Everyone needs food to survive, but some of us are fortunate enough to be able to appreciate it not just as a necessity of life but also one of its pleasures. And when food becomes not only delicious to eat but also beautiful to look at, it is truly a special treat.
For the inaugural Friendly Friday of 2021, Special Treats, I present what is almost certainly, to date, the most ‘special treat’ meal I have enjoyed.
The Black Swan at Oldstead
I became aware of chef Tommy Banks and his Michelin-starred pub restaurant in Yorkshire through the TV programme The Great British Menu. I was impressed by his ethos of ‘field to fork’. He uses fresh seasonal ingredients, produced locally (most on his parents’ nearby farm or in the pub’s own extensive kitchen garden) or foraged for in the hedgerows and woodland around Oldstead, and presented with creativity but without forgetting that taste is foremost. Banks was Britain’s youngest Michelin-starred chef in 2013 and won The Great British Menu in 2016 and 2017, and more recently he has been a judge on the programme.
Having been so impressed I looked up the Black Swan and realised that it was not too far from the route we take regularly between London and Newcastle, and back again; also that although a stay here would be a splurge, it was not an unaffordable one. As I was closing my small business in 2019 to go into ‘almost’ retirement, I decided this would be the perfect treat with which to mark that closure and blow some of the profits!
Oldstead is little more than a hamlet – just a cluster of cottages reached along a single-track road from Byland Abbey. We arrived towards the end of the afternoon, parked behind the pub and went to check in.
There are no bedrooms in the pub itself. Some are in a block behind and the remainder in cottages just a few metres away in the village. We were in one of the latter, so we grabbed our overnight bags and followed the friendly receptionist to our ‘home’ for the night. Although not large the room was stylish and welcoming; and we had a sizeable bathroom with rain shower and huge copper bathtub!
Dinner at the Black Swan
If you book a stay here a table is automatically reserved for you in the restaurant and breakfast is included in the package too. All you need to pay for on top are any drinks. We made a start on those with a pre-dinner drink in the cosy bar. And most of the drinks too reflect Banks’ ethos, being innovative and derived from local produce, such as the local (Yorkshire-made) gin, Rare Bird, that I sampled.
The menu is a set tasting menu, but if you mention any allergies, food aversions etc. in advance alternates will be provided. Our first course was a mushroom quiche. But forget any idea you may have of a slice of eggy cheesy set custard on a pastry base! This little work of art was served in the bar with our drinks. It set the tone for a truly memorable experience, or rather, a whole evening of such experiences! Starting with the ‘pastry’, which was made with dried cep powder, this was a multi-layered mushroom feast in miniature – perfectly formed and absolutely delicious.
We were then escorted upstairs to our table to enjoy the rest of the meal.
The full menu was:
Crab and Pea
Sour Bread and Sour Butter
Raw Oldstead Deer
Scallop with Sun Gold Tomatoes
Monkfish with New Onions and Lemon Verbena
Potato with Fermented Celeriac
Lamb with Courgette and Girolles
Raspberry and Elderflower
Strawberry and Woodruff
Chicory and Potato
Root Vegetable Toast
But those simple labels don’t really give any idea of the complexity of flavours within each dish. Each was presented with a full explanation of the ingredients, delivered by waiting staff who clearly love their work and the food they serve.
It’s hard to pick out highlights but if I was pressed to do so I would probably pick the mushroom quiche, deer carpaccio, lamb and (surprisingly) the dessert made with chicory and potato, which tasted for all the world as if it were made with vanilla ice cream, salted caramel and coffee!
None of the dishes was large, naturally, so at the end of the meal we felt pleasantly full rather than stuffed. We strolled back up the road to our room in the cottage, with a sky full of stars overhead.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, we returned to the pub/restaurant and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of home-made granola, brioche with strawberry conserve and a ‘full English’, at a table with a view of the kitchen garden.
Then it was time to check out and set off on the long drive home; but not before resolving to return to the Black Swan one day for another ‘special treat’.
PS I’m also adding this to Cady’s new challenge, Friday’s Foods of the World
I stayed at the Black Swan in 2019