We’re watching the 2016 Great British Menu on BBC2. No, it’s not in the same league as Bake Off, but it does showcase some great cooking from around the British Isles. Even if it’s all a bit forced – there’s a theme and this year it’s “Great Britons” – it’s still quite entertaining. We often return to favourite places, especially local ones, but we don’t normally feature a place twice in this blog unless it’s changed radically from one of the previous visits. A recent second entry was Holbeck Ghyll and you can you read why. The repeat entry is either because it’s gone seriously downhill or it’s risen to new heights. The Black Swan features for its triumphs.
The pub has retained its Michelin star, despite a change of chef. Young Tommy Banks has become the youngest chef to hold a Star, and he’s completely self-taught. Mind you, he probably had some useful tips when he worked alongside Adam Jackson in the early days of the Swan. Well, after four or five previous successful visits, this time – what a change we found.
Tommy has been featuring as one of the eight chefs in the final heats of the GBM and has just been chosen to cook the fish course for the final banquet. All that, apart from a bit of theatrical television, is just a bit of flummery. The real excitement is what’s happened at the Black Swan. We’ve been four times before but this was different.
We know from other places blessed with the Michelin magic (what? – Ed) that changes are “encouraged”. For example, instead of telling you your table’s ready, it’s now “James is ready for you” or some such. Are we getting our hair cut?
However, at the BS change is all for the better, though it was just fine to start with. You no longer arrive in the back door, trailing through the restaurant, bumping into a waiter. You arrive at a proper front door, right into the bar ready for someone to hand you a signature Rhubarb Vodka Martini (delicious). There’s an extra four bedrooms in a carefully restored house up the road. The furniture is all new, a successful style blend of contemporary Scandinavian design with local craftsmanship. Hand thrown pottery replaces the ubiquitous white plates; it all feels a bit like a provincial Cranks brought right up to date. Light, fresh, welcoming – and no unnecessary ceremony.
And the food. Tasting menu only – a real turn off for one of our guest writers, who wouldn’t dream of returning just on that account. We loved it. All of it. What a showcase of carefully and exquisitely prepared, cooked and presented food. We’ve had one or two good meals in our time – and this was one of the very, very best. How lucky we are to have such a place on our doorstep. Go now, immediately, before he gets two Stars, and the price goes up again!
Restaurant with rooms The Black Swan
PS We were able to drink a bottle of Didier Dagueneau’s Silex at about half the price of The Square in London. Same year – 2009. Good Yorkshire value.