The Black Swan Hotel, Market Place, Helmsley, North Yorkshire

One hundred years ago, the first Michelin guide to Great Britain encouraged motorists to burn rubber by beating a path to recommended hotels. In 2011, just 20 of Michelin's early tips remain in its slender red volume. One robust survivor is the Black Swan in Helmsley, North Yorkshire. This well-heeled market town still attracts latter-day Mr Toads who relish a burn-up on the county's unpopulated roads. On Sundays, the market place is chock-a-block with gleaming motorcycles tended by owners in garish leathers. Poop poop!

Just as it did a century ago, the Black Swan caters to visitors drawn to Helmsley by the grouse moors to the north and gorgeous Ryedale to the east. The hotel is not content to rest on its laurels. Behind the politely restrained façade ("a nice Georgian job," according to Pevsner), the hotel has refurbished its bar, producing a cross between a country-house lounge and a Thirties cocktail joint. My wife was offered a choice of three gins for her G&T, but the flat-screen TV silently mouthing Sky News is a mistake. A similar effort is apparent in the kitchen, where an ambitious Australian chef called Paul Peters counters competition from the two-restaurant empire of Andrew Pern in the nearby village of Harome.

It proved a bit tricky to negotiate the menu. From the £33 table d'hôte for three courses, I was tempted by pressed pork belly followed by slow-braised lamb shoulder, but this would have been too unremittingly carnivorous. From the à la carte, which involved a complicated series of supplements, I was lured by scallops (+ £5), halibut (+ £7) and beef fillet (+ £9). With the prospective bill heading north of £40, my value-for-money calculation (a Yorkshire speciality) suggested that the six-course Signature Menu for £50, which included scallops, halibut and beef fillet, might be the best deal.

Though bemused by the menu's sales pitch ("created using the region's finest produce and influenced by modern British cuisine sourced from land, rivers, lakes and seas"), I was swayed by a waiter's assertion, "Most people go for the Signature". Fortunately, since it "must be taken by the whole table", my wife agreed. Calculation gave way to ingestion.

Chef Peters flaunted his ambition with a "green salad" starter. This proved to be two tiny heaps of granita, a green one made from some herby stuff and a brown one made from sherry vinegar, which flanked a large, gleaming black olive. When I probed it with a fork, the olive collapsed into a slurry of purée. I had encountered a culinary legend, nothing less than the spherified olive of Ferran Adria's El Bulli. It demands prodigious patience (the Spanish maestro requires the purée to be sieved by hand 15 times) and skill. The Black Swan rendition was wholly persuasive though, entre nous, I'm not entirely sure that I wouldn't have preferred a real olive.

I would certainly have liked a more potent accompaniment than a foamy shot glass of "elderflower espuma". The wine pairing (£20 per person) did not start until the second course. Chef Peters should be vigorously informed that it is not a good idea to leave guests without a drink at the start of the meal. Things picked up on the second course, which consisted of two caramelised scallops accompanied by a pleasingly astringent Loire sauvignon/voignier. The sweet interior of the shellfish was teetering on the edge of raw. "They have got a just-out-of-the-shell taste," said my wife.

A crescent of slow-roasted foie gras, partnered with a red, chilled, fortified red from Maury, was an edible definition of "unctuous". The warm, buttery liver in its crispy crust came poised on a sprinkle of baked oats with blobs of concentrated cherry jelly. The result was rather like breakfast granola but it worked OK, providing stabs of flavour that cut the fattiness of the foie gras.

This indulgence was followed by a wedge of pan-fried halibut sandwiched between two versions of fennel, roasted below and blanched above, with a splat of unspeakably delicious vanilla-infused mash on the side. It was fishy perfection. Accompanied by Very Sexy Shiraz From South Africa (far better than the name), the beef fillet was a slight anti-climax. Though impeccably tender, it was too unassertive on the palate when competing with Madeira jus and truffled mash. Girolles were mentioned on the menu, but if they were here they came from Lilliput. Partnered with a fizzy Muscat from Asti, the dessert provided a happy ending. Carpaccio of pineapple, lifted with a prickle of peppery heat, came with the second trompe l'oeil of the meal. A highly plausible half-coconut turned out to be coconut sorbet with a "skin" of chocolate powder.

Paul Peters' cooking merits a detour to Helmsley. I would, however, recommend one alteration. While he's chucking out the TV in the bar, the manager should include the canned music in the restaurant. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" may have matched the halibut but it was a side order too far.

The Black Swan Hotel, Market Place, Helmsley, North Yorkshire (01439 770466)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 4 stars

Six-course Signature Menu £50 per head. Beverage pairing £20 per head

Tipping policy: "The amount of the tip is entirely up to the customer. All tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Yorkshire's finest

The Pipe and Glass

This Michelin-starred pub serves exceptional food including roast chicken breast with champ potato, broad beans & smoked bacon.

Beverley, East Yorkshire (01430 810246)

Box Tree Restaurant

Dishes here include a loin of Holme Farm venison with parnsip purée and fricassée of wild mushrooms.

35-37 Church St, Ilkley, West Yorkshire (01943 608484)

The Yorke Arms

Autumn truffle risotto with Nidderdale Mutton is one of Frances Atkins' dishes currently on the tasting menu here.

Pateley Bridge, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire (01423 755243)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
people
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine