Phones ring off the hook as York­shire restau­rant named best in the world

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Frances Per­raudin

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

Pho­tographs: Mark Pin­der/Guzelian

James and Tommy Banks took over the Black Swan in 2003 and turned it into a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant

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