We’re more than happy to travel way out of London for dinner, especially when it’s for The Black Swan at Oldstead. This tiny little converted pub in the middle of Yorkshire run by Tommy Banks has awards and accolades coming out of its ears, with a Michelin star, 29th place on the Top 100 UK restaurants list, and a recent Local Food Hero award at the Observer Food Monthly awards, to name a few.
The Black Swan also offers overnight stays in a separate townhouse just up the road but if you want to get in here you need to book way in advance. We booked back in spring and the first available Saturday night for dinner and a room was November 16th. Yes this is one popular place, despite it being located in a tiny village with nothing else around and surrounded by fields.
When you hear so much a place we always feel a bit nervous that it’s hard to live up to expectations – well not with The Black Swan, it was truly worthy of the hype. Dinner here is a tasting menu format which comes in at £98, with a drinks pairing available for another £65. You begin with a drink in the downstairs room which is still very pub-like with old rickety chairs and a roaring open fire, before being led upstairs to the more formal dining room. The menu is written in a deliberately oblique manner, so even after studying each course you really only have a rough idea of what’s coming. Much of the produce comes from the restaurant’s own garden set on a small slope just behind the main building.
First up is a ‘Quiche’, a little snack so good that we could have sat there and eaten five more and gone home happy. A perfect pastry casing was filled with hen of the woods mushrooms then topped with a light cheese and onion custard and shavings of dehydrated ox heart. 10 out of 10 good. Then there’s a shallow pot of warm crab meat with a rich bisque-like sauce and fresh apple; and a ‘beetroot salad’ that has small cubes of beetroot that have been dehydrated and then rehydrated again, resulting in a texture almost like currents. To be honest, we weren’t actually fans of the chewy texture but the flavour was incredible, set off nicely by a horseradish dry ice. All these were just mere snacks before the bread and butter even came out.
In the following courses, there was not a single dud dish, which is quite rare, even in revered Michelin star restaurants. Particular highlights were the aged beef tartare with pickled shallots, a crisp rye bread croute and topped with sorrel leaves; the humble potato that had been barbecued, brushed with charcoal oil and salt and served with caviar, fermented celeriac and dill; and the Oldstead deer, which came with a separate ‘deer faggot’ on the side and a crisp piece of brioche toasted in bone marrow and topped with beautifully arranged dots of venison liver parfait and red cabbage puree.
The dessert menu is even more misleading than the mains. ‘Damson and Kernel’ is actually a beautiful ice cream sandwich. Then there was ‘chicory and potato’ – roasted chicory root, which has a flavour similar to coffee, topped with a potato custard and a warm salted caramel sauce.
After all that we were glad to only have a 30 second walk to our room, in the old townhouse up the road. The room itself was super cute with an antique wooden four poster bed, sofa, and separate bathroom with a big modern silver tub. Given the dark, cold and rain, this was the perfect place to cosy up. The other advantage of staying over is that you get to head straight back to the restaurant the next morning for breakfast! There’s a short menu that includes a full English but our favourite was the smoked eel on scrambled eggs.
The Black Swan at Oldstead was near enough a perfect meal for us. We’d have liked to see some more interesting wines on the menu – this kind of food is crying out for some funky natural wines – but it was hard to fault much with the cooking. If you don’t mind travelling for your dinner then this has got to be one of the best places in the UK to come to right now. Just make sure you book well in advance if you want to go next year!
The Black Swan at Oldstead, York YO61 4BL