Spectacular Taster Menu
Sometimes dining away from the city is needed, a short drive away along winding roads, somewhere with rolling hills and beautiful landscapes, somewhere beautiful with history, atmosphere and vibrancy.
I was introduced to Helmsley a stunning market town back in 2009 and was instantly blown away with how quaint the town was, all the shops independently owned, the pubs full of heritage, the hotels stylish ad characterful, there was a real mix of country life and contemporary fashionistas, even the deli’s and café’s oozed fabulousness. I was hooked!
Fast forward to 2016 and I am still hooked with all things Helmsley, everything is just as quintessentially individual as it was 7 year ago, and I love to spend my spare time eating and drinking in the town.
My absolute favourite restaurant is The Gallery at The Black Swan Hotel, and I recently experienced the new Executive Head Chef, Alan O’Kane’s Taster Menu.
With 3 AA Rosettes The Gallery is as close to perfect as you can get, and from a foodies point of view, this fine dining establishment is refined luxury.
We were offered a number of snacks prior to being seated and they included a confit of lamb beignet with mint puree, and house smoked salmon & caviar cones. The lamb was perfectly cubed and surrounded in subtle breadcrumbs both melted in the mouth together and with just a hint of mint puree gave burst of freshness. The house smoked salmon & caviar cones were mini summery treats, they were as light as air and the smokey tones from the salmon added a little special something. Both snacks were as pretty in presentation as in taste.
Once seated in the corner of The Gallery Restaurant, we were privy to all the artist pieces of work that adorn the walls. Again, these pieces reflect both country and heritage by design, which is a theme that suits Helmsley and The Black Swan wonderfully.
The bread basket arrived with crunchy cob rustically sliced and a duo of butter. I tried the salted butter first, it had just a hint of salt which wasn’t going to leave me thirsty, lovely. And for the butter to beat all butters, the homemade beef butter, oh my oh my, this really was a butter I’ve never sampled before. The intense beef flavour balanced perfectly with the hearty bread, it was like a fluffy whipped delight and I wanted it to be an amuse bouche before every course!
We were brought our official first course from the taster menu, the arrival of White onion & 36-month aged parmesan veloute, and black truffle toasty. Now, this was by far my favourite of the starter courses, the onion was punchy and robust which I love and the parmesan was an after hit, which left the mouth yearning for more. With the silkiest of sheens and to me perfection on the pallet, this was the standout starter.
Ham knuckle & foie gras, celeriac remoulade, caper jam, Pease pudding and quail egg was next to be placed on the table. The ham melted in the mouth like a good slow-cooked ham should, the celeriac remoulade and caper jam cut through the salt in the ham wonderfully and the pièce de résistance for me was the quail egg. I enjoy nothing more than an egg cooked to perfection, and my little quail egg was just right; slightly runny in the middle which is such a difficult task with quail eggs, and magically coated in a subtle crispy crumb. Divine.
“Bring on the fish course” I heard someone say on the table, it soon arrived with gusto. Black bream, mussels & clams, fresh beans and sea herbs, which on this occasion were samphire, my favourite accompaniment to fish. This entire dish was so pretty to the eye, it could have won an award for pure beauty.
The black bream a strong white flaky fish wasn’t at all overpowering and the addition of mussels and clams made this main dish another of my standout favourites. The simple greens of beans and samphire gave the dish an element of crunch which I absolutely loved. I could have carried on eating black bream for the duration of the evening, it was spectacular.
Then came main course number two, this time raw Scottish venison, burnt orange, smoked coconut, beetroot emulsion and yolk. Of all the dishes this one was my least favourite, but that’s not the fault of anyone, I’m just not a venison fan. The presentation and the look of the venison were striking, and I was the only guest on the table that didn’t finish it! The coconut was delicious and the punchy burnt orange came through in abundance, which I enjoyed immensely.
The final main course, Greshingham duck, corn, sweet potato, shitake, Tosazu sea lettuce and peanut arrived in front of me, and it didn’t disappoint. There was an unmentioned bonbon-esque nest of crispy noodles filled with confit of duck included, and my heart, body & soul melted into this dish. Seriously, the best duck I have ever had anywhere, it was perfectly pink in the centre, with an aroma of Asian spices, and everything about this dish shouted pure excellence. Food heaven at its best!
With two desserts to go, my mind was firmly fixed on number one, the Buffalo ricotta cheesecake, calamansi, passion fruit curd, and pistachio. The fact that this cheesecake was the lightest pudding I’ve ever sampled, and it disappeared within seconds, can only mean one thing, it was a taste sensation. The passion fruit curd was sharp and fruity and gave a feisty punch to the subtle cheesecake. But the serious taste sensation was the calamansi, a cross between a kumquat and mandarin orange this fruit gave a spark of sourness to this amazing pud.
The last of the desserts, bitter chocolate namelaka, spiced espresso cake and milk sorbet was something I’d never heard of before. I had to research namelaka post-dinner, which simply means ‘creamy texture’ in Japanese. The bitterness of the chocolate mixed with the lightness of the milk sorbet brought two distinctly different flavours together, but what’s not to like, chocolate and milk! This dish was very rich and even I, a fully fledged dessert-a-holic couldn’t have faced seconds, it rounded the meal off in style.
The Cheeseboard was taken in The Black Swan’s Tudor Lounge, with open roaring fire and comfy sofa’s and chairs. There were many French cheeses on the board plus a good strong British Stilton, and a great selection of biscuits, chutney’s and homemade quince jelly. I opted for just two cheeses, the Stilton, as I’m a fan of blue, and the creamy Brie with a little slice of quince jelly. A super cheeseboard.
Alan O’Kane’s Taster Menu at The Black Swan Hotel in Helmsley is the thing that dreams are made of. Flavour, imagination, creativity, style and elegance. Or, in good old Yorkshire terminology, ‘blooming lovely’!
Priced at £65 per head for the Taster Menu.
Ciao for now