Why it pays to swan around

RES­TAU­RANT RE­VIEW: Don’t be fooled by the menu, says Jill Tur­ton, the Black Swan at Old­stead has both style and sub­stance.

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

HEN my Sun­day lunch be­gins with amuses gueules con­sist­ing of a nas­tur­tium flower stuffed with a morsel of mush­room; pressed lin­seed crack­ers topped with cubes of ox tongue; a goat’s cheese and beet­root tart; and a chicken dumpling with roast gar­lic, I’m nor­mally at the front of the queue to pour scorn on chefs with pre­ten­sions. Not this time. These “snacks” as they call them were ut­terly de­li­cious. Welcome to the Black Swan.

The drinks menu is another orig­i­nal: half a dozen of their own cock­tails: sub­tle so­phis­ti­cated mixes us­ing avail­able in­gre­di­ents: kale mar­tini, dam­son sour, fen­nel fizz, aper­i­tifs of chervil root rum, le­mon thyme cello, and fen­nel schnapps. The wine list ranges ex­ot­i­cally from a wild fer­ment As­syr­tiko Gaia from San­torini to a Be­qaa Val­ley Chateau Musar. And, to three loud cheers. There are enough equally in­ven­tive soft drinks to keep ab­stemious driv­ers happy in­clud­ing my won­der­ful not-too-sweet ginger beer, with a kick of chili.

The story of how the Black Swan soared from vil­lage pub in a sleepy set­ting near By­land Abbey to Miche­lin star­dom is well doc­u­mented but re­mark­able enough to stand retelling. In 2006, farm­ers Tom and Anne Banks took over with a view to find­ing a fu­ture be­yond farm­ing for their two sons James and Tommy. They found an am­bi­tious young chef by the name of Adam Jack­son, placed James front of house and Tommy, fresh from school, in the kitchen. Be­tween them they took the Black Swan from that worka­day coun­try pub to a gar­landed des­ti­na­tion res­tau­rant in just five years.

But there is another chap­ter to this story. In 2013, a year af­ter they gained their star, Adam Jack­son sur­prised ev­ery­one by up­ping sticks to do his own thing, first at Sut­ton on For­est and lat­terly at Mar­madukes Ho­tel in York, leav­ing Tommy Banks to step up to the stove and main­tain the trea­sured star. No pres­sure then.

He ad­mits to panic. “I was un­der a lot of pres­sure. I liked Adam’s food a lot and at first I car­ried on do­ing the same, but I knew I had to find my own style, but I had no idea what my style was.”

Then last year they be­gan de­vel­op­ing a kitchen gar­den, though be­ing farm­ers it’s more field than gar­den – a five-acre slop­ing site that had no de­cent top­soil and is regularly raided by pi­geons.

The kitchen staff man­age it them­selves, some­times only get­ting out to wa­ter it af­ter evening ser­vice but they have es­tab­lished pota­toes, radish, car­rots, fen­nel, herbs, toma­toes, soft fruit, the lot, and it’s this freshly picked pro­duce that dic­tates what Tommy Banks puts on the plate.

The five or nine course set menu (with full blown ver­sions for vege­tar­i­ans and pescatar­i­ans) buzzes with fruit, flow­ers, herbs and minia­ture veg­eta­bles. They are cul­ti­vat­ing their own mush­rooms and in­stalling bee­hives.

The first of our five cour­ses was fizzing with young veg­eta­bles: radish, turnip, car­rot – both cooked and raw – there was the ad­di­tion of some crunchy toasted hazel­nuts and a dash of sooth­ing sheep’s milk yo­ghurt. It’s hard to think of a dish more gar­den-fresh.

Next a small trout fil­let was paired with exquisitely fried squid, radish, a dash of squid ink and a drop of may­on­naise and never stumped with what to do with a bas­ket of woody radishes, they pro­duce a radish broth to pour over the salmon. It’s sweet and del­i­cate even if it does turn muddy with the squid ink.

Herb-fed chicken is poached with more gar­den herbs then given an in­tox­i­cat­ing kick with a leek and hen-of-the-woods mush­room sauce. This is a full-on, deep, heady umami pow­er­house of a sauce.

I’ve never seen the point of a pre­dessert. Who needs two pud­dings? There is some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion here. We are brought three per­fectly round lol­lies, like those chalky penny lol­lies you had as a kid. These though are soft and creamy and as our wait­ress ex­plains, eaten from right to left, they go from savoury to sweet, to ease us into dessert proper.

Quite sim­ply the Black Swan has never been bet­ter. The very

best of York­shire.

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