Ever since my Mum moved back to Yorkshire, I’ve been dying to visit The Black Swan in Oldstead, but felt like I needed an ‘occasion’ given its Michelin-star quality food (and prices!). I finally had the perfect excuse for my 30th birthday in October and asked my Mum if a trip there for lunch could be my present (a bit cheeky, but it worked, and she got to enjoy it too!). I booked at the start of the year last year as it’s high in demand. Mid-way through last year it was voted the ‘Travellers Choice Best Fine Dining Restaurant in the World’ by TripAdvisor, so I was glad I got my booking in before then, as I’m sure the requests went through the roof. It all seems so baffling for a tiny restaurant in a humble little village such as Oldstead. Despite it being around 20 minutes from where my Mum lives and where I grew up as a child, we didn’t know anything about it until its incredible rise to fame over the past few years. Thanks largely to Head Chef, Tommy Banks. Being crowned Britain’s youngest Michelin-starred chef in 2013, he was set on the path for success, winning Great British Menu in 2016 and 2017.
And to top things off, he’s certainly easy on the eye (I noticed a few pairs of young women dining in the restaurant who were clearly keeping a beady eye on the kitchen door every time it swung open to see if Banks was ‘in residence’). It turns out he wasn’t, and later in the day I noticed on Instagram that he’d been at another restaurant in nearby Helmsley with his girlfriend, which is somewhere my Mum and I visit very often and would no doubt have been at if we weren’t at The Black Swan. It’s a small world in the world of foodies!
But it’s not just about Tommy. The Black Swan is a family affair, owned by the Banks family for many generations, and his brother is Front of House. The team are clearly a fun and tight-knit bunch – anyone who follows them on social media will see the camaraderie they have. They have a farm joined to the restaurant and the ingredients for their food and drinks are sourced from there where possible, with field-scale crops and two acres of growing beds and terraces. This is field-to-plate dining at its very best.
Michelin-starred restaurants can sometimes be perceived as formal and as much as I hate to say it, a bit stuffy. And while the restaurant does indeed have that Michelin star, the last thing The Black Swan is, is stuffy. From the outside it looks like any country pub that you might find dotted around the winding roads of the Yorkshire Moors. And this doesn’t change when you get in the door, with a proper pub feel with bare stone, dark woods and a cosy fireplace.
We were greeted with beaming smiles much like any good Yorkshire establishment, but where things did start to change from village pub to fine dining establishment, was when our coats were taken and hung up and we were shown to our table in the bar area, and brought the drinks menu and an amuse bouche (Celery and Walnut). The cocktail menu isn’t huge but a lot of thought goes into these concoctions – they even have an Instagram account dedicated to it!
We were led into the main restaurant which is different in style and decor to the bar area – it was lighter and airier with beautiful wooden furniture (which we learned was custom made by a local supplier). Although the main kitchen is separate to the dining room, there’s an open plan chef’s pass at the front of the restaurant so you can see the team plating up the intricate dishes. The Black Swan’s website says that their “focus is all about where we are and who we are – a reflection of “Oldstead traditional Yorkshire with a swirling mix of creativity and eccentricity.” They’ve completely nailed this.
So now of course, on to the food! The menu consists of a Tasting Menu of 11 courses (including the amuse bouche), which is also available for lunch on Saturdays, which is when we visited. So what did we eat?
Raw Dexter Beef
Sour Bread and Sour Butter
Cod with Cauliflower and Parsley
Crapaudine Beetroot cooked slowly in Beef Fat
Scallop with Fermented Celeriac
Venison and Smoked Sloe
Damson and Kernel
Hogweed with Elderflower and Sheep’s Yoghurt
Cake made from Chicory Root and Blackcurrant
The whole menu was absolutely, completely and utterly brilliant. The flavours and textures were superb and the quality of the ingredients really shone through. It felt fresh, clever and delicious. I can still remember the taste of the beef fat beetroot!
For wine, the Black Swan has a brilliant grid set out on a map of the local area, to help you choose between various types of wine. I chose an Arbois Chardonnay which I’d tried before and thought would work well with the dishes, which it definitely did!
I was also given a birthday card signed by all of the team which was a really lovely touch and takes pride of place in our living room.
Whether you’re planning on taking a trip to Yorkshire just to visit the restaurant (it’s totally worth it), or if you’re in the York area, you must plan a meal at The Black Swan. They also have some stunning rooms available to book if you’d like to stay overnight.
It’s worth every single penny. I just need to find another reason to go back again!
*images from The Black Swan and The Caterer websites.