6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Yorkshire Life today click here

Short break - The Black Swan, Helmsley

PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 July 2016

A feature bedroom large but cosy with a big en suite

A feature bedroom large but cosy with a big en suite

© david chalmers 2009

Tony Greenway samples dinner, bed and breakfast at The Black Swan, Helmsley

Head chef Alan O'Kane prepared an exquisite six-course tasting menuHead chef Alan O'Kane prepared an exquisite six-course tasting menu

The pretty market town of Helmsley, North Yorkshire is home to a fabulous arts centre, a beautiful walled garden and famously The Black Swan, a part Elizabethan part Georgian four-star boutique hotel which was a coaching inn back in the 1800s.

Like all swans, everything looks serene on the surface but underneath there’s plainly a lot of paddling going on. In the kitchen, for instance, I imagined new head chef Alan O’Kane working hard to provide an exquisite six-course tasting menu, one we sampled in the 3 AA-rosette Gallery restaurant managed by Antoine Bouquerel and his team. O’Kane has worked in London at The Savoy and The Capital and is well-known in his native North East for The Angel of Corbridge and Sidney’s at Tynemouth so our expectations were high. By the end of the evening, he hadn’t just met those expectations but vaulted over them.

First, we were served a range of ‘snacks’: an intensely beautiful white onion and 36-month-aged parmesan velouté; a house-smoked salmon and caviar toast, and a crunchy black truffle toasty. Best of all, though, was a moreish melting confit of lamb beignet with mint puree. Just perfect.

Then the first course: ham knuckle and foie gras with celeriac remoulade, caper jam, pease pudding and quail’s egg; deep flavours which, in less experienced hands, might be overwhelming but worked fantastically well with O’Kane in charge. After this we pushed out to sea with the different textures and flavours of meaty grey mullet, mussels and clams, fresh beans and sea herbs. Next came raw Scottish venison with burnt orange, smoked coconut, beetroot emulsion and egg yolk. This was a more challenging dish if you don’t like your meat very rare indeed and finely chopped (as opposed to carpaccio) but those O’Kane flavours were working their magic again. Were there more surprises up his sleeve?

Yes, actually, in the form of Gressingham duck, served with grilled corn, sweet potato, shitake, tosazu sea lettuce and peanut, just succulence on a plate. This was followed by a superbly smooth buffalo ricotta cheesecake, with a sharp, citrus calamansi, a zingy passion fruit curd (which woke up any remaining dormant tastebuds) and pistachio. The grand finale was a creamy bitter chocolate namelaka, spiced espresso cake and milk sorbet. Would we like coffee in the lounge? Yes please.

If you try the tasting menu yourself, an additional beverage pairing is available for each course (although we chose a crisp, fruity Alsace Riesling for all the main courses and a light Nivole Moscato d’Asti to go with dessert). David, our waiter, was new but already had the inside track on every dish, plainly knew his wines and provided first-class service throughout. But then that’s part of The Black Swan experience.

We weren’t the only ones to be impressed. While we drank our coffee in the lounge, and ate petits fours which were works of art, two other diners asked to meet O’Kane and practically gave him a round of applause when he emerged from the kitchen. They were still raving about him as we climbed the stairs to bed.

We stayed in a feature bedroom in the oldest part of the hotel overlooking the market square. It was large but cosy with a big en suite, pleasingly creaky floorboards, exposed beams and a king-size bed. The Black Swan isn’t faceless and corporate. It’s traditionally decorated but has charm and character and doesn’t skimp on the comfort. The surroundings might be straight out of the 18th century but the fixtures and fittings aren’t and include Wi-Fi, flat screen television and Sky sports channels.

Next morning, we were, surprisingly, ready for a big breakfast. I can never say no to a full Yorkshire breakfast, particularly when it includes the best local produce such as Waterford House Farm sausage, Wensleydale bacon and Doreen’s black pudding. And this one did. The Black Swan breakfast set us up for the day but our stay set us up for the weekend. We’ll be back.


More from Out & About

Friday, August 18, 2017

This is a seaside town that’s changing its look and its fortunes and shouting about itself a bit more, says Tony Greenway.

Read more
Coastal Yorkshire
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Find peace in the idyllic rural valley of Rosedale which was once a noisy hive of industry.

Read more
Monday, August 14, 2017

Enjoy a breath of fresh air in Sheffield, a city re-discovering its roots, as Richard Darn explains

Read more
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fifteen years ago beacons of cultivated retailing did exist in Haworth, but they were outnumbered by purveyors of Brontë souvenirs of sometimes questionable taste. Today that precipitous street is a hub of stylish and artistic shops, the latter in particular often drawing upon local artists and craftspeople. ‘It used to be mainly souvenir shops selling “a thimble from Haworth”,’ says painter George Bowden, who with his wife Sarah opened the tiny gallery Wuthering Arts last year. ‘Haworth has come late to the party compared to Hebden Bridge, but we’re getting there, with a number of art-led enterprises on Main Street, and more on the way – a friend has bought what was the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, an old weaving shed, and that’s going to be a huge gallery.’

Read more
Monday, August 7, 2017

Small but mighty Pateley Bridge shows where a healthy dose of community spirit can get you.

Read more
Monday, July 31, 2017

An A-Y of fascinating Yorkshire place names (it would have been an A-Z but the nearest – Zouch – is in Leicestershire)

Read more
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

On the turn of every tide, a world of marine life in miniature becomes apparent on the shoreline of Flamborough – if you know where to look. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Jess Charlton leaves no stone unturned to discover what lies beneath.

Read more
Coastal Yorkshire Yorkshire Wildlife Flamborough
Monday, July 17, 2017

Martin Pilkington went along to West Yorkshire to meet the people who make the town tick

Read more
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Flower power rescues a gloomy Calder Valley town. Richard Darn explains

Read more
Hebden Bridge
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wander along the eastern edge of Yorkshire from a coastal resort that ‘never quite was’. Terry Fletcher leads the way.

Read more

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Yorkshire Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Yorkshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search