what he'd been looking for for a long time. "I've found peace and tranquillity here even though I work seven days a week," he says. (Reen confirms that, even on his days off, Hughes can be found skulking around the kitchen or the hotel's vegetable garden.)
PENCHANT FOR FORAGING
Hughes is both unapologetic and rather headstrong. He turned down the chance to represent Wales on the BBC's Great British Menu because he's "a chef, not a celebrity or a businessman". He also admits to only liking the company of other chefs. But the man can cook. His food is classic French with a twist, a product of the places he has apprenticed and worked at, but his penchant for foraging and outdoor life adds some personal je-ne-sais-quoi. He scours the local beach, part of Cardigan Bay, for seaweed, which he blackens and serves fresh oysters on, as well as marsh samphire. He picks asparagus from his garden, microcress and herbs from the hills, wild garlic from the forest, and uses courgette flowers and pea shoots to decorate his plates. All of the restaurant's seafood comes from local fishermen, and Hughes collects free game abandoned by shooting parties on a nearby estate.
The menu is divided into the à la carte, which, priced at £65 for three courses, typically includes five starters, mains and desserts, and the tasting menu, which costs £80 for nine courses or £100 paired with wine. A chef's table is set up in the kitchen during quieter times, and always goes down well with the customers, Hughes says.
He bakes all of the bread served at the restaurant and spends four hours each day creating the different varieties. They include brioche; tomato and black olive croissant; and rosemary foccacia, which are served with syrupy 12-year-old Italian balsamic vinegar.
The tasting menu kicks off with a cauliflower and parsley emulsion, a creamy burst combined with the earthy, reductive salt-kick of the flat-leaf parsley. The squab pigeon and foie gras with spiced lentils and a streak of carrot purée is a plate of varying textures, while veal sweetbread with roasted marrowbone and wild mushrooms is rich and densely packed with flavour.
Another highlight is a dish of tortellini of goats' cheese with onion purée, apple syrup and sweet almonds, which comes beautifully paired with a glass of 2004 Lagrein Lindenburg Estate Alois Lageder from Italy.
For dessert, there is Hughes's pièce de résistance: a pumpkin soufflé served in a miniature copper pan, which deputy manager and sommelier Gianluca Rizzo pierces through the middle before pouring in a dark velvet stream of chocolate sauce.
At the time of Caterer‘s visit, Ynyshir Hall had just had a visit from a Michelin inspector, and it's obvious Hughes is striving to obtain a star in his own right after years of working for other peoples' accolades. Watch out, the star may just follow.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
(Three courses £65; nine-course tasting menu £80 - £110 paired with wine)
- Scallops and langoustine carpaccio, tomato jelly and caviar
- Cheese soufflé with apple and celery salad, Parmesan cappuccino
- Squab pigeon and foie gras with spiced lentils, carrots and sherry
- Welsh lamb with garlic and thyme potato, aubergine and courgette
- Fricassée of John Dory and clams, artichoke, carrot and salsify
- Braised duck leg, potato galette, parsnip and leeks
- Warm rice pudding, poached pear and hazelnut parfait
- White chocolate marquise, winter berries and Champagne jelly
- Vanilla soufflé with passion fruit sauce