Foodie Hotel Review: The Black Swan, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
Review: Jennifer Bonfield – Editor
The Black Swan Hotel sits pretty at the head of Helmsley Square – Helmsley is a picturesque market town on the edge of the North York Moors. This was to be our destination to sample a fabulous foodie break and judging from the 3AA rosette restaurant, country inn style décor and serene surroundings, this looked like the perfect gourmet getaway – we were excited.
On arrival the front car park was full, we popped inside to ask where to park and were sent to the rear car park. Only on this route to the back of the hotel do you realise the scale of the original buildings extension – very sympathetically added and in perfect keeping with the 500-year-old original.
From first impressions this looks like a little country haven. From the cozy Tudor bar lounge, Cygnet Bar, petite tea room and tiny reception area, this is what a quint retreat feels like, that it is, but on a much larger scale than first impressions. The hotel houses the Gallery Restaurant, private dining room, bar lounge, bar snug with open fire and upstairs is a maze of winding corridors leading to 45 individually designed bedrooms; Classic Rooms, Superior Rooms, Feature Rooms, a Junior Suite, and a Single Room. This is actually a deceptively large operation but with all the charm of a olde-worlde country Inn.
We were given a warm welcome and handed the keys to our room, which was situated in the oldest part of the hotel. Our Feature Room overlooked the pretty gardens and compromised of a huge king-size bed with all mod-cons such as flat screen Freeview television with Sky sports channels and an i-pod docking station. The bathroom was spacious with a huge walk-in double shower. The glimmer of my favourite Molton Brown toiletries peppered the bathroom, however I noticed there was no hair conditioner in sight. I was relying on such an establishment to provide me with the absolute essentials, as I hadn’t packed a back up. I checked with reception to see if they had forgotten to replenish – but alas they ‘don’t do conditioner’. From someone that stays in hotels for a living this is the oddest exclusion!
Conditioner crisis aside, we popped down to the Tea Room to sample what we heard was the best Afternoon Tea in town and actually voted ‘Tearoom of Excellence’ 3 years in a row. Boy they were not wrong! Our waiting staff and the Tea Room Manager were so welcoming we felt like we may as aswell be sat in a friends front room chatting over tea and cakes. The Tea selection – all brewed by the Black Swan’s very own Tea company, was impressive to say the least. The Signature Black Swan blend was recommended and we also picked the Earl Grey, both of which came with a very fitting china cup and saucer. The 3-tier foodie feast included dainty sandwiches of smoked salmon and cucumber, brie and tomato, York ham and cream cheese, egg and cress on crusty white rolls, warm fruit scones with fruit preserve and clotted cream, chocolate pave, lemon posset with raspberry coulis and the hero desert of the day; apple pie macaroons. My husband was especially amused at the ‘Guess The Tea’ Competition organized by the Tea Room Manager. He considers himself as a bit of a tea expert and really took his time deliberating what the ‘secret’ tea blend was inside the presented glass teapot. Gin & Tonic (a blend of white and green tea, coriander seeds and juniper berries) – yep he guessed it! And to his absolute delight was given a ‘prize’ – a box of The Black Swan’s very own blend of his favourite tea –Earl Grey.
After a walk around the square, we pottered in and out of sweet little shops all uniformed in Yorkshire sand stone and tried to walk off the sumptuous Afternoon Tea to make room for our dinner that evening; the 6 course signature tasting menu.
The tasting menu began with a clear statement of intent from the 3 rosette kitchen: A good selection of breads, and an interesting amuse of ham hock in its own jelly. We chose to accompany these with a half bottle of Moutard Grande Cuvee at £25.00.
The first course was a real celebration of a fantastic local ingredient. Asparagus, white and green, was served as puree, thinly sliced, and simply blanched. Together with a small dome of local cow’s curd, rolled in black onion seeds, this was a refreshing and light dish, which paired fantastically well with the wine match; Vermentino from South Australia. Indeed, Asparagus, an ingredient which is usually hard to match, was the dominant flavour in this wine, so much so that the two worked in triumphant harmony.
Next came a plump scallop, beautifully caramelized, served with an interesting take on a classic sauce Polonaise. Cauliflower puree, given texture from hazelnuts and black radish julienne, was lifted with an acidic verjus cream. The accompanying wine was a Viognier from Chile, having a good blend of creaminess and acidity, and matching well.
Foie Gras, pan roasted, was the main component of the following course. The liver itself had a silky texture, which contrasted well with Black Swan Granola. This was crunchy oats and chewy dried fruits, with just the right amount of sweetness. For acidity, the dish was finished with a smear of mango puree, and fine dice of fresh mango. Again, the wine match for this course was a real triumph. Sauternes with foie gras is a classic combination, which in reality hinges a great deal on the garnish of the dish, rather than the main components. Here, the choice of La Fleur D’or Sauternes, with creamy mango flavours in both the wine and the dish, was perfect.
