Open since summer 2016, Oxwich Bay’s The Beach House has enviably illustrious antecedents as part of the Grove (Narberth) and Coast (Saundersfoot) Head Chef Hywel Griffith, formerly of Ynyshir Hall and Paul Heathcote’s Longridge, heads up a small team of warm and welcoming staff. A series of guest chef evenings and collaborative events with the likes of Will Holland (Coast) and Allister Barsby (Grove of Narberth), Hywel Jones from Lucknam Park and Bryan Webb from Tyddyn Llan gives you some idea of the company they like to keep.
The Beach House is well named: on a windy night you hear the waves crash and play just yards away. On a bright day, this must be a spectacular place indeed to eat.
A small menu- five starters, five mains. But each one contains at least one element which gives you pause for consideration. We had spent lunchtime debating the various merits of the starters, only to find they had had all changed that very day, though it still leans heavily on local seafood and meat, with some eyecatching vegetarian options.
A pre-starter of squid ink cracker- a glistening ebony, topped with brown shrimps and dotted with pearls of lime gel, is an ineffably fragile thing. It’s the kind of thing which needs extremely delicate handling to negotiate its way to my mouth, however large the target. I worry the punch of lime will dominate but the delicate sweetness of shrimp comes through at just the right level.
The service is a strength here: restaurant manager Alice Bussi, lately of Bath Priory, sets a warm, informal tone.
A loaf of bread cracks apart with puffs of steam; it’s marbled with laverbread, with its briny tang. To eat this here and now is special enough: to eat it on an outside table with the tang of sea salt in the air would be a glorious thing indeed.
Local crab (£14) comes in a rich, clever terracotta bisque, so densely flavoured you can practically taste the scuttle of ragged claws across the floors of silent seas, to borrow a phrase. There’s the crunch of a disc of pickled daikon and tender Pembrokeshire crab. There’s a tickle of wasabi and the earthiness of brown meat. It’s at once delicate but hearty.
Crubeens (£12)- traditionally an Irish dish, one of those peasant dishes borne of expediency, the need to use every last scrap of available protein in straitened times- gets a fine dining twist. A velvety concoction of shredded meats with a scattering of sweet, dark onion, it’s immediately impressive, immediately memorable.
I’m so intrigued by the dish- it plays on my mind so much- I email Chef Griffith to ask for some insight into its creation. The reply is hundreds of words long; from shaving the trotter, to roasting a mirepoix and simmering the meat for 6-7 hours; from stuffing the caul with a mousse of chicken, pork shoulder, chorizo, trotter meat and pancetta, to reducing the cooking liquor down to a tenth of its original volume for a dense, sticky jus; to wrapping in the delicate jelly-like skin to deliver something instantly memorable for all the best reasons. This is patient, fastidious cooking; this is sheer craftsmanship. It’s instantly one of my favourite dishes of the last six months.
A confession: I’m not a great fan of hake. It’s the look of the thing which puts me off and has done since childhood. If Blackadder’s Lord Percy was once savaged by a turbot, I was traumatised by this huge thing on my grandmother’s kitchen table, this nightmarish conjoining of the serpentine and the vulpine. Avoiding hake in Spain is no mean feat. But with pickled salsify, with faultlessly crisp skin and flaking flesh, lifted by vivid green of parsley oil, all on a whipped potato silky enough to fashion something interesting for someone close? It’s a delicately meaty thing (£21), this loin.
Gressingham duck is up next and plays the sweetness of studded candied beetroot, against the richness of parsnip and a deep, dark gravy. If one of the Ten Restaurant Commandments is: ‘Thou shalt judge a restaurant by its sauces’, then The Beach House is a special place indeed. The duck itself? Perfectly cooked to my liking, perfectly seasoned: it’s another impressive plateful.
At this point I am reminded that I am married to a genuinely cool lady. Instead of going straight to picking a dessert, she senses my PIR (Pork-Induced Regret) and suggests giving a third main course a go. The kitchen sends it on two plates, already divided.
Our third main is nothing short of a celebration of pork, and proudly local pork at that, from Ty Siriol; a piece of pressed belly has been beautifully rendered, the flesh easing apart, the earthiness of black pud and sweetness of roasted pineapple anchoring the whole plate. It comes with something billed as ‘crispy skin’ but this is less crackling than chicharron, scorched until puffed like a piggy Quaver.
Dessert is blood orange, teamed with a play on a millefeuille: sheets of tempered white chocolate are piped with cream and sprinkled with liquorice powder for a faintly aniseed note. It’s a lovely thing, tart and sweet and satisfyingly decadent without feeling over-heavy.
Dinner at The Beach House was a joy. It’s a sizeable drive, sure, if you’re Cardiff-based: as sizeable as the pangs of envy you’ll feel that this is not your neighbourhood restaurant. But it’s absolutely worth your time. It’s clever cooking, but always with flavour to the fore, never too wrapped up in its own cleverness for its own sake.
This is a beautiful place to eat, and it feeds you beautifully. And that’s as much as you can ask of any restaurant, anywhere.
The Beach House
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A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.