[Oldstead, North Yorkshire] Black Swan

Back in 2017, Tripadvisor rated the Black Swan as the best restaurant in the world. Now, that tells you much more about Tripadvisor’s rating algorithm than it tells you about the Black Swan. But it may be a genuine contender for best restaurant in North Yorkshire, although it doesn’t now even make Tripadvisor top 50 restaurants there. Must depend on your own algorithm, I suppose.

So, that was a moan about Tripadvisor. Let me get a couple of moans about the restaurant out of the way. No, it’s not that it’s in the “back of beyond”. It is, but you know that from checking Google Maps, so you came prepared for a cautious drive home down narrow lanes in the dark. My first moan is about the room. It’s all hard surfaces so sounds bounce around. It was so noisy that, at times, we struggled to hear each other. And the other moan is about the chairs. They are not comfortable – a particular issue when you’re going to be sat on them for several hours.

But the food is great. And we’d come for the food. It was exciting to try new flavour combinations over the ten or so courses of the tasting menu. And it’s served by a young team who were very much on the ball. Now, tasting menus are not our preferred way of eating these days. They do feel a bit Noughties, when chefs seemed more interested in style over substance… But, if you’re going to eat one, this is as good a place as any. It’s not too long and one course follows the other without any jarring.

We ate a couple of snacks in the bar. A tartlet filled with asparagus, morels and a set egg custard. And a filo “cigar” filled with smoked eel and caviar, topped with little blobs of fermented swede. At this point, you’ve reassured yourself that you’re in for a fun eating experience.

Once properly seated in the restaurant, there was a beef tartare, mixed with English truffle and Darling Blue (from the excellent Doddington Farm in Northumbria). My life companion, who has an aversion to raw meat, was served a veggie version based around beetroot. Lobster next, with pieces of pickled rhurbarb, dressed with hollandaise. Another good flavour combo with the sharp fruit contrasting with the almost sweet seafood.

Bread is served as a separate course and may have been the best course of the evening (we are simple souls). There’s a sourdough with sour butter and a brioche made with lamb fat, flavoured with rosemary. A little butter also using lamb fat goes with that. Both fab,

Then there’s a pea veloute and a scattering of peas, in which sits a single new potato, still warm. It’s topped with grated, frozen Sinnodun Hill goats cheese. An inspired bit of cooking to combine the cold of the cheese with the warm of the spud. Next up, a single perfectly roasted scallop. It sits on a dice of razor clams and kohlrabi, with an onion broth. Sticking with seafood, the next course is a small piece of cod, langoustine in a crisp tempura batter and an onion foam.

For the final savoury course, there’s lamb three ways. Bang-on cooking here with the saddle and loin nicely pink and a sweetbread, coated in breadcrumbs and fried to crisp. There’s a single spear of very seasonal asparagus and a wild garlic salsa verde.

The first dessert has a crumble mix at the bottom of the bowl, topped with sheep’s yoghurt and bits of blackcurrant gel. A sweet cicely granite gives a nice contrast. This all works so well, particularly as it is not overly sweet. The second dessert was a thin tart filled with a lemon verbena custard and topped with Italian meringue.

And, finally, with coffee, three pieces of aerated chocolate (yep, their take on Aero) – white, milk and dark – each flavoured with garden herbs. For example, bay for the dark one.

It was an absolutely cracking evening with lots of food to “Oohh and aaahh” over.

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This place, as you described it, makes me want to go there. I’d eat everything - yours and your life partner’s too!

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
Credit: CiaoHo