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Review: Gwen, Machynllyth

Smoked eel chawanmushi

Smoked eel chawanmushi

Gareth Ward strikes me as a really good guy. He’s opened this new 8-cover restaurant in the middle of Machynlleth high street, named Gwen for his mum, and put chef Corrin Harrison in charge, and then backed him to the extent of letting him create and evolve the whole menu without any input at all (beyond words of encouragement!). That takes personal humility and great confidence in your team.

Anyway, that’s what Chef Corrin told me after the meal. He said it worried him a bit how hands-off Gareth has been. He doesn’t have to worry though, as he’s built a great menu of kick-ass flavours and memorable dishes. He and the team looked after their guests really well in a tiny dining room painted dramatically black but with strong task lighting to give a great atmosphere. The eight diners sit at two tables, so be prepared to say hi to your neighbours (it would feel weird not to).

Bloody lovely quail curry

Bloody lovely quail curry

So what about these dishes? It’s a tasting menu of eight-or-so courses. I had two candidates for best dish. Barbecued pork jowl with jalapeno sauce was a really single-minded powerhouse of a dish. Two slices of sturdy white jowl, full of flavour and smoke, doused in a sticky hot jalapeno sauce and coated in toasted sesame seeds. Grrrrr! My other option was the quail curry. The char-grilled piece of breast was absolutely perfect, still juicy and slightly pink but with crisped black skin. The curry sauce added a dramatically bright red punch of warming spices. Breaded drumsticks very delicious too. I really can’t pick between these two dishes, loved them both to bits.

Of course, the lamb was also splendid, with tangy onions and a bright fermented(?) mint sauce that did remind me of Ynyshir. Going back to the start, the first dish was a chawanmushi topped with generous slices of smoked eel. I’ve had just this combination before, but here they lifted it with a hot broth of the eel bones, and the warmth brought a completely new and huggable dimension to the smokey eel that we usually eat cold. There was a luscious piece of lobster too, very delicately cooked, with a champagne foam and a courgette puree (that being perhaps the only mis-step of the whole meal; a dish that was all richness and no texture).

Pork jowl with jalapeno sauce

Pork jowl with jalapeno sauce

There was a really bright celery sorbet palette cleanser between the surf dishes and the turf dishes. Then at the end a trio of tasty desserts. The best was perhaps the single strawberry enhanced with strawberry sauce and a miso ice cream. The next was a dish of orange, olive and coffee blobs, but it ate surprisingly well and was a great combination of flavours. Finally an attractive velvety white chocolate shell around a sourdough ice cream around a blob of sticky-salty caramel, good flavours but the caramel very solid.

This was certainly the most exciting menu I’ve eaten this year, and at £100 each before drinks it’s good value for the skill and invention on show. As Gwen is also a wine bar, they have loads of wines by the glass and so the sommelier can provide a pairing by chatting it through with you. I liked that. I’d recommend a special trip to Gwen and I’ll definitely come back myself!

Close to the pass at Gwen

Close to the pass at Gwen

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