(Images are my own).
When three of my absolute favourite things in life are rolled together into one glorious experience is makes me a VERY happy young lady.
Those three things are a picture-perfect Yorkshire market town, an exquisite fine dining experience, and beef dripping liberally smeared on white bread. With far too much salt.
The latter is rarely the subject of any fine dining experience. Unless of course you’re at the acclaimed Black Swan Hotel in Helmlsey, North Yorkshire.
When I bit into the soft, fluffy slice of fresh fermented beer bread covered in a very generous dollop of intensely meaty, salt-infused beef dripping butter with undertones of beef fat, I groaned with pleasure. Probably much louder that I should have.
My husband sternly peered over at me with a look of discomfiture as I polished off the doorstop-size slice without coming up for air. Whilst I gorged on slice number one, I was busy slapping more beef dripping onto my next slice. I made myself stop at two. My dear husband kept reminding me that we had six more courses to go…
We arrived at the Black Swan Hotel late afternoon on a Friday in April. Although the hotel takes centre stage, roadside at the top of a busy Helmsley Market Square, hotel guests are able to park right outside the front door so the transition from passenger seat to proper comfy bed via quick and easy check-in was seamless.
The place is everything you would expect from an old coaching inn-turned-luxury boutique hotel in the country.
Low ceilings, lots of beams, creaky floorboards, open fires, armchairs, dark oak panelling, a resident ghost and lots of modern prints of Yorkshire scenes courtesy of Lucy Pittaway giving the whole place a splash of modern colour. There is also the prettiest of gardens to the rear with a very cool covered outdoor seating area.
Our room was oversized, full of character and the space was dominated by a wonderfully high, oak-framed superior king-sized bed made up with perfectly pressed white linen and piled high with plenty of deep purple scatter cushions; screaming to be jumped on. Of course we did.
Charming and cosy, lovely touches included a cuddly toy dog taking centre stage on the bed, miniature Molton Brown toiletries and fluffy white dressing gowns.
His and hers armchairs, sash bay window complete with window seat, which overlooked the market square (strain your neck and you can even see Helmsley Castle), and glass-bottled Harrogate spring water. All of which provided an air of understated and rather twee luxury.
Drink like a local
Our naughty night away without the kids kicked off in style with some of Helmsley’s finest ale and a chinwag with the flat-cap-wearing locals.
Across the pretty market square is Helmsley Brewery and for those who prefer the proper stuff, I can highly recommend a pint of Howardian.
One of the four ales brewed on the premises. Not forgetting that we had seven courses to consume, we stopped at just the one before hot-footing it back across the market square to freshen up in time for dinner.
A (not so) naughty night away
Dolled up and stomachs rumbling, Mr T and I took our seats in the busy hotel bar along with other diners and hotel guests. Some were quite obviously local folk of a certain age out for a posh meal with friends. Others, like us, younger, less countrified couples where at The Black Swan for a short break with our other halves, escaping urban life in the city for a night or two of country retreating and a slap up meal washed down with plenty of decent plonk and a G&T or three pre-and-post-posh-nosh.
The other half holding out for a bit of ‘how’s ya father’ later on. Although if you are anything like me, after far too much wine and enough carbs to sink a dingy, the lure of a dreamy bed usually results in me head-planting the goose feather-stuffed Egyptian cotton-covered pillows within seconds of opening the hotel room door. Snoring like a warthog commences almost immediately. Still, it’s always a win/win for Mr T, he gets to watch Match of the Day.
In foodie heaven
We kicked off what was to be a culinary extravaganza with a glass of bubbles, Louis Roderer Brut to be precise. If you really want to push the boat out, the menu features a wide selection of Louis Roderer champagnes including Cristal (at £399 a bottle) and an even wider selection of wines from across the globe. We ordered a bottle of Sancerre, which was popped into an ice bucket by our reserved table in the restaurant, whilst we nibbled on our ‘snacks’ and quaffed our champagne in the bar area.
The ‘snack’ course was anything but and as far away from a packet of Pork Scratchings as one could possibly get.
Three snacks each – white onion and parmesan veloute, smoked haddock brandade topped with saffron sofrito and a deep fried, perfectly cooked quails egg. And a snow crab doughnut with tomato jam and avocado mousse. All of which were delightful, particularly the thick, velvety parmesan veloute. We devoured the lot.
