The Black Swan’s eight-course meal, plus snacks, has Malcolm Warne’s tastebuds in a tangle

BEST friend Bill deserved a treat. In recent months he has been dragged all over Yorkshire and the North-East to sample meals on, how can I put it, the wrong side of the tracks.

So a Michelin-starred extravaganza it had to be and in this part of the world that either means the Raby Hunt at Summerhouse, near Darlington, or the Black Swan at Oldstead, near Thirsk. And as the Black Swan hasn’t been reviewed for seven years or more, a trip to the most picturesque of villages in the shadow of the White Horse was to be Bill’s treat.

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Previously this ancient hostelry had not long been taken over by the Banks family, local farmers, who were cutting their teeth as country publicans. The fare was high quality pub classics but by no means cutting edge. How things have changed. The Banks’ son Tommy, 25, is now head chef and it is his passion, perhaps obsession might be a better description, with local, seasonal produce that has won almost universal plaudits and that coveted star in 2011 – an accolade which has been retained ever since along with an armful of AA rosettes.

The Black Swan doesn’t just have a few herbs growing in a kitchen garden. There is more than two acres under cultivation behind the pub, which is the source of the vast majority of the vegetables and herbs served in the restaurant, plus one other trusted local supplier.

The freshest produce run through the heart of the eight-course tasting menu. It is the Black Swan signature and a three-hour marathon for serious foodies. Each step along the way is accompanied by a detailed explanation at the table of both the food and the paired wine. Distractions are kept to a minimum, including the restaurant's stripped-down minimalist look.

And before the first course there are “Snacks” – no fewer than four amuse bouche/canapés two served in the bar and two served after we took our seats upstairs. The most striking was a piece of pickled cucumber with a langoustine tail nestled in the middle with some rapeseed dressing and a woodruff-flavoured cream.

Ah yes, woodruff. It is a plant, a herb I’d never come across and it is truly wondrous, imparting an extraordinary vanilla-y tonka bean perfumed flavour. This set the tone for the rest of the meal, a series of tantalising surprises.

Sour bread with an almost cheese-y sour butter was the first of those followed by a tartare of aged Galloway beef and oyster leaf – a member of the borage family which does indeed taste like oyster. It was expertly paired with Cremant du Jura, a sparkling wine with a hint of sherry. Then came a rich, creamy almost stick yolk of a hen’s egg (cooked for 65 minutes at 40 degrees we were told) with peas and girolle mushrooms paired with a South African red wine (Flotsam and Jetsam Darling and Cinsault) so light you could have drunk it for breakfast.

A single scallop came with an apple sauce and spruce – the smallest, youngest tips – which bizarrely summoned up a memory of those cool-as-a-mountain-spring Consulate TV ads in the 1980s. The menthol/apple sharpness rather overwhelmed the sweetness of the scallop we thought.

But the following course was the stand-out dish – a slab of perfect turbot topped with slices of unripe pickled strawberry (sounds terrible, tastes sublime) and a salsa of more pickled strawberry and fennel) plus the fennel pollen paired with an Israeli Chardonnay which tasted dreadful on its own but was transformed into nectar with the turbot. Then came some loin of lamb with the fat nicely rendered down, fermented turnip, a sweetbread and mint paired with another light and musky red wine, a German pinot noir from the Ahr region,

The last leg of the marathon was three desserts. Lollipops were first – three ice cream bonbons flavoured with blackcurrent leaf and whitecurrent, rosemary and apple and most memorably burnt chicory (think of Camp coffee) and hazelnut. Then strawberry, jelly and ice cream and finally heather honey with vinegar and elderflower paired with a Sussex mead.

They were all lovely, but I’ll confess at this stage I was losing the capacity to process all the taste data and the information provided by the assiduous waiting staff. It was bit of a blur.

Sharpened up by two coffees we emerged a bit dazed by the intensity of what we had just experienced. The bill? Ah, well, that was a whopping £235 made up of the £85 tasting menu x2 plus a shared £55 tasting drinks package (we were both driving so it was just sips of wine) plus the coffees.

The meal was extraordinary but I’m not sure traditional rules apply here – hence the rating or its absence.

But Bill loved it.


The Black Swan, Oldstead, near Thirsk, YO61 4BL

Tel: 01347 868387


Open: 6 to 8.30pm; lunch noon-2pm, Saturday only

Ratings (out of ten): Food 10, Service 10, Surroundings 9