Limestone building in garden among trees
England,  Food & drink,  Friday’s Foods of the World,  Friendly Friday

Special treats: The Black Swan at Oldstead

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.

Limestone building among trees
The pub

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.

Small tart decorated with mauve flowers
Mushroom quiche

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:

Mushroom Quiche

~o~

Crab and Pea

Beetroot Salad

Sour Bread and Sour Butter

Raw Oldstead Deer

Scallop with Sun Gold Tomatoes

~o~

Monkfish with New Onions and Lemon Verbena

Potato with Fermented Celeriac

Lamb with Courgette and Girolles

~o~

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.

Vegetables growing in rows
View of the kitchen garden at breakfast
Vegetables and herbs growing in rows
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

23 Comments

  • Alison

    I love pubs like this. Although this does seem very upmarket. Food looks wonderful and all locally sourced ..who said English food was terrible. England has come a long way over the years

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s VERY upmarket and not at all a typical pub, despite its appearance! But the food is indeed wonderful. English food certainly has come a long way since people used to say that – I hope those days are passed 🙂

  • CadyLuck Leedy

    Sarah isn’t this the way to try different foods? Who would think of these combinations? Not me……What is a dried cep powder? Right off the bat I would have no idea what I was eating! Is that deer really raw? I know I could count on the sour bread, but I have never heard of sour butter! Lots of food here with an interesting twist! I would not get my hubby to eat here……I would have to have a girl’s fling! Those cottage would definitely be on my list…..I wonder what Tommy eats when he goes to a pub? Lots of questions here! Cady
    PS you might want to change the challenge FFOTW to me not Cee! Ha Ha!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh gosh yes, I need to correct that – how silly! I’ll do so immediately 😀

      Cep powder will be made from dried cep mushrooms, I am sure. And yes, the deer is really raw – like a beef carpaccio but from venison 🙂 I’m not sure though how the sour butter is made – perhaps from sour cream??

      My husband loved it as much as I did, and that’s much more than he expected to I think. He went to indulge me but afterwards was full of praise for the experience!

          • CadyLuck Leedy

            I think you eat much more refined than I do! I live is such a small town our little sandwich shops offers southern food…..like pimento cheese sandwiches and peanut butter pie!

          • Sarah Wilkie

            I wouldn’t say necessarily refined, but living in London we (normally) have a huge amount of choice when it comes to eating out, with food from every nationality just about, and across all price ranges! Plus, I like to try new foods when I travel, as you will see in future posts!

  • Tanja

    what a lovely treat, reminded me of my meal at another swan restaurant, I had Easter lunch at the Swan in Lavenham a decade ago, still remember it:)

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I confess I do like to try what you might term ‘fancy food’ Rosalie, and the flavour combinations here were surprising and wonderful! But I also enjoy a simple plate of fish and chips in a pub, for example, although these days (post-VT) I’m much less likely to photograph that 😉

  • starship VT

    I think treating yourself to someplace special was a wonderful way to celebrate your transition into a new chapter of your life. The menu offerings look special too! The composition of that unique dessert is something totally unexpected. I wish I had marked my retirement by going to such a special place! Those moments only happen once!

  • Ingrid

    Sounds like a great way to celebrate ‘almost’ retirement. Beautiful architecture and landscape and of course the food looks delicious.

  • SandyL

    Thanks for taking us on your special dinner Sarah. Like Vero, I am drooling over the menu. I love your descriptions, made me almost feel I was there 🙂

  • margaret21

    This is not at all far for us, but we haven’t yet been – nor is this the moment to plan to do so – but it looks so interesting, and it had vaguely been on our radar for quite a long time.. Luckily the meat components, from your description, seem limited – we’re not quite vegetarian, but marching strongly in that direction. Once lockdown is over … who knows?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s really worth going if you can, and I know from over-hearing what was being presented at a table not too far from ours that it’s possible to ask in advance for a vegetarian option. He’s currently offering rather special-sounding menus online for delivery all over the country, including vegetarian, and we keep meaning to treat ourselves but haven’t yet got around to it.

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