We’re leaning as far forward as physically possible, wishing we hadn’t indulged in that extra Fat Rascal at Betty’s or the additional five small plates at Skosh the day before, and patting the dashboard of my tiny blue car in encouragement as we crawl up the steep road at Sutton Bank in the North Yorkshire Moors…
On our foodie road trip we use the White Horse’s guidance to dodge the higher gradients (be warned that picturesque country roads quickly evolve into 25% gradient hills) as we wind through the network of narrow lanes that connect idyllic remote villages. We stop in at the tiny church in Kilburn to spot the mice carved into wooden pews by Robert Thompson, and hop out at Ampleforth Abbey to stock up on fruity beer, originally brewed by Benedictine monks.
Sheep and cows roam in fields high up amongst the rolling hills, and brambles grow wild in the hedgerow lining the roads. Chefs in this part of Yorkshire use the abundance of local produce in their cooking, and no greater example is there of this than the extensive kitchen garden at The Black Swan at Oldstead.
The 2.5-acre allotment is where everyone at this Michelin-starred restaurant, from chefs to owners, mucks in to grow and experiment with exotic ingredients – Minnesota midget melons, oyster leaves that taste of the sea and Amazonian hybrids.
During our short tour, owner Tom Banks pops out to collect eggs from the Indian Runner ducks while eldest son James gathers honey from the family’s bee hives, and youngest son (and head chef) Tommy ducks into the greenhouse to pick green tomatoes.
We head inside and nestle in to a booth in the cosy bar area to enjoy sherbet-y rhubarb schnapps with meadowsweet, lemon balm and rhubarb vinegar. Intricate amuse-bouches include razor clams with broad beans, peas and pea flowers; tiny crisp potato skins filled with goats cheese, wood mushrooms and lemon verbena; and diced veg with herb oil and lemon mayo topped with charred beetroot leaf.
We creep up narrow stairs to the atmospheric dining room and bag the table by the window that overlooks the vast kitchen garden. Tommy and his team are already working away in the open kitchen preparing ingredients picked that same morning (beetroot steak has been roasting in beef fat since 8am and courgettes are harvested just a week after flowering so they’re still small and crisp enough to use in a sea trout dish, garnished with cucumber flower).
Puddings are inventive, too – a trio of lollipops have a creamy, whipped frozen centre and a gummy coating. And Tommy plays with jelly and ice cream in a stunning woodruff ice cream dish, served with wild strawberry jelly and popping candy, almond and shortbread hundreds and thousands.
After a quick espresso with delicate lovage macaroons and intense butterscotch truffles, we roll back to the car and drive onwards to the market town of Helmsley, stumbling upon a beautiful abandoned abbey on they way. We potter through fruit trees and meadows at Helmsley Walled Garden and reward ourselves with a pot of Yorkshire tea and freshly baked carrot cake below the creeping vines at The Vine House Café.
Heading back into the centre of the town, we join the queue outside a Grade 2 listed building to order locally made Brymor ice cream from the hole in the wall at Hunters of Helmsley. Come to this foodie treasure trove in the winter for deep-filled topside of beef sarnies and peruse the first floor food hall jam-packed with Hunters own preserves, local honeys and teas from Taylors of Harrogate.
We follow a combine harvester to neighbouring village, Harome, where you can’t miss the defining presence of 14th-century thatched inn, The Star Inn. It’s a tough choice of tables between a snug little nook in the low-ceilinged bar and huge oak benches set in the kitchen garden. We opt for the latter to enjoy a Whittaker’s Gin (and tonic), distilled in Nidderdale using local bilberries, hawthorn and thyme, while we identify home-grown produce. The team grows broad beans (used, among other things, for a delicious lovage-buttered pea, broad bean and asparagus soup), baby leeks, and lavender, just a dash of which is added to sheep’s milk and strawberry eton mess.
Full to the brim of Yorkshire produce, we make our way home, using our extra weight as momentum to roll back down Sutton Bank.
- The Black Swan, Oldstead
- The Star Inn, Harome
- Mannion & Co, Helmsley
- The Vine House Cafe, Helmsley Walled Garden
- Hunters of Helmsley, Helmsley