Gareth Ward, Ynyshir: 'Michelin need to look at things a bit differently. It's great to see that they're starting to do that'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Though long-predicted from within the industry, it was only two weeks ago that Ynyshir was awarded a second star in the Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland 2022

"It hasn't sunk in yet, I don't think," Gareth said in an interview with The Staff Canteen. "Everytime you think about it, it's like, 'oh f**ing hell, we've just won two stars.'"

Why now?

Why Michelin chose to give the restaurant its second star this year rather than any other might not be clear to all who saw it coming a long time ago, but Gareth certainly feels like there was a notable change - but not necessarily at Ynyshir.

"The thing about Ynyshir is that we do our own thing, it's very much ours. We don't follow any trends, we don't follow any traditions, we don't follow any normal ways of running a restaurant," he said. 

"In them four walls we can do whatever we want and we can have a f****g great time. No-one can stop us. For me, that's what food is all about. I love music, I love food and I love having a great time with friends. That's what Ynyshir is all about."

Others are following suit and adopting a more fun approach to cooking great food. And while it says it doesn't follow trends, it would be unwise for Michelin not to take notice.

"They need to look at things a bit differently. It's great to see that they're starting to do that," he said.

When he learned of the news about Ynyshir's second star, he commended the guide for taking his vision on board. "I said, 'thank you very much for finally seeing what I see in it.' There's no white tablecloths and there's no sommelier standing over you 24/7, it's not silver service, it's not a quiet restaurant, it's not formal stuff,  but they've recognised the fact that it's f****ing great food and it is something different."

Nine years in the making 

Whatever success it now enjoys, Ynyshir was once a humble country house hotel, and it has come a very long way since Gareth joined the business nine years ago. At the time, he wasn't so sure it would pan out. 

Having just come out of administration as part of the Von Essen Hotel Group collapse, he said, "We were close to giving it up, we were going to have to."

Meeting the likes of James Martin - which he credits to his friend and fellow chef Stephen Terry - and appearing on MasterChef: The Professionals as a host to the finalists, he said, were saviours for the business. "Without those two things, we would not have survived. We would have been done."

During the first few years at Ynyshir, that fear was a daily struggle.

"It was soul destroying," he said. "We used to go weeks without feeding anybody. It was awful. But I always knew that it was a sleeping giant from the moment I met it."

"I said, 'this could be an unbelievable restaurant with rooms.'" 

"I had to keep convincing my business partner that this was going to work. I was like, 'you've got to stay with me here. This will work, I promise you, I will turn this around. I've got 100 percent confidence in it, you've just got to stick with me.'" 

"We were on the brink, and then it was like, 'bang,' and it just exploded. Then we had a craziness for a couple of months, then Covid came." 

And as many other businesses have found in the past two years, the pandemic provided breathing space to re-evaluate everything about the restaurant, from operations to how it is decorated and every element on the menu.

"I had time to look at the business, to rip it back and start again," he said, to the point that "I don't think we would have got two stars without Covid.'" 

"When we came back, we came back on fire. We came back a different restaurant and we had a clear vision. People that have been before and after are like, 'what you've done is incredible.'" 

Doing it for Wales

Thanks to the accolade, there's certainly more to attract people to his central Wales restaurant than there was a few years ago. Not to mention the fact that fellow chef and Ynyshir alumnus Nathan Davies won a star for SY23 on the same day as Ynyshir was awarded its second. 

"I'm hugely proud," Gareth said. "I was actually happier for him than I was myself." 

Being as remote as they are, it is a credit to the area to have multiple award-winning restaurants in the area.

"You look at all of the other starred restaurants in Wales apart from Nathan and they're all round the borders or the coast. We're right here in the middle on our own." 

"All of a sudden you're going to end up with a congregation of incredible restaurants, so that I don't have to get in my car and drive to London anymore, I can go down the street and eat great food." 

"We've got European journalists on the ball, and it's great to be able to say that one of my boys has got a restaurant down the road."

What's next?

Say what you will about the guide, it will put a spring in any chef's step to join the ranks of the 22 two Michelin-starred restaurants across the UK and Ireland.

Does a second star create more pressure, though? "Not in the slightest," Gareth said, and he and his will continue to be uncompromising in their approach.

"We do it for us. I'm 100 percent confident in what we do at my restaurant. It would not go out of the door unless it was right. Doesn't matter who's in the restaurant, I'm changing the food for no-one."

And while work resumed in the kitchens of Ynyshir as usual after the Michelin awards a fortnight ago, it is hard to imagine that Gareth is going to stop now.

"Now we've just got to get three haven't we," he laughed. 

"Might as well - push on, try and get them all. We're almost there now." 

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 1st March 2022

Gareth Ward, Ynyshir: 'Michelin need to look at things a bit differently. It's great to see that they're starting to do that'