Young chef Tommy Banks has retained his Michelin star at this rustic restaurant by serving a refined tasting menu with intriguing flavour pairings, grounded by a love for local Yorkshire produce.
The pressure that little red book can put a chef under is immense. With the release of every new edition of the Michelin guide to restaurants in the UK and Ireland comes a collective baited breath that is hopefully followed by a huge sigh of relief and the popping of Champagne corks.
For a young chef like Tommy Banks, head chef at the Black Swan at Oldstead in Yorkshire, the weight of expectation was perhaps lessened by the fact that he only took charge of the kitchen in June, following Adam Jackson's departure to launch his own venture. With just three months to go before the publication of the 2014 book, eyebrows probably wouldn't have been raised had the Black Swan lost its star.
"I was working here as sous chef when we got the star in the first place, so I was heavily involved and I knew the standard," he says. "We decided to refine everything and did a lot of development â¨sessions on the new dishes to get them absolutely nailed before they went on the menu. I was really pleased for the lads."
As a result, Banks revamped the tasting menu (£70 for nine courses) so that it includes more than just a selection of scaled-down Á la carte dishes. His aim is to take the diner on a journey around the palate by balancing acidity and flavours - not just within each dish, but as they â¨progress through the courses.
A traditional dish of ox tongue, watercress and quail's egg â¨leads into smoked scallops with butternut squash, shiitake and pumpkin seed, followed by an earthy and rich rabbit dish taken from the Á la carte menu (see menu panel).
"The scallop dish is seasoned with umami flavours. We use kombu, soy and miso paste and no sea salt. But it doesn't eat likeâ¨a Japanese dish - it eats like aâ¨ delicious autumnal English dish. You don't ask why, you just really enjoy eating it," he explains.
"Sometimes you can go out and have a really good meal, but sometimes you can be absolutely blown away. I've put a lot of thought in behind the scenes to try and give people that feeling of euphoria without a load of gimmicks."
It's not just dedicated followers of Michelin that make the â¨pilgrimage to the unassuming â¨little village of Oldstead, often â¨taking advantage of the Black Swan's eight bedrooms. The Banks family - parents Tom and Anne are often found working the bar or dining room, while brother James manages the front of house - have plenty of local customers on their radar, and they know better than to expect them to keep coming back for a tasting menu.
For the regulars, the Black Swan offers a set lunch menu (£25 for three courses) and a four/four Á la carte menu, both of which aim to be accessible but still tickle the tastebuds.
"We always have a beef dish on, because we are a pub and people like that kind of thing. At the moment it's served with chips, but it's not steak and chips on a plate," says Banks of the beef fillet accompanied by bone marrow and watercress (£29).
Being in plentiful Yorkshire, the Black Swan generally sources its ingredients locally, with the Scottish langoustines and scallops being the exceptions. With game season in full flow - "it's like the capital of gun-shooting in Helmsley [eight miles away]" - Banks has an abundance of produce to pick for his evolving menu of classic flavour combinations.
These include a best-selling dish of venison and blackberry (pictured), comprising venison saddle, venison sausage wrapped in potato noodles rather than a sausage skin, pickled blackberries, salt-baked celeriac and braised hazelnuts.
Another menu stalwart is a signature dessert of Black Forest gÁ¢teaux that is finished with sauce at the table and made seasonal by changing the fruit and berries accordingly, which sits very well with Banks' culinary ethos."You can't stand still," he explains. "Otherwise it'll get boring."
Black Swan, â¨Oldstead, York, â¨North Yorkshire Y061 4BL
Sample dishes from the menu
Starters Sea bass - razor clam, Jerusalem artichoke â¨and sea purslane £14
Terrine - chicken, leek, trompette and truffle â¨brioche £12
Rabbit - beetroot, â¨pistachio and damson £11
Halibut - roast onion, cheddar, truffle and broccoli £25
Partridge - pommes â¨anna, shallot, chestnutâ¨and savoy cabbage £22
Beef - fillet, bone marrow, watercress and chips £29
Plum - sable biscuit â¨and almond £9
Carrot - spiced bread,â¨walnut, mascarpone £9
Apple - salted caramelâ¨and chestnut £9
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