The Black Swan tearoom and patisserie, