No book deal or TV show, but four AA rosettes for “dazzling” North Yorkshire restaurant

James Banks, front of house manager at the Black Swan at Oldstead. Pic: James Hardisty
James Banks, front of house manager at the Black Swan at Oldstead. Pic: James Hardisty
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In the era of celebrity chefs and wall-to-wall cooking shows, it’s something of a rarity for a restaurant outside London to achieve destination status without celebrity endorsements, TV appearances or a book deal.

But staff at the Black Swan at Oldstead, tucked away in a “quiet and picturesque corner of North Yorkshire”, were celebrating today after doing precisely that, as the restaurant was awarded a fourth AA rosette to add to its existing Michelin star.

Opened nearly a decade ago by the Banks family, it is now run by brothers Tommy and James, head chef and front of house manager respectively, and with an emphasis on the use of produce from its kitchen garden or foraging nearby.

Announcing the three restaurants nationwide to be awarded a fourth rosette, the AA praised the Black Swan for its “dazzling intrepid modern cooking on a family farmstead”.

A third rosette was also awarded to the Hare Inn, in Scawton, described as a “a 21st-century restaurant in a 13th-century inn and praised for its “creative modern cooking”.

Yorkshire Post restaurant reviews:

Tommy  Banks, head chef  at the Black Swan at Oldstead. Picture: Gary Longbottom

Tommy Banks, head chef at the Black Swan at Oldstead. Picture: Gary Longbottom

The Hare Inn, Scawton

Black Swan, Oldstead

Describing the Black Swan, it said: “An appealing stone-built country house out on the North York Moors, The Black Swan has become a coveted destination restaurant in the region, a remarkable achievement for having been brought about without TV appearances or even a book.

“Whether or not Tom Banks chooses in time to head along the media route, nothing can detract from the creative energy currently driving the place. Members of Banks’s team work at least one day a week in the kitchen garden, which helps deepen their understanding of dishes.”

“We were just delighted. There is a big team of us in the kitchen and front of house and it is a big pat on the back for all of them.”

James Banks, front of house manager, the Black Swan

James Banks, 28, told The Yorkshire Post of his delight at receiving the fourth rosette, making the Black Swan the only restaurant in the region to have this accolade as well as a Michelin star. Staff will celebrate tonight with a glass of fizz after service is completed, he said.

He said: “We found on on the internet last night, at about midnight. They did a series of tweets. We knew we had an inspector visit and they said we were going in the right direction. We knew it was quite likely but not 100 per cent until it was released.

“We had a series of inspections, in mid-December, October and July. They gave us a little debrief afterwards and said that they liked this and they liked that. They used words like probably and maybe, but we knew we stood a good chance.

“We were just delighted. There is a big team of us in the kitchen and front of house and it is a big pat on the back for all of them.

7/7/15  Heather,Honey and Flowers at  The Black Swan at Oldstead  (Gl1006/48b)

7/7/15 Heather,Honey and Flowers at The Black Swan at Oldstead (Gl1006/48b)

“We will have been open for ten years in August and it has been a gradual build-up from one rosette. It has been a long journey but it is nice to recognised as being up there with some really top places.”

Though several other leading Yorkshire restaurants, including Michael O’Hare’s The Man Behind The Curtain in Leeds, and the Yorke Arms near Harrogate, have had media exposure in recent years, James says the Black Swan hasn’t had the same level of attention as the best-regarded eateries in London.

He said: “We would like to think we have been recognised for our produce, the food and drink and service and atmosphere here, that we have been recognised for that rather than it being on the back of celebrity status.

“Sometimes it feels frustrating when we get by-passed and the chefs in London get a lot of headlines.”

He added: “A lot of the four-rosette restaurants have a uniqueness about them, and for us it is about the produce. It is unique to us.

“There are some fantastic places in Yorkshire, it is really known for being a good place for eating, probably the best outside London, so it is nice to be rated highly.”

The Hare Inn at Scawton, Thirsk. Pictured the interior of one of the restaurant areas. Picture by Gerard Binks.

The Hare Inn at Scawton, Thirsk. Pictured the interior of one of the restaurant areas. Picture by Gerard Binks.

Praising the Hare Inn, judged by Welcome to Yorkshire as its restaurant of the year in 2015, judges said: “The Hare is a 21st-century restaurant in a 13th-century inn, and although there may well be local ales at the pumps, it’s really all about the dazzling cooking of Paul Jackson.

“It certainly looks the part of an old moorland inn, with a rugged exterior painted in pristine white, and indoors there’s plenty of character in the form of original features and some quirky fixtures and fittings.

“Mr Jackson seeks out the very best ingredients that abound in this part of the world and offers them up in creative ways via fixed-price menus.”

Hare Inn head chef Paul Jackson was asleep when the news came through on Twitter at midnight and was woken by wife Liz, who broke the news to him.

He said: “I thought I was dreaming and I had to ask again if it was correct. We are delighted, we had the inspection but they don’t give much away. We were hoping we were on the right tracks.

“We have progressed a lot in the last 12 months, we only have a relatively small team, there are five of us in the building and one is part-time.

“We only have 22 covers so on Saturdays it is hard work. We all pull together and work hard for the end result. We have been pushing hard for the third rosette for the last 12 months and it is nice to be recognised.

“We do set menus, tasting menus of four, six or eight courses. The customer comes in and chooses the number of courses they would like.

“What we try to do is have a balance between different types of dish. It starts off fairly light, there are things that refresh your palette, there are things that are heavy, there are things that are sweet.

“Without being cliched, it’s a little bit of a journey and we put our little twist on every single dish. Some of it can be quite tongue in cheek and humorous.”

The AA awards are only made twice a year, and recognise restaurants that have shown “great improvement in the culinary standards and service they are providing”.

The top awards for the Black Swan and Hare Inn follow in the footsteps of The Burlington at the Devonshire Arms, near Bolton Abbey, which received four rosettes last January.

And last year The Man Behind The Curtain in Leeds became the city’s first restaurant in years to gain a coveted Michelin star.

Simon Numphud, Head of AA hotel services, said: “The restaurants receiving the multi rosette awards should be duly proud of their achievements.

“The four rosettes restaurants can now classify themselves as among the top restaurants in the country where cooking demands national recognition.

“Those with three rosettes are outstanding restaurants that demand recognition well beyond their local area offering sympathetic treatment of the highest quality ingredients with consistent timing, seasoning and judgement of flavour.”

Paul Jackson of the Hare Inn, Scawton

Paul Jackson of the Hare Inn, Scawton