It’s an hour’s drive from Everingham to Oldstead in Yorkshire, and Jerry, having spent his whole life in various spots along the way, programmed a gorgeous early-evening drive as a pre-dinner treat. So we zipped along tiny roads lined with hedgerows, verges sprinkled with primroses, daffodils and trees in full blossom. Add in fields of bright yellow rape seed crops, lambs, ponies, plus the glorious, rolling, straight ribbon of Castle Howard Drive, which seems to go for miles, then the perfect sandstone village (with perfect village stream) within Katherine Worsley’s family estate, and we arrived at Olstead in fine humour. (Aside: as a lad, Jerry sang in the choir at Katherine Worsley’s marriage to the Duke of Kent.)
We kicked off our dinner with an aperitif in the Black Swan’s snug - English sparkling for Lyn and me, a cider for Helen, and an artichoke martini for Jerry. Start as you mean to go on. Helen was designated driver, but she wasn’t fussed, as it had been party time at the Marsdens for the previous week with daughter Philippa’s wedding at home on the ‘farm’ (make that a half-acre marquee for the reception for 150, and finishing with huge fireworks display which was seen and heard in the next village three miles away).
Upstairs at the Black Swan, there are three dining rooms, with a few tables in each. The decor is simple, with lovely, plain wooden furniture, sporting a single potted fennel plant as the sole accoutrement. Jerry, Lyn and I opted for the wine matching for the degustation (scoffing and quaffing) menu, as follows:
Mussel puree with nasturtium leaves on toast (linseed cracker for me)
Langoustine with Salted Strawberry
Belly pork and celeriac (the others had a chicken dumpling)
Raw deer with wild garlic
(Classic Cuvee, Charles Palmer 2013 (Sussex, England))
Bread and Sour butter
Scallop cured in Rhubarb Juice
(Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, Gaia 2016 - Santorini, Greece)
Crapaudine Beetroot cooked in Beef Fat
(Max, Miles Mossop 2015 - Stellenbosch, South Africa)
Cod with Cauliflower and Parsley
(Arbois Chardonnay, Frutiere Vinicole Arbois 2016, Jura, France)
Salt Aged Lamb
(Klumpp, Spatburgunder 2015 - Baden, Germany)
Damson and Kernel
Sheep’s milk with Douglas Fir Oil
(Douglas Fir Sour)
Smoked butter fudge (Root vegetable brioche for the other).
No point in rating any of the dishes (although I am going to instantly make copious notes and I have the photographic evidence) - it was a flawless meal: every morsel beautifully balanced and seasoned; and the whole degustation perfectly tempered, so there wasn’t a single ‘too rich’ or ‘yikes’ note in the whole shebang. Simply brilliant; belying superb technique and fabulous locally-sourced product - wild, gardened, foraged, farmed, fished.
Add to that, the straightforward service and the use of simple, practical plates - none of those crazy, dysfunctional bowls, jars and cutlery designed to ambush the diner into not being able to tackle his food, and to be lured into catastrophic spillages and food-messes - and Tommy Banks and his family pub and farm in this tiny, remote village is as good as it gets. Bingo!