I didn't plan to be a chef

I came to North Wales back in 2009. My father had a bit of a mid-life crisis and remortgaged back in Liverpool and bought this little caravan site. He didn’t have a chef so he dragged me along and said, ‘Cook!’ I was meant to be here for a year and that turned into nine. And I’m still here today. It started as an all-day breakfast place, but we just evolved. Each year we’d knock down a wall, add a few more tables, a few new dishes. It’s been an education for me and my brothers.

Chef Ellis Barrie sitting in The Marram Grass, Anglesey
The Marram Grass restaurant interior showing a dining table, chairs and glass doors
Ellis Barrie runs and owns The Marram Grass with his two brothers, Liam and Conor

Running a business with my brothers has its challenges

The beauty is you can be as honest as you want to be. You don’t hide when you’ve got something to say, you lay it on, and after a little fight in the car park, rubbing each other’s heads in the gravel, ten minutes later you’re going for a pint. And we’re getting to an age where fighting hurts, so we don’t do that any more. We’ve got honesty, we’ve got truthfulness, we don’t hold grudges and we can make things happen: between us we’re not scared of taking risks.

You never stop learning

I took over when I was 19, and I always wanted to teach myself more. You need to keep progressing and pushing forward. I used to make fish and chips. Everybody loved it to the point that nobody ordered anything else, so I took it off the menu. How was I meant to get better if all I was cooking was fish and chips? We’re now a very successful fine dining restaurant. We know a lot more about local produce, and how to match those ingredients in a way that reflects our personalities. It’s almost been like a university.

Chef Ellis Barrie prepares a seafood dish at The Marram Grass restaurant
A seafood dish prepared at the restaurant using locally-sourced ingredients

Being out of the spotlight allowed us to make mistakes

We’ve been able to learn and shine on the back of them. The early years allowed us to make a few mistakes that went unnoticed, but allowed us to develop our own personality in the cooking and the food we serve. We were so young when we started the business. It’s been a good slow learning curve. Now we are under the spotlight we can do things perfectly.

The produce has always led the menu

As outsiders coming to North Wales, the best way for us to get involved in the community was to leave the restaurant and go and find these little independent producers. It really got us involved in the food economy of Anglesey. It meant a lot more when you brought it back and put it on the plate: you wanted to do their product well. The best thing about having local produce is that changing the menu doesn’t become rocket science, it’s almost like it’s written for you. Using local produce, supporting local suppliers, it just makes sense.

The ingredients here are the best

I’m a stone’s throw away from the Menai Strait. We’ve got the sea salt, the oysters, the mussels, bass, great lobster and crab. People say that it’s the freshest of waters; to be honest I don’t know about that. But what I do know is that when I cook the produce, it’s the best. The oysters are fantastic, they have that nice sea-breeze taste to them, almost a bit of sweetness and you don’t really have to do much to them. I mean, I do because I like to mess about, but they’re perfect in their own little way.

Fresh lobsters in a tray at The Marram Grass restaurant on Anglesey
Oysters and tools on a kitchen work surface at The Marram Grass
Oysters and lobsters waiting to be prepped in The Marram Grass kitchen

It's a great place to live, too

I take one step outside and you’ve got the beautiful mountain range of Snowdonia, the fresh sea air coming straight off the Menai Strait, and I cross over the road from the restaurant and I’m on my own farm, the pigs are loving the sun and rolling around, and we’re picking veg from the garden. It’s a beautiful place, it’s inspirational. If you’re feeling a little bit down you only need to look up, take a deep breath, have a nice cup of local coffee, and crack on with your day. Why would you not want to be here? It’s perfect.

We're accidental pig farmers

We wanted our own veg patch, and someone told us we could do with a couple of pigs to turn over the ground before getting the veg in. Forty-five Tamworths later, and plenty of sausages and pork for the restaurant, finally we’ve managed to get the veg sorted. We’re still learning, trying our best to get good produce into the restaurant. That’s what The Marram Grass is. We’re here to learn our trade and craft, and hopefully in 10 years we’ll be able to spread it across the world. Ambition!

Chef Ellis Barrie picks vegetables in the veg patch of The Marram Grass
A Tamworth pig on the land at The Marram Grass restaurant
Tamworth pigs on the land near the The Marram Grass restaurant
The brothers became accidental pig farmers when they wanted their own veg patch; Tamworths grazing on the land near the restaurant

The media have discovered us in a big way

In 2015 we got into the Good Food Guide. Then there’s the BBC’s Great British Menu, which is such a hit with the London press. We’ve got journalists here every other week now. It’s great that Anglesey is getting noticed, and it’s only going to get better. The North Wales food scene has completely evolved. There are a lot more local suppliers, family eateries serving decent grub, high-end places like ourselves, and a Michelin star at the Sosban & The Old Butchers in Menai Bridge. People coming on holiday want good food, and now they’re being catered for.

Our name reflects where we are – and also who we are

It was originally called the White Lodge café, but we wanted to make it our own. So we did a bit of research and found out the area was known for picking marram grass from the sand dunes and trading it to Caernarfon where it was woven into things like baskets. So we paid homage to the history of the place. Marram grass thrives in tough conditions, and I really like that. That’s why we’re The Marram Grass.

Further Information

Find out what the Marram Grass team are up to via social media:

Twitter @TheMarramGrass

Instagram themarramgrass

If you want to discover this beautiful island for yourself, check out our Anglesey pages for more inspiration.

Marram grass
Marram grass, which thrives in tough conditions

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