The Michelin Star restaurant and kitchen garden
It was just a neglected pub in a remote village when local farmers Tom and Anne Banks bought the Black Swan with a view to finding a future outside farming for their teenage sons James and Tommy.
They could never have imagined that within six years, with barely any hospitality experience, they would have won a Michelin star, or that Tommy would go on to achieve winning 10’s on BBC TV’s Great British Menu, not once but two years running and then be nominated 'the best restaurant in the world' by TripAdvisor. It’s certainly one of the hottest tables in Yorkshire – book well in advance.
Getting there was a hard road. Even when they brought in a top chef who won them the star, there were never enough bums on seats on a wet Wednesday in February.
‘We were cooking nice food,’ says brother James ‘but we needed to be more distinctive.’ The answer lay in the land. They were farmers, so why not play to their strengths? Tom turned over five acres of farmland, added countless tonnes of topsoil and planted it up. Tommy’s highly original, fruit and veg-forward cooking followed.
When he was picked up by TV, everything fell into place. People saw him, liked him and found their way to Oldstead. Suddenly they were full every night of the week. ‘The Michelin Guide speaks to people who buy the guide,’ says James, ‘but TV reaches everyone.’
Today the Black Swan offers just one multi-course tasting menu (although they can accommodate most dietary requirements). That may bring the likes of langoustine and salted strawberries, raw deer with wild garlic, scallop cured in rhubarb juice, cod with cauliflower and parsley, and Tommy’s best-known signature dish, Crapaudine beetroot cooked in beef fat. Altogether his menu is a tour de force of modern British cooking.
While Tommy is the public face of the Black Swan, it remains very much a family affair with James and Anne front of house and Tom growing the veg. ‘That’s his baby,’ says James. There are field crops of potatoes, artichokes and the troublesome Crapaudine beetroot, an ancient variety that’s tricky to grow and requires careful nurturing to produce the 10,000 roots they need to keep it on the menu year-round.
Drinks are an important part of the package. Their dedicated cocktail wizards forage around Oldstead for the likes of woodruff and Douglas fir constantly experimenting with fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices to produce their own distinctive soft drinks and cocktails such as damson metropolitan perhaps or nasturtium martini.
The arrival of Covid in 2020 led to their Made in Oldstead food boxes. It was so successful that they are now a permanent feature of the company.
With a £150 wine flight and £170 for the set menu, (Saturday lunch £135) it’s far from cheap but it’s a treat at any price. North Yorkshire can be proud to host a restaurant at the cutting edge of British cuisine.