BEST friend Bill deserved a treat. In recent months he has been dragged all over Yorkshire and the North-East to sample meals on, how can I put it, the wrong side of the tracks.

So a Michelin-starred extravaganza it had to be and in this part of the world (that is D&S Times land) that either means the Raby Hunt at Summerhouse, near Darlington, or the Black Swan at Oldstead, near Thirsk.

And as the Black Swan hasn’t been reviewed for seven years or more, a trip to the most picturesque of villages in the shadow of the White Horse was to be Bill’s treat.

When this column last visited this ancient hostelry it had not long been taken over by the Banks family, local farmers, who were cutting their teeth as country publicans. The fare was high-quality pub classics but by no means cutting edge.

How things have changed. The Banks’ son Tommy, just 25, is now head chef and it is his passion, perhaps obsession might be a better description, with local, seasonal produce that has won almost universal plaudits and that coveted star in 2011 – an accolade which has been retained ever since along with an armful of AA rosettes.

Provenance and seasonality crop up regularly these day in menu descriptions although I suspect many pubs and restaurants are simply playing lip service to what appears to them as a modern fad.

The Black Swan is deadly serious however. It doesn’t just have a few herbs growing in a kitchen garden. There is more than two acres under cultivation behind the pub which is the source of the vast majority of the vegetables and herbs served in the restaurant. It does have one other trusted local supplier. This is field-to-plate as direct as it can be.

The freshest vegetables and herbs run through the heart of the eight-course tasting menu. It is the Black Swan signature.

Serious about seasonality and provenance, the Black Swan is serious about food. Full stop. The eight-course marathon is a three-hour experience for serious foodies. Each step along the way is accompanied by a detailed explanation at the table of both the food and the paired wine. You have to pay attention. Distractions are kept to a minimum and that extends to the surroundings – the restaurant has a stripped-down minimalist look.

And before the first course there are ‘snacks’ – no fewer than four amuse bouche/canapés, two served in the bar and two served after we took our seats upstairs.

In these 800 words, I can’t describe them all and cover the course. The most striking, however, was a piece of pickled cucumber with a langoustine tail nestled in the middle with some rapeseed dressing and a woodruff-flavoured cream.

Ah yes, woodruff. It is a plant, a herb I’d never come across and it is truly wondrous, imparting an extraordinary vanilla-y tonka bean perfumed flavour. This set the tone for the rest of the meal, a series of tantalising surprises.

Sour bread with an almost cheese-y sour butter was the first of those followed by a tartare of aged Galloway beef and oyster leaf – a member of the borage family which does indeed taste like oyster. It was expertly paired with Cremant du Jura, a sparkling wine with a hint of sherry.

Then came a rich, creamy almost stick yolk of a hen’s egg (cooked for 65 minutes at 40 degrees we were told) with peas and girolle mushrooms paired with a South African red wine (Flotsam and Jetsam Darling and Cinsault) so light you could have drunk it for breakfast.

A single scallop came with an apple sauce and spruce – the smallest, youngest tips – which bizarrely summoned up a memory of those cool-as-a-mountain-spring Consulate TV ads in the 70s. The menthol/apple sharpness rather overwhelmed the sweetness of the scallop, we thought.

But the following course was the standout dish – a slab of perfect turbot topped with slices of unripe pickled strawberry (sounds terrible, tastes sublime) and a salsa of more pickled strawberry and fennel, plus the fennel pollen paired with an Israeli Chardonnay which tasted dreadful on its own but was transformed into nectar with the turbot.

Then came some loin of lamb with the fat nicely rendered down, fermented turnip, a sweetbread and mint paired with another light and musky red wine, a German pinot noir from the Ahr region, The last leg of the marathon was three desserts. Lollipops were first – three ice cream bonbons flavoured with blackcurrant leaf and white currant, rosemary and apple and most memorably burnt chicory (think of Camp coffee) and hazelnut. Then strawberry, jelly and ice cream and finally heather honey with vinegar and elderflower paired with a Sussex mead.

They were all lovely but I’ll confess at this stage – two-and-half-hours in and service was by no means slow – I was losing the capacity to process all the taste data I’d so far assimilated and the information provided by the assiduous waiting staff. It was bit of a blur.

Sharpened up by two coffees we emerged frankly a bit dazed by the intensity of what we had just experienced.

The bill? Ah, well, that was a record-breaking (as far as the D&S is concerned) and whopping £235 made up of the £85 tasting menu x2 plus a shared £55 tasting drinks package (we were both driving so it was just sips of wine) plus the coffees.

The meal was extraordinary but I can’t say whether that sum represents value for money. I’m not sure traditional rules apply here.

But Bill loved it.


The Black Swan, Oldstead, near Thirsk, YO61 4BL
Tel: 01347 868387
Open: 6pm to 8.30pm; lunch noon-2pm, Saturday only.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 10, Service 10, Surroundings 9