There was a bit of wait between the snacks and course number one – the result of a very busy restaurant. Still, Antoine, the Restaurant Manager popped into the bar area where we were seated to apologise for the delay. It wasn’t long before we were whisked off into the restaurant and shown to our table for two. Our wine was poured and our first course of seven; Fermented Beer Bread with Beef Butter was served.
In hindsight, with seven courses to devour, I should have reserved a 7pm sitting, giving us a little more time to string the experience out, and a little more room for any delays.
Our waiter was quick to remove our empty plates and followed sharply with course number two – Crispy Oyster with XO sauce and Oyster Sauce, and Oyster Ice Cream with Cucumber and Caviar. I thoroughly enjoyed the texture and taste of the salty, smooth cold oyster ice cream. The hubby not quite so. The crispy oyster was a little too close for comfort to a deep fried prawn ball… a very posh prawn ball.
Duck Liver with Cocoa, Pain D’epice and Soured Cherries followed. Beautifully and delicately presented, the combination of favours were quite something. Rich, meaty Foi Gras, with a hint of dark chocolate and the sweet and sour flavours of the cherries worked perfectly together on the tiny circles of toasted bread.
A perfectly cooked generous piece of meaty Seabass with crispy skin served of a rustic plate alongside Black Garlic, Purple Broccoli Sprouts and Teriyaki Hen of the Wood (looks and tastes a little like Samfire) starred in course four. A fresh and earthy combination of flavours cleverly following on from the richness and strong flavours of the previous course.
To my delight, the meat course was lamb. Texal Lamb served pink with Onion, Mint, Mushroom and Seaplant. Texal is a breed of sheep apparently – a heavily muscled, lean-meat sheep with an incredibly large set of balls. But don’t let that put you off – the dish tasted quite simply stunning, even more so washed down with a large glass of Malbec.
A seventh course of cheese is an optional extra (£12.50 a head), although where the hell one would put it is beyond me. We were done. We’d conquered six incredible courses and ‘snacks’ – cheese would have tipped us over the edge. I wanted Iain to give me a fireman’s lift up to our room, take my make-up off, put me in my flannelette PJs and stick me in bed. The usual Friday night routine.
I slept like a baby in the wonderfully comfy, overly large bed. Cuddled up in the expensive white Egyptian cotton bedding. Not a peep from the ghost, but then nothing was waking me.
We had to be up and out early on Saturday morning so we didn’t get chance to meander around the Castle ruins or wander round the pretty little shops. Even better would have been a morning’s hike along The Cleveland Way in an attempt to walk off some of the previous night’s heavenly sins and the very good full English breakfast that we both somehow managed to polish off, less than 10hrs after that seven-course extravaganza.
The food at the Black Swan is up there with some of the best food I’ve had the pleasure of eating.
Head Chef Alan O’Kane deserves a big pat on the back for his bold flavour combinations and attention to detail. A positive air of pretentiousness, which is a pre-requisite of any fine-dining experience, and of course for that beef dripping butter.
Yes, I would have liked to have seen some crisp linen on the tables. Yes, it would have been nice to have been able to discuss the wine list with a sommelier. No, I shouldn’t of had to pour my own wine on more than one occasion. But don’t let these minor faux pas put you off.
The Black Swan’s restaurant is a few finer details and a little bit of service polishing away from a shiny star. But if you are owt like me – first and foremost a lover of fine food – this little gastronomic jewel in the Yorkshire crown absolutely needs to be on your Yorkshire Bucket List. Not only that, it’s great value for money.
That’s right, it’s going in folks, and let’s face it, my Yorkshire Bucket List is as prestigious as any Michelin Star.
Grin & Tonic One-night stay includes:
- Pre-dinner canapés and your choice of Gin & Tonic from the ‘Yorkshire Gin’ list*
- Overnight accommodation in a Classic bedroom
- Six-course tasting menu in the three AA rosette ‘Gallery’ restaurant
- Full Yorkshire breakfast
- From £255 per couple (based upon double occupancy shared room)
*Yorkshire Gins selection includes various types from Slingsby, Mason’s and Whittaker’s
For more information and to book your stay CLICK HERE