The Black Swan, Helmsley – Restaurant Review
By Barney Bardsley
With its three-part construction – Elizabethan, Georgian and contemporary – The Black Swan dominates the main square of the wealthy market town of Helmsley, North Yorkshire.
500-years-old and counting she presides over everything, like a grand duchess with a baleful eye. Displease her at your peril! Everything about this place is lovely: the old-fashioned courtesy of the staff (restaurant waiters serve you with one arm respectfully bent behind their backs, which gets a little tricky when they are trying to cut the cheese); the faded grandeur of the decor; the pictures of bewigged and haughty aristocrats hanging on the bedroom walls; and the air of quiet efficiency and ease, even though it is a big and busy venue.
But the loveliest thing of all – the Black Swan’s badge of honour – is the food. Oh, the food… Where to begin? With Afternoon Tea. I am a PG Tips kind of a woman, but luckily had my daughter with me, who is both more adventurous and more discerning. She chose the Japanese Cherry with honey and ginseng, which was delicious.
Then the Peach Tea to eat: smoked salmon sandwich, peach fool, peach scones and peach parfait – all the different sweet meats playfully held in place, on a handsome black slate, by a tiny blob of melting meringue. Overkill? Surprisingly not. “I didn’t think I liked meringue,” said my daughter. She does now.
The Evening Menu was a somewhat more serious affair, with Lobster Bisque and Gazpacho Soup to start – Waterford House Beef Fillet and Pan Fried Cod to follow. Everything was cooked to perfection. The beef melted in the mouth, the cod stayed firm on the fork. Tiny vegetables, fresh and green, were enlivened with sauces just sour enough to surprise, just sweet enough to seduce.
But it is the desserts which are the shining stars at the Black Swan. Again, my companion came up trumps. She chose something which sounded faintly ridiculous, but tasted just sublime: “Carpaccio of Pineapple, with coconut and pina colada”. It arrived, looking like a South Sea island, with wafer thin slices of pineapple laid flat on a bed of lacy green, and sorbet shaped like a tiny real coconut, dusted with chocolate for the shell. Humorous. Delicate. Inspired.
Breakfast the next morning was both tasty and timely, the room service was efficient, the beds comfy – with a powerhouse of a bathroom shower to boot. None of this comes cheap, of course, and the clientele do seem to be a rather stately bunch (no roistering from the rafters here) – but the location is ideal, for either sea or green. You just need money in your pocket – and an appetite for beauty and fine food.
The Black Swan Hotel, Market Place, Helmsley, Yorkshire, YO62 5BJ