Short Break - Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys

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see text - Credit: not Archant

Once owned by Queen Victoria, and then by William Mappin the jeweller, Ynyshir Hall is now a country house hotel fit for royalty

We climbed the steep paths through rich shady woodland beside a rushing river in the place that they call Artists’ Valley.

We had been told that Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame kept a summer house here, indeed that this place had inspired the epic song Stairway To Heaven. Then we chanced upon a field of sheep, their backs daubed with the initials RP. Was this the flock of a rock god, here in Artists’ Valley? We like to think so.

Art, and sheep, loomed large on this break at Ynyshir Hall, ‘twixt sea and mountains, beside an RSPB nature reserve used in BBC’s Springwatch, just outside Machynlleth, mid-Wales. The nine bedrooms of this beautiful country house – owned variously by Queen Victoria and William Mappin of jewellers Mappin and Webb - are all themed after artists, and the public rooms are adorned with the art of owner Rob Reen, whose bold canvasses are often filled with quizzical sheep.

There’s high art in the kitchens too, and the artist responsible is Paul Croasdale, head chef. In the course of two dinners - one from the £72.50 a la carte dinner menu, the other the £90 per head tasting menu - there were several plates put before us which tasted like nothing these well-travelled palates had encountered before, and almost always in a very good way.

Among the canapes, for instance, was a beetroot meringue filled with smoked salmon and goats’ cheese. Among the dinner dishes, we were impressed with the slow-cooked lamp rump with clams and sea purslane. Then there was the curried Goosnargh duck breast with fennel and pineapple - sweet but infused with woodland flavours, the tiniest of mushrooms swimming in the sauce.

From the tasting menu, the poached duck egg, lovage and shrimp was a captivatingly unusual dish. Also from the tasting menu was a pukka take on snack food - fish and chips in the form of a single chip topped with tiny peas and caviare, a chicken sandwich between slivers of filo pastry and with the addition of foie gras, a cheese sandwich of brioche, brie and truffle, and a delicious shot glass of rocket, lemon and ginger.

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Tuna with avocado ice cream. Lobster and tabouleh, basil ice cream, strawberries and poppyseed cakes - the winning combinations just kept coming. Even the bread was a work of art, lavabread brioche and seaweed butter, standing on a big pebble like a doughy sea anemone in a rock pool.

Croasdale does not just buy local produce. The Ynyshir Hall team go out and find it in nature. Guests so inclined can join afternoon foraging expeditions to find wild foods for the evening plate. Having already climbed the Stairway To Heaven that morning, we relaxed and let nature come to us...on the plate. n

Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA, 01654 781209