Phones ring off the hook as Yorkshire restaurant named best in the world
The Black Swan pub in the village of Oldstead on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors isn’t what you would expect of “the best restaurant in the world”. The former drovers’ inn, with its low ceilings, roaring fire and relaxed staff feels more like a country pub than an exclusive dining experience.
But, in a yearly tally of millions of customer reviews on TripAdvisor, the travel website, the Black Swan came out with the best average rating, becoming the first British restaurant to top the list.
The phones in the family-run business were ringing off the hook yesterday. The restaurant, with its Michelin star and four AA rosettes, usually takes around 25 bookings a day. But by yesterday afternoon it had taken over 1,000 calls in 24 hours.
“The ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ is a funny thing, isn’t it?” said Tommy Banks, 28, head chef. “It’s not a real thing. It’s so subjective.”
He said that in spite of the sneering from some on Twitter, the TripAdvisor accolade is especially meaningful to him because it is based on customer reviews.
“The great thing about this award is that it’s not just about the food,” he said. “When people leave you a review, they’re reviewing everything, and I think they like the fact that we’re quite chilled out, quite friendly people.”
Tom and Anne Banks, local farmers, bought the pub in 2006, and put their their sons Tommy and James (17 and 19 at the time) in charge. In 2013, Tommy – who will be familiar to viewers of the BBC2 programme The Great British Menu – became the youngest recipient of a Michelin star, aged 24.
The remote village of Oldstead comprises a few cottages, and getting there takes a 15-minute drive down a singletrack road. Most customers travel to the area specially, with many staying overnight in the pub’s guest rooms.
Behind the picturesque building, with its tiny kitchen designed for cooking “chicken in a basket and microwave meals”, according to Tommy, are three acres of farm land, on which the majority of the ingredients for the restaurant’s dishes is grown.
A taster menu of around 12 courses costs £95, which includes a £50 deposit. Banks admits that, like other Michelinstarred restaurants, the prices are high, but says the cost of running the restaurant, farm and guest rooms – with 40 staff – means they could not charge less.
Yesterday evening, the taster menu started with a delicate celery and walnut tart with caramelised cream, followed by a course of rare local beef (from cows who reportedly drink four pints of beer a day) with beetroot cooked for four hours in beef fat and decorated in goats curd. Each dish is unusual, subtle, interesting and utterly delicious. The simple restaurant room – with its locally made furniture – overlooks fields of crops. Tommy and James make their way between the candlelit tables during the meal to explain each dish to customers.
Asked what makes a brilliant restaurant, Banks says it is important it offers “something you’ve not had before”. His best food experiences have been at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire (which came in at 12th place), and Fäviken in Åre, Sweden. “I feel [Fäviken] is a kindred spirit because it’s in the middle of nowhere – really in the middle of nowhere. We’re almost metropolitan in comparison.”
Although Banks says he would consider opening another restaurant – possibly in York – he is committed to the Black Swan. “We’re just going to keep making it better and better.”
‘I think customers like the fact that we’re quite chilled out people ' Tommy Banks
James and Tommy Banks took over the Black Swan in 2003 and turned it into a Michelin-starred restaurant