Right now there are 169 Michelin starred restaurants in the UK, 66 of those are in London. If my insatiable hunger had its way we would visit one every week and approximately four years later, give or take some new additions, we would eventually tick them all off the list and most likely be bankrupt. Let’s be frank, we’re not made of money so even one a month is a bit lavish so what were we thinking tackling three in three days?!
I was thinking ‘heck yes, this is going to be a delicious trip’, and a certain someone was thinking he really didn’t expect to be accommodated at all three of our shortlisted restaurants at such short (less than a week but would you expect anything less from us?) notice. Turns out that despite their Michelin star status these Yorkshire restaurants required a lot less advance booking than their London counterparts; I suspect this has everything to do with the fact they are in rather idyllic but remote locations, as the quality of the food and service was outstanding.
After Vennell’s admirably kicked off our Yorkshire Food Tour, we were hungry to taste what else the region had to offer; the next fuel stop was The Black Swan in Oldstead. Another family affair, the Banks not only have the restaurant but also a couple of rooms for guests, and an impressive garden where they grow some of their own produce. The only hitch we had was actually getting there; as non-sat-nav road trippers, I do have a tendency of getting us lost… We’d even driven past the road leading to Oldstead several times, each time dismissing it as a driveway for the estate next to it. I finally gave up and popped into a pub to ask for directions, then was told to just keep driving, I’d know when we got there ‘as that village is so small it makes this one look like a thriving metropolis’. And he was referring to a very small village.
He was right, we couldn’t miss it at all, which was a relief because after a tour around the extensive interior and grounds of Castle Howard, I was famished and ready for my late Sunday lunch! But before we started on the courses, we relaxed in the bar with a nasturtium martini and a selection of snacks from the kitchen. We enjoyed fresh radishes with mushroom powder, crumbed monkfish with lemon verbena mayonnaise which were the poshest fish bites I’ve licked my lips over, followed by beetroot and goat’s cheese on the lightest of wafers, and finally, ox tongue and quail scotch eggs with perfectly gooey yolks. With our recent scotch egg obsession coupled with our love of offal, this was without a doubt the highlight of the snacks!
Now that our appetites were sufficiently teased, we were more than ready to start lunch properly with the warm sourdough rolls; excellent enough to forgo that ‘don’t fill up on the bread’ rule, when more was offered throughout the meal we greedily accepted. When our starters arrived I was truly impressed by just how beautiful they looked, not a comment I make lightly considering the number of food photos I take. The sea trout with radishes in a langoustine broth was sweet, delicate and so pretty in pink… such a elegant dish for a certain someone to devour. Meanwhile I enjoyed a tender slice of pork jowl, adorned with lightly pickled turnips, slightly charred spring onions, radishes, all of which did an amiable job of cutting through the rich, saltiness of the meat.
My main of pollock with young vegetables and leeks was a completely different experience; the whole dish had a lightness to it from the perfectly cooked fillet to the sweetness of the accompanying vegetables. I thought it was a perfect lunch time main, especially when bookended by two other courses but a certain someone had his own idea of a perfect Sunday lunch.
He ordered the roast lamb rump and belly with what else but roast vegetables and a well risen Yorkshire pudding just screaming to be filled with gravy. The grin across his face, the silence while eating, and the knife scraping across the plate to get every last bit gave me a pretty good indication of what he thought of his main. Some of us at the table may have also dipped their bread into the gravy… you just cannot let those things go to waste right?!
Neither of us could stomach a cheese course to end so we both ordered the strawberry with cream cheese and hyssop for dessert, not quite knowing what hyssop is and therefore what to expect. What arrived was stunning to look at and for a strawberry-lover like me, a pleasure to eat. Macerated strawberries were topped with a refreshing strawberry sorbet and crisp strawberry cigars filled with cream cheese. I don’t often stoop to this level in description but it was just yum, plain and simple.
Not quite ready to leave the cosy confines of The Black Swan, we decided to sip on tea with petit fours while contemplating our next move… I was thinking home to the cottage for a nap but somehow between the caramel chocolates and the hazelnut and apple macarons I was convinced that the Kilburn White Horse was a must visit, little did I know that would also involve a steep walk!
There is no doubt in our minds that The Black Swan deserves that Michelin star; every dish was faultless, the service was immaculate yet warm and unpretentious, and we had to work a little harder to find it made it just that little bit more special.
When You’re Not Eating
- If you’ve skipped breakfast, stop into the Byland Abbey Inn and Tearoom for a cream tea which gets you a piping hot cuppa, a scone with jam and clotted cream, and another sweet treat from their cake selection.
- Work off that cream tea with a walk around the ruins of Byland Abbey, once one of the greatest monasteries in England.
- Pay a visit to the stunning Castle Howard and wander around the impressive stately house and grounds, you may recognise it from the film adaptations of Brideshead Revisted.
- Take in the interesting sight of the Kilburn White Horse from the carpark, then traipse up to the top of the horse and take in the immense views across North Yorkshire.
Before we move onto the next stop on the tour, I must give the tableware a special mention – I loved the rustic aesthetic with the clever use of colour which really highlighted the food. After a short Twitter chat with chef Tommy Banks, I was impressed to find out he works with a local potter to design and create the tableware specially for the restaurant!