Earlier this year, Hywel Griffith of Beach House Oxwich was the latest Welsh chef to join the exclusive Michelin star club. taste.blas editor Lowri Haf Cooke caught up with the Gower-based ‘cook’, who shared the secrets of his success...
taste.blas: Llongyfarchiadau to you Hywel, and to all at Beach House Oxwich on your Michelin win for Wales. Upon receiving the award, the presenter quoted the Michelin judges’ response to Beach House Oxwich – ‘The setting is great but the food is even better’ - and also praised the bilingual menu. Growing up in Bethesda as a Welsh-speaker, what does having an English and Welsh Michelin-star winning menu mean to you?
Hywel Griffith: It’s fantastic what we have here, a restaurant where the staff are all so driven and passionate about what we do, while our Welsh ingredient-led bilingual menu has really captured the hearts of Welsh locals, and people from further afield, who genuinely appriciate that we make the effort. The amount of people who come up and speak to me at the pass in Welsh is fantanstic.
tb: Who was the first person you called following your announcement?
HG: Naturally I called [Beach House] owners Neil and Zoe Agar, as without their support and willingness there would be no Beach House.
tb: How have the past few weeks been like for you, and when did the win finally sink in for you? Is it yet to sink in?
HG: To be honest it’s been crazy, not just because of Michelin but we also won 3 AA Rosettes in September and also the title of Best Restaurant at the Swansea Bay Tourism awards in November. It’s been a very exciting time for the team. These awards all help to get the message across about what we do here and I’m delighted, to say the least. It’s nice to be recognised.
tb: The awards are obviously a testament to years of hard work, and inspiration. But can you answer this question that chefs all over Wales are itching to know the answer to: what does it really take to win a Michelin star?
HG: Dedication, quality and consistency are the biggest things. Just working hard isn’t enough - you have to give more.
tb: You’ve previously worked at many fine establishments, Ynyshir, The Lanesborough, the Chester Grosvenor to name but three. How do you think Beach House Oxwich itself contributed to your recent success?
HG: It’s hard not to be inspired by our landscape and local produce and that is reflected in every aspect of the restaurant, from our design and local coastal artwork, and the foraged ingredients on the plate. Beach House is a place where people come and feel welcome, comfortable and totally relaxed. It’s the full package for them to enjoy the food and wine in a magnificent location with warm and friendly service.
tb: What’s your advice for first-time visitors to Beach House Oxwich; is there a current dish on the menu that must be experienced at the restaurant, and what is the closest thing to a signature ‘Hywel Griffith’ dish?
HG: It’s not a dish so much as something that every guest comments upon, and it really is a signature item at Beach House. Our laverbread bread with salted Welsh butter. Every guest receives this at the start of their meal and they absolutely love it.
tb: Winter is notorious for being a ‘challenging’ time for chefs, but what is your opinion on the season, and what ingredients keep you going in the kitchen until Spring at Beach House Oxwich?
HG: I love the changing of the seasons, whether it’s Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter; it’s exciting as a chef, to have a change in ingredients and have such a variety on the menu. We have a wonderful selection of mushrooms this time of year and plenty of root vegetables, so there are some beautiful ingredients on the plate over Winter.
tb: What other Welsh ingredients are celebrated at Beach House Oxwich throughout the year?
HG: Our whole focus is about serving local produce on our menu so there are many Welsh ingredients. We use the wonderful Gower salt marsh lamb, Tŷ Syriol pork from Pontarddulais, Selwyn’s seaweed and cockles from Penclawdd. The lobsters are caught right in front of the restaurant in Oxwich Bay and all of our cheese board is Welsh, with Perl Las, Perl Wen, Golden Cenarth, Hafod and Brefu Bach. We also forage a lot of items from the landscape so we have wild garlic, hen of the woods, sorrel and seaweed.
tb: You famously lost 8 stone a few years ago: do you have any post-Christmas ‘New Near, New You’ tips for our readers?
HG: It’s a lifestyle change so you have to really want to do it.
tb: Where do you recommend visitors enjoy a nice pre-lunch winter walk prior to a feast at Beach House Oxwich?
HG: You just can’t beat a walk along Oxwich beach.
tb: When you’ll finally get the opportunity, how would you like to celebrate your Michelin success?
HG: Being a part of a very sought-after ‘club’ is celebration enough for me.
What’s your middle name? Llyr
Favourite sweets as a kid? Freddo
Favourite crisp flavour? Salt and vinegar
Sweet / Sour / Salty / Bitter or Umami? Balanced dishes are always the best
What did you have for breakfast? A cup of tea
Most expensive meal you've ever had? The Fat Duck, Bray
What's the one kitchen utensil you could not live without? All of them
The worst flavour in the world? Branston Pickle and Brown Sauce
Favourite dish at home as a kid? Cawl
Best food on a date? Sushi
What's your favourite Welsh word for a food? Cimwch (Lobster)
Favourite restaurant in Swansea? Nishimura
Ultimate midnight snack after a shift? Perl Las cheese and honey
What would be on the menu of your last supper? Steak
How much is a pint of milk? From Tŷ Llaeth, £1 I think, it’s lovely!!!