Tommy Banks first came to our attention in 2016 when he won Great British Menu two years in a row. Three years prior, he’d become the UK’s youngest Michelin-starred chef at the age of 24, after taking over the kitchen at his parents’ pub. A self-trained chef, Banks’ tenure at The Black Swan has seen the remote Yorkshire inn retain its star every year since and wins accolades aplenty, including TripAdvisor’s ‘Best Fine Dining Restaurant In The World’ award in 2017.
But The Black Swan is about more than Tommy. The pub is a family affair, with brother James in charge of front of house and the homemade spirits served in the bar. Most of the produce served is sourced from his parents’ farm, there’s a brigade of chefs manning the kitchen, headed up by Will Lockwood, and there are plenty of people behind the scenes, tending to the kitchen garden. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of Oldstead and the surrounding area’s glorious produce, which draws diners from around the world to Yorkshire.
Located down a stretch of winding roads, Oldstead is a picturesque village with few houses. In the centre is The Black Swan, which is surrounded by a two-acre kitchen garden with polytunnels where smaller ingredients such as herbs, fennel and tomatoes are grown.
Step inside the restaurant and you’ll find a traditional-looking pub with a roaring fire. Once you’ve checked in – if you’re staying overnight – you’ll sit at one of the handsome oak tables to sample a cocktail made with homemade tinctures and a mini quiche (on the evening we visited, a cep-infused sable pastry case filled with a mushroom duxelle, pickled hen of the woods with a vintage Lincolnshire poacher cheese and white onion custard, topped with smoked scallop roe and chive) before being led to the upstairs restaurant for a three-hour odyssey.
The main restaurant is split over two levels and is a more modern affair. It's a stripped-back space, decorated with local ceramics by artist Jane Schaffer and artwork depicting flowers and vegetables, which allows your eyes to fall upon the open kitchen and the windows, which offer views onto the hills, garden and fields, giving diners a sense of place throughout their meal.
Offering just one tasting menu allows the team to pull focus on the 11 intricate dishes served each sitting, some of which take hours to prepare and assemble. Like everything at The Black Swan, the menu is inspired by the ingredients that grow and are foraged in and around Oldstead. Deceptive descriptions such as ‘aged raw beef’ belie skilled dishes such as smoked diced sirloin of beef bound with a chilli ferment and topped with pickled shallots and foraged wood sorrel coated in a garlic caper brine spray. Elsewhere, ‘Beetroot salad’ comprises Pablo and Golden Bolder beetroot – dehydrated then rehydrated in blackcurrant juice – served with blackcurrant sauce infused with lemon verbena and blackcurrant leaf. At the table, this is topped with Sinodun Hill goats cheese granita, the cheese slowly melting to release its flavour.
Across the board, simple ingredients become the star of the show. Nowhere is this seen better than a dish named ‘potato with fermented celeriac’, which is served with dill oil and caviar. Made with just four ingredients used many ways, it’s one of the night’s standout dishes.
Dessert isn’t always our favourite section of the menu, but the trio of sweet treats here is a triumph. First up we’re served the team’s version of an ice-cream sandwich: elderflower clotted cream with layers of raspberry and sweet cicely crème pâtissier, wedged between buckwheat crackers. Delicious. Next is ‘strawberries and woodruff’: strawberries from the garden coated in a woodruff (a plant that grows wild in the garden) sugar, topped with woodruff meringue and served at the table with a strawberry and woodruff granita. But best of all has to be the chicory and potato pudding. We're blown away by how the team managed to transform two very savoury ingredients into a wonderfully sweet ice-cream, crumble, caramel sauce and light foam. It’s a marvel.
The cooking at The Black Swan has to be up there with the very best we’ve had all year. Put it this way: the team’s sous-vide monkfish with chanterelles and whey, alongside the aforementioned amuse-bouche, converted two mushroom-adverse diners. Even the staff dinner, which we caught the scent of when we checked in, smelled incredible. They more than deserve it – the service throughout the whole experience was well-judged and extremely friendly. This might be a Michelin-starred establishment, but above all this is a relaxed environment where you’re invited to roam the grounds and while away the hours by the fireplace.
Our final tip? Opt for the drinks pairing. All the wines we sampled were unusual choices, yet perfectly matched, there was a great local beer paired with the beef, and – best of all – we loved the restaurant’s version of an espresso martini. Instead of coffee, the team uses a chicory root distillate, mixed with Priory potato vodka. It’s inventive twists like this that sums up the waste-free, inventive ethos of The Black Swan.
Where to stay…
The Black Swan has nine bedrooms, each named after the dales and farms around Oldstead. Located to the back of the main restaurant and over the road in a grand house, each room is individually designed and furnished with a mix of character and luxury – think roll-top baths and four-poster beds. When you book a bedroom, you’ll automatically be allocated a table for dinner, and the next day, you’ll be treated to one of the nicest hotel breakfasts you’ll ever try. We loved tucking into fresh-from-the-oven brioche, homemade granola with local yoghurt and superlative hash browns. Make sure to go for a walk among the vegetable fields to spot some of the unusual ingredients you sampled the night before before you leave.
How to get there…
Trains from London to York run frequently and take 2 hours and 20 minutes direct. From here you can take a 45-minute taxi to Oldstead, or take a 15-minute train to Thirsk, and a 20-minute taxi to Oldstead. The Black Swan’s website offers plenty of local cab recommendations, which are available to book in advance.
Oldstead, York, North Yorkshire, YO61 4BL
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