Mr Frivolitea and I decided to start 2017 off in style and head to the Black Swan in Oldstead for a leisurely lunch. The Black Swan has been on the list for a while and I knew I needed to book soon following Tommy Banks success on Great British Menu last year. I had high hopes for our visit and I was not disappointed at all. The afternoon started rather nicely indeed with a glass of Albury classic cuvée NV (North Downs, England) for me and a rosehip and lemon balm soda for Mr Frivolitea. The creativity of the soft drinks menu and the intrigue of the small producers approach to the wine menu alone were enough to signpost to things to come.
Whilst we had our drinks by the fire, perfect for North Yorkshire lunching in January, two tasters were delivered to our table. Smoked eel and apple, a delightfully crisp and light pastry case with a filling of Lincolnshire poacher cheese, crisp apple and a wonderful morsel of smoked eel.
Then chicken dumpling. An Asian style dumpling made from brioche and filled with confit chicken accompanied by roasted garlic mayonnaise and grated chestnut. This was really memorable, I did think about this until much later in the day and could happily offer to eat a plate of them.
We made the decision to go for the full tasting menu. We didn’t want to miss out on anything, in fact the open kitchen meant we really didn’t miss a thing.
The menu was set out in three sections beginning with four smaller plates:
Partridge with sage and onion. A bite size piece of partridge wrapped in cabbage with the wonderful flavour of ‘stuffing’. You just can’t beat the combination of sage and onion.
Occa tuber with mackerel. This was a fascinating dish. At the Black Swan everything is grown or sourced locally. They grow occa, a Peruvian tuber, in polytunnels. It was similar to Jerusalem artichoke or potato in texture with a lovely flavour. The occa was topped with sheep’s yoghurt and smoked mackerel.
Risotto made from spelt. We both really loved this dish. The spelt risotto had a great texture to it, underneath was a surprise of the cheese custard made from Tunworth cheese and just when you thought it might be too rich you would have a mouthful of charred pickled onion. The winter truffle shavings were also a real treat. This was a very cleverly put together dish and one of my favourites of the day.
Finally in this section of the menu we had sour bread and sour butter. The bread flour comes from a mill in Kirbymoorside. I particularly liked that the bread and butter was a course on its own rather than an accompaniment to other dishes. It also allowed for a natural pause before the next series of dishes.
The next four dishes I would describe as the ‘mains’ of the tasting menu:
Crapaudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat was a really interesting dish. Crapaudine is an old French variety and the Black Swan grow it and store it by clamping. The beetroot is cooked in beef fat for about five hours changing the texture to feel almost meaty. It was topped with some fresh beetroot, goats curd, smoked cods roe and linseed. The linseed, grown on the family farm, really made the dish for me adding a nice hit of crunch and flavour.
I decided at this point to have another glass of wine and tried a German Sauvignon Blanc. I was intrigued that a German wine producer was making a Marlborough style wine. It was as good as I hoped it would be. So good I then ordered another!
Then came two fish dishes. The first was scallop with Jerusalem artichoke. It was served two ways. The top dish was a scallop tartare with Jerusalem artichoke crisp and fresh apple. The bottom dish was a cooked scallop, Jerusalem artichoke purée and an apple butter emulsion. I would struggle to say which I preferred. Whilst quite different both were perfectly balanced.
The second fish dish was one of my favourites of the menu. Halibut with celery and celeriac. The hidden surprises of razor clam and fennel pollen were what made this dish for me. A brilliant combination of ingredients all cooked to perfection.
The final dish in the section was Venison with sprouts and red cabbage. The venison loin was brushed with a black garlic glaze. Mr Frivolitea was particularly wowed by the red cabbage purée and I fear this is how we will have red cabbage for eternity as a result! The shavings of raw chestnut added a lovely freshness to the dish.
As we were finishing this dish. The Staves, Mexico came on the restaurant playlist. A song on my own ‘cooking in the kitchen’ playlist. It perfectly fitted the mood. One of joy and contentment at having eaten some very fine food.
After a short break we had our final set of dishes. These started with Lollipops. Playful combinations of parfait and a coating of frozen gel. We had sheep’s yoghurt and celery, hazelnut and chicory root and brown butter and Jerusalem artichoke. Every combination worked. A sign of the skill, creativity and playfulness of this place.
Then came a dish made famous by Great British Menu. Douglas fir, sheep’s milk and lemon verbena. The balance here was just right with the fir complimenting but not overpowering the dish and the caramelised white chocolate added a some texture to the dish.
Finally we had a slice of cake with our coffee. This was no ordinary cake though! This was cake made from acorn, chicory root and lovage and it would not have looked out of place in the finest French patisserie. A perfect end to the meal.
This was the right way to start our food adventures of 2017. The philosophy of the Black Swan is one I am particularly fond of. Using a kitchen garden and locally sourced ingredients. The working hard to source flavours and combinations without relying on ingredients from across the world (lemon and vanilla for example) takes real dedication and persistence but also makes for exciting eating. It’s a philosophy similar to that of Simon Rogan and Forest Side where I have eaten some of my most memorable meals. The Black Swan is now on that list. The dishes we ate will be in my food memory for a long time.