The Black Swan, Helmsley – Hotel Review
By Matt Callard
It was the bikers that gave it away. Hordes of them, all the way from Ripon onwards. 750 cc’s worth of trouble and noise across the Vale of Pickering, heading towards the pretty village of Helmsley. What did they know? Why were they massing in the town centre? And why would an odd few of them peel off every now and then and head into the old coaching inn that dominated the square?
Some dark secrets must have been contained therein. Did it sell a special homemade combo of cider and black? Was someone flogging knocked-off Castrol GTX in the back? Were Wolfsbane in residence?
The Black Swan – all 600 years of it – props up Helmsley. Its black and white timbers and multi-period construction loom over the town square like a watchful matron (well, somebody’s got to keep an eye on those biker boys). Food is the town’s speciality, with a selection of enviable delis and patisseries to choose from – and the renowned Star Inn (one of seven Michelin-starred restaurants in Yorkshire) is just up the road.
But the Swan is no slouch itself when it comes to the grub – a couple of AA Rosettes adorn their Rutland Restaurant and a brand new brasserie offers up something more hearty and informal. But there’s another reason you might want to visit The Black Swan to eat – and it’s something even The Star can’t match for refined dining entertainment.
It’s truly a sight to behold – thick, slightly oily fingers around a daintily-cut egg and cress sandwich. A delicate bone china cup disappearing into a ginger mesh of beard and tash as English tea is quietly sipped. The creak of leather as the biker makes his next choice – a salmon and cream cheese white bread triangle, a soft scone with slightly melting thick cream, a rich and devilish chocolate tart.
Yes, the delights of The Black Swan’s tearooms are a temptation for everyone – and that includes, so it seems, the convoys of Hell’s Angels that claim the town square as their countryside meeting spot. It would appear they’re a more refined breed nowadays – at least when the mods aren’t looking…
Oh, it’s a rarefied experience, afternoon tea at The Black Swan – and the Tea Guild knows it too, having recently bestowed its hard-won ‘Tearoom of Excellence’ honour to the location for a second consecutive year.
I was reminded of the fact that when people stop for coffee at one of those high street super-chains that we all know and love, they’re not really stopping for an overpriced hot drink – they’re stopping to congratulate themselves, to reward their life achievements and to say: ‘Look at me, all this – and I’ve still got the time to sit here, drink this coffee and survey this world.’
The Black Swan is like that – only more so. And not just because the hot drinks here don’t taste like regurgitated bird feed. No, tea at The Black Swan is a life experience in itself. So pretty and delicate and delightful and possessing such a rare air of special-ness and privilege.
Oh yes, you’re rewarding yourself alright – to the point of downright smugness – but here, at least, is a speciality treat done well and done with pride – and with a little bit of quaint English eccentricity thrown in too.
The rest of The Black Swan’s offerings are pretty fine as well – our room was attractive and airy, with a charming, aged wonkyness to its interior character, although it was a little on the loud side (a stag party played out on the square until the early hours during our time there – an indication of Helmsley’s growing night out reputation, but not an altogether welcome addition to the town’s character). The fine dining restaurant was every inch befitting of the town’s gastronomic reputation and, with a few tweaks, could be inching towards higher accolades.
But the real star of The Black Swan is a lazy afternoon spent with fine tea and a cake stand brimming with finger food. Sandwiches on top, a selection of sweets in the middle, scones at the bottom – you will feel naughty, but nice. Sure, we could have traded the extra scone for a few more sandwiches – but nobody stopped us folding it into a napkin and saving it for later (I never said that we were refined now, did I?).
So there it is – the Black Swan’s secret is out. Get in with the biker crowd and go sample a little piece of heaven yourself.
July Offer Price: £99pp inc Iced Tea & Ice Cream, Dinner, B&B Afternoon tea is served on a three-tier silver tea stand and with a choice of 27 teas and infusions (or a selection of coffees, if preferred). A celebratory glass of Champagne is an optional extra. Prices are £17.95 and £26.95 for Champagne afternoon tea.