Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting DST to 80360 or email us
The Black Swan Hotel, Market Place, Helmsley
LOCALLY sourced: it must be one of the most over-used and most meaningless phrases in the restaurateur's lexicon. After all, local has always got to be close to someone - it all depends on where that someone is.
So, was the brace of pheasant hanging on the railings outside the Black Swan meant to show that, in this case, this description really means what it says?
Sadly, pheasant didn't figure on the menu that night, although there were several genuine local representations - their provenance pinpointed as in the Helmsley black pudding and the Yorkshire blue cheese from Thirsk ("Just down the road," the maitre d' kindly informed me).
Head chef Andrew Burton can certainly lay claim to the local label, even if he has arrived by a fairly circuitous - although chiefly Yorkshire - route. At only 35, he's come from the three AA Rosettes Swinton Park near Masham, via, among others, Aldwark Manor and Middlethorpe Hall, in York, after a short spell as a guardsman in the Army. Is that where his authoritative stamp comes from? Because this is confident cuisine from a man not afraid to push the boundaries.
Set dinner is £30 for three courses, and with three choices in each course, we three diners, in the interests of our review, had the whole menu covered.
Things got off to a little shaky start with the amuse bouche - a shot glass portion of cauliflower soup.
Too garlicky for Peter, too "cauliflowery"
for Oliver - well, what did he expect? I thought it absolutely fine and, by way of apology for the bad manners of my companions, drank all three.
From then on it just got better and better.
Peter was delighted with his starter of smoked haddock and leek risotto wrapped in Parma ham, although we didn't really find out what the truffle bubbles were (it was a little difficult to understand the explanations of the Eastern European waiters) and Oliver's cannelloni of Loch Fyne smoked salmon with mascarpone, lime and parsley was equally good.
I'd chosen the veloute (that's posh for soup) of pumpkin with sauteed wild mushrooms, so I was a little nonplussed when a very large dish arrived containing a very small portion of mushrooms. But, fear not, a generous jug of the creamiest soup then appeared seamlessly from the wings. And it was simply delicious.
Our first courses were accompanied by a selection of very good bread - and more was offered.
Peter enjoyed the delicate taste of his sea bream with deep fried calamari, but he was a little unsure of his first encounter with "sea asparagus"
- a Norfolk speciality properly known as samphire and much enjoyed by my grandmother, who lived to be 100, which may say something for its health-giving properties.
Oliver was also greatly impressed with his dish of fillet of pork, confit of pork belly with fondant potato and Savoy cabbage.
He said the meat had lots of taste but without that fattyness that sometimes spoils pork.
And I gave top marks to the guineafowl breast, which was properly cooked, well-textured but beautifully tender. The meat was fragranced (and that really is the right description) by a casoulet jus and the dish was rounded off with the Helmsley black pudding and pommes purée.
If you eat with your eyes, then Mr Burton's presentation can only be described as blinding. The first two courses were works of art, the puddings a masterpiece.
Peter's Yorkshire parkin ("scrummy") came with the pinkest chunks of perfectly poached rhubarb and a ball of zinging stem ginger ice cream sprouting a vanilla pod "mast"; Oliver's passion fruit brulée ("really good") was presented in its own little boat flanked by dark chocolate mousse and chocolate parfait. And I thoroughly enjoyed choosing three cheeses from the board which included a Swaledale goats' cheese, Cornish Yarg, Fleur du Marquis, Richard III Wensleydale and the infamous Stinking Bishop. The cheese was served with a red onion marmalade and date and walnut bread.
The Black Swan, overlooking Helmsley's market place and with Tudor, Elizabethan and Georgian origins, has recently been taken under the wing of Simon Rhatigan, owner of the neighbouring Feversham Arms. Its makeover has retained all the hotel's cosy charm but with a modern take on the furniture and fabrics - a refreshing treatment of a traditional look.
When we finally dragged ourselves away from the massive log fire in one of the lounges, we found the pheasants still at their post.
Were they waiting for their local connections, or do the good folk of Helmsley just like their game well hung?