TRAVEL REVIEW: The Black Swan, Oldstead, North Yorkshire
You can't get fresher than The Black Swan.
A bold statement you may think, but it’s one you’ll find hard to argue against. You need only look outside the window of this beamed restaurant, swimming in rustic charm, to see the kale in the two-acre kitchen garden that’s gone into your kale martini, or the lush green leaves of the beetroot that will be slow cooked in beef fat to form a tenth of this tasting menu.
Want to know where the cow was reared for your aged beef? No problem, just cross the road and look into the farmer’s field.
Aside from the scallop and langoustine courses - bear with me, there’s a lot of courses to get through - which come from up the coast in Hartlepool, there’s often zero food miles in the creative dishes crafted with picture-perfect precision here.
It’s this attention to the art of food, coupled with its ethical and often quirky approach to sourcing ingredients - head chef Tommy Banks spends hours foraging for everything from wild garlic to apples - that’s seen the Black Swan blossom from a gastro pub to a Michelin star restaurant, and one that’s retained its star for three years in a row. No mean feat.
It’s easy to see what impresses the tyre people at this family-run venture. Perched on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, this restaurant and rooms are somewhat of a main attraction in the hamlet of Oldstead - not far from the mighty ruins of the 12th Century Byland Abbey as a reference point.
Although it certainly pays homage to its rural surroundings with roaring fires and oak fittings in this 16th century stone building, it’s by no means a slave to the country pub stereotype - there’s not a hot pot or bag of peanuts in sight.
We stayed in one of the rooms, each with their own character, but with a slick attention to detail missing in some more supposedly ‘up market’ city centre venues. Ours featured a huge copper bath in which you can lather yourself up in bouquet of Molten Brown - The Black Swan even have their own scent: rhubarb and rose - before you head to dinner. It’s the perfect way of making this a treat night away from the hullabaloo of home.
The menu is a tasting menu - as linked to a Michelin star as bread is to butter - with a choice of meat or vegetarian that changes with the seasons. A like it or lump it approach to menus that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it gives you the chance to let the experts take your palate on a journey. It needs to be something special if it’s going to lure you down those winding country roads. And it is.
It begins with snacks. I say snacks, but I couldn’t have rustled these up if my life depended on it. My favourite were the chicken dumplings plumped with roast garlic, an explosion of flavour.
Upstairs to the candlelit dining room where Tommy’s brother James is on hand to pair your drinks or advise as to what may wet your whistle. Each of the wines has a story and it all adds to the narrative of this meal that makes it a real experience.
It begins with a North Yorkshire beer to bring out the flavour of the beer onions and raw venison. I’ve not had this meat raw before, but it works, spectacularly.
What follows is an assault on the senses, from the crapaudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat to give it a plump meaty texture to the intoxicating aroma of the langoustine, fermented turnip and hispi cabbage which hits you as you take the lid off the dish, and later, the zing of the rhubarb with rosemary-infused honey. It’s pretty in pink dish, that’s served alongside a punchy rhubarb and rosemary cocktail.
Some of the dishes were filling - the beef was a masterclass in meat - while others were fun, such as the trio of brightly-coloured lollipops, with a mixture of sweet or savoury fillings that explode on your tongue.
But all were an inventive foray into this family’s passion for taking produce grown on their land and transforming it into something to write home about.
•Prices at The Black Swan start from £250, based on per couple sharing king-size double room, tasting menu, bed and breakfast. For details visit www.blackswanoldstead.co.uk.