Saturday, 7 May 2022

SY23, Aberystwyth Michelin-starred restaurant review

Most chefs don't achieve in their whole careers what Nathan Davies did in the space of two days.

On the 15th and 16th of February this year, the chef patron of Aberystwyth's SY23 secured a perfect ten for his starter on Great British Menu (he went on to cook the dish at the banquet), his restaurant was named Michelin’s best new opening in the UK, and he secured his first Michelin star.

Not bad going at all.

Unsurprisingly, a table at SY23 is now one of the UK’s hottest tickets and it's currently nigh on impossible to secure a reservation for a Saturday night until the end of the year.

Tucked away in the corner of a square in the middle of Aberystwyth, SY23’s name comes from the town’s post code and is a reflection of Nathan’s passion for sourcing local ingredients

Pre-dinner drinks are served in the downstairs bar, whilst the main event takes place upstairs in a cosy 14 seat dining room, where the focal point is an open kitchen with a charcoal grill and a beast of an extraction system. By raising and lowering the ingredients to different shelves on the barbecue, Nathan and his team skilfully adjust the intensity of heat.

As a former head chef at the nearby two Michelin-starred Ynyshir, it’s understandable that there’s Asian influences dotted across Nathan’s menu, including the use of miso to provide seasoning. The boundary between chef and front of house is also blurred as Charlie the sous chef served a number of dishes, each accompanied by an enthusiastic explanation.

There's a single tasting menu on offer with 10 dishes costing £110. And a matched wine selection consisting of 6 glasses costs £65. We shared a single flight and it was a good amount of booze.

“Mushrooms" was our first dish and its title gave away very little about the amount of effort which had gone into its cooking A brilliantly savoury and 'shroomy construction, it comprised of layers of pickled shiitake mushrooms, grilled maitake mushrooms brushed with miso, mushroom ketchup and a light yet intense aerated mushroom puree. Sourdough croutons dotted throughout the dish proved crunch with every bite.

SY23 is probably the first restaurant that I've ever visited where they give you a whole loaf of bread to go with your meal and it's an idea which I'm very much in favour of. The loaf of caramelised crusted sourdough was made with fermented grains from Felin Ganol watermill and accompanied by a good smear of tangy cultured butter seasoned with red miso. We found ourselves reaching for a slice between every course to mop our plates clean.

A behemoth of a hand-dived scallop was one of the two standouts of the meal. Cooked ferociously over the flame on one side to develop a corking caramelised crust, it was unlike any scallop I'd ever eaten. Dressed with a savoury, sweet and zingy Japanese sanbaizu sauce, toasty brown butter, little pops of briny pickled sea vegetables, toasted nori and a crisp crumb made with dehydrated scallop, it was a cracking bowl of complex comfort food.

A tranche of turbot, cooked whole in a metal cage in the Basque style, had clearly been shown a lot of love. Aged for six days to draw out the moisture and then gently cooked over flame, the meaty fish was balanced by the light savouriness of a dashi broth and slices of al dente asparagus punctuated with pickled cockles.

On the side, a slice of char-licked crisped turbot skin was impressively pork crackling like. Someone needs to put this in a bag and sell it.

Next up was the other star dish of the meal, a supremely chicken-y pot of silky liver parfait scattered with the crunch of toasted hazelnuts and pine nuts, shards of crisp chicken skin and blobs of glistening chicken fat. A drizzle of sweet and fragrant birch syrup took the dish to the next level. With 400 litres of sap lovingly tapped from local birch trees by the SY23 team and reduced down to produce a mere 4 litres of syrup, it’s a huge undertaking which more than pays off. P.S. apologies there's no photo - it was shockingly bad. 

A perfect showcase of Welsh lamb combined a rosy pink, tender and well-flavoured piece of loin and a crisp-fatted yielding rib accompanied by a sweet and meaty shallot that had been cooked in lamb fat. But the big wallop of flavour on the plate came from an intensely savoury, sweet and tangy black garlic ketchup.

An optional cheese course (£14 supplement) was a luxury riff on cauliflower cheese. A slice of blow-torched creamy and socky brie-like Pen Helyg cheese was joined by pieces of soft caramelised cauliflower, golden breadcrumbs and a scattering of funky truffle.

Onto the sweet stuff and first up was a blast of citrus. A dainty pastry case was filled with sweet, zingy and intensely aromatic yuzu curd topped with a cloud of Italian meringue charred with coals from the barbecue. Funnily enough it was the delicious aroma of toasted meringue which filled the dining room and not the very subtle clouds of dry ice poured over a bowl of citrus fruits at the table.

Impeccably smooth Valrhona chocolate mousse had been made with silken tofu rather than eggs and cream. If the future is plant-based then I'm definitely going to be eating a lot of tofu chocolate mousse. Its accompaniments were just as memorable - miso caramel, tangy sour cream ice cream, and sugar coated barley grains which provided crunch and a sugar puff like flavour dimension.

Our last dessert was very much inspired by rhubarb crumble. Blushing pink forced rhubarb compote, sorbet, gel and pieces were served with smooth and sweet cream cheese, granola crumb and unusually fragrant shiso leaves.

Petit fours were both bangers - smooth and creamy chocolate ganache and a cube of toasty burnt butter fudge flecked with crisp sugar crystals and dusted with salt.

With its creative, technically accomplished and delicious flame-licked food, SY23 is undoubtedly one of the most exciting restaurants in Wales. I’m sure it won’t be long before more accolades come along for Nathan and his team.

The Details:

Address - SY23, 2 Pier St, Aberystwyth SY23 2LJ

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