The main course was lamb loin, crusted in gingerbread, and garnished with an interesting fusion of French and African cuisines. A delicious sweetbread, with Morel mushrooms and Morel cream, lightened with peas and broad beans provided the French elements, with a bed of apricot cous-cous the African. This unusual blend was brought together with an excellent lamb jus. This dish worked much better on the plate than the description suggests, and the cooking of the lamb and the sweetbread again underlined the 3 rosette credentials of the kitchen. However, the Primitivo served with this course was perhaps too rich and heavy to truly compliment this dish, overshadowing it slightly. This was the only time the wine and food ever clashed, throughout the meal.
The cheese course was next, and an incredible ornate trolley was stacked with an interesting blend of classic French and Yorkshire Cheese, alongside other British favorites. These were presented in excellent condition, with the usual accompaniments.
Pre Dessert was a petite granite of apple, which cleansed and refreshed ready for dessert.
The chocolate dessert with the tasting menu was a delicate tart, with Black Forest flavours of cherries and Kirsch, with a silky pistachio ice cream. In addition, an optional dessert of Forced Yorkshire rhubarb was playful yet skillful, with several textures of rhubarb, including confit, jelly and sorbet, offset with a small yeast donut. The matching wine, was not actually a wine, it was a Venuzelan Rum, to go with the chocolate. This unusual match was a risk, but any fears proved unfounded, as it was smooth enough not to overpower, and rich enough to deal with the alcohol heat from the Kirsch cherries.
In all, the tasting menu with wines was a strong showing from Head Chef Patrick Bardoulet, with good use of local and seasonal produce throughout. It was classical in parts, and more challenging in others, but completely underpinned with the obvious skill in the kitchen. The food was complimented well by some thoughtful and thought-provoking wine choices, and was delivered with skill and passion by a strong service team, rightly proud of their product.
After dinner we opted for coffee in the Tudor bar lounge but when contemplating another glass of wine but we were a little put off by the blaring Sky sports giant TV and a few drunken revelers disturbing the peaceful atmosphere from the adjoining Cygnet Bar, and it seems a few of the other guests felt the same. This was a little disappointing at the end of the evening but next time we would simply take coffees and after-dinner drinks in the restaurant, or on a warm summers eve, in the tranquil gardens under the wooden gazebo basking in the romantic light from the outdoor lanterns.
We checked out the next morning to a lovely departure gift of bottled water and fresh fruit for our journey home.
The Black Swan truly is a charming destination for an award winning foodie break at a glorious country retreat – set in a picturesque village, boasting beautiful blooming gardens and oozing with character. To top it all off the friendly, attentive staff are key to making this a fantastic foodie destination to really recommend.
The Black Swan Hotel
The Tasting Menu is designed for all guest at the table
Six Courses – Fifty five pounds per person,
Wine Pairing – Thirty pounds per person
Our Tasting Menu
Scallops Vanilla Cauliflower Purée/ Black Radish/ Hazelnut/ Verjus Cream
Viognier, Viu Manent, Colchagua, Chile, 2013
Seared Foie Gras / Black Swan Granola/ Mango/ Foraged Herbs
La Fleur D’or, Sauternes 2011
Lamb (North Yorkshire)
Gingerbread Crusted Loin of Lamb/ Sweetbread/ Peas/ Broad Beans/ Couscous/ Morel Mushroom/ Jus
Primitivo, Menduria Reserva, 62 Aniversario, Puglia IGT 2011
Selection of English and European Cheeses From The Extensive Cheese Trolley
Chocolate Tart / Cherry/ Kirsh/ Pistachio Ice Cream
Santa Teresa 1796 Rum, Ron Antiguo de Soler, Venezuela
Fancy a foodie retreat package? We recommend …
‘Spoilt for Choice’ package:
One Night Stay @ £235 and Two Nights Stay @ £450 (based upon two sharing a double or twin Classic bedroom. Room upgrades are available at a reduced rate of £20 per room per night, usually priced at £45.)
Foodies will be ‘Spoilt for Choice’ with the latest offer of two tempting gourmet stays at this cosy Helmsley hideaway; a choice of one or two nights, each created to showcase the delicious dining for which this well-loved hotel is renowned.
Day One welcomes you in style with a glass of Rosé Taittinger Champagne, accompanied by afternoon tea, served from the hotel’s tearooms, voted for many years as one of the finest in England.
Dinner in the 3AA rosette restaurant on the first evening will give diners an insight into the mouth-watering, modern British cuisine prepared by Head Chef, Patrick Bardoulet, using the finest produce from North Yorkshire’s fields, rivers, sea and sky.
Those staying on for the optional second night will sample the same inspired cuisine, this time taken to a new level of creativity in Chef’s Signature 8-course tasting menu, a menu exclusively available during this special stay, and changed according to the season and hunt for the only the very best ingredients available locally at that time.
Throughout your accommodation will be in a comfortable and individually-styled Classic bedroom, with full Yorkshire breakfast served each morning.
Click here for full details https://www.groomedandglossy.com/13216/
T&C’s: ‘Spoilt for Choice’ package with an option of one or two nights is available from 1st April 2015 – 31st August 2015. Day Two is only available as a second night option for guests staying Day One. Valid Sunday – Thursday only. Excludes Bank Holidays. Offer is made subject to availability.