Malcolm Warne shows he still has a nose for a genuine news story... and a taste for good food

WHEN your reviewer was a cub reporter learning the ways of what was then the inky trade, a senior colleague had a legendary reputation for dealing with press releases.

Those were the days when a press release arrived in a newspaper office in the form of a piece of paper, in an envelope with something called a stamp on it. It was really quite quaint.

Aforesaid colleague was so keen to demonstrate his fearless independence from vested interests that he would make a great show of picking up the day’s post and dumping it unopened into the nearest bin. We had big bins in the office then.

His rational was this. He defined publishable news as information someone, somewhere, didn’t want published. Everything else, particularly stuff sent to the media in the form of a press release, was just advertising.

As a statement of steadfast, devil-may-care, crusading journalism it was very impressive – if with some drawbacks. Like missing out on some really rather important information that should have been the following day’s front page splash and was on the evening regional telly news. In the end the Boss kept him well away from the morning post.

Today, the journalist’s friend in dealing with the torrent of stuff people would like you to publish is the delete button, but one does have to exercise some discretion. Sometimes.

The other week we received a press release from the Black Swan at Helmsley promising “a new dining concept”. Wow, we thought. New dining concepts are a bit rare round here.

Further reading revealed that this new dining concept consists of revolutionary dishes as beer-battered cod with chips and chicken and ham pie and mash. Served in the hotel’s “quirky” and “charming” tearoom. Where they normally serve afternoon tea. Ah, that’s the new bit of the “concept”.

Journalists were invited to review this ground-breaking menu served in novel surroundings. Which is when I hit the delete button.

But before doing so a mental note was made. The Black Swan had not been reviewed in this publication for many a year. So last Sunday we took road up and over Sutton Bank to sample the Swan’s Sabbath lunch. Not exactly a new dining concept but there you go.

The Swan’s Gallery restaurant (3 AA rosettes) was rather beautiful if totally empty when we arrived just after 1pm. Another couple did join us but that was it. On what was a warm summer’s day, the appeal of formal Sunday lunch was dulled somewhat.

Our table was in the window with views of the sun-kissed garden. We approved of the sage green/duck-egg blue walls, the polished wood floor, the artworks by local artists, the traditional drapes and Sylvia loved the recessed ceiling fairy lights.

The lunch is sensibly short. Three starters, two roasts and a fish dish for mains and three desserts but it’s not cheap - £29 for two courses and £35 for three, with coffee and petit fours £5 on top of that and a five per cent “discretionary” service charge as well.

But it was top notch Sunday fare. Sylvia enthused about her Yorkshire ham hock and chicken terrine, egg yolk emulsion but thought it shame that the asparagus came from the Wye Valley when it could be easily sourced nearby.

My twice-baked souffle made with Lincolnshire Poacher cheese was as light and golden as a souffle could be and almost sharply tangy from the mature cheese sauce. The spinach was rather overwhelmed.

Sylvia’s topside of beef was excellent. Two thick, meltingly soft slices served with silkily-glazed beef gravy, a light and crunchy Yorkshire pudding, rather dark but crisp roast potatoes, buttery mash, caramelised red onion and a huge amount of vegetables – carrots, mange tout and cauliflower cheese.

My Dover sole was almost perfect: classically presented with a lemon, parsley and capers sauce. Perhaps there were a few too many of the astringently-sharp capers but the firm flesh slid off the bone. It was served with buttered new potatoes which could have been Jerseys but these days it is hard to tell the difference between them and ordinary new spuds.

We were not inspired by the dessert selection – STP, chocolate fondant – or a selection of cheeses from a spectacular-looking cheese trolley. We told our waiter the puds seemed a bit wintry. He said chef did an excellent mille feuille with fresh fruit – but not that day.

Our two glasses of a very good Gavi were pricey - £11.25 for 250ml and £8.50 for 175ml – and the bill including the service charge came to just over £80.

Service was charming and swift but the team was clearly mob-handed for the number of guests they were looking after. Five per cent seemed a bit mean for a tip so our waiter pocketed a fiver. He was worth it.

Food Facts

Black Swan Hotel

Market Place, Helmsley YO62 5BJ

Tel 01439-770466 Web:

Sunday lunch served: noon-2.30pm

All allergies catered for

Food quality: 9

Service: 10

Surroundings: 9

Value: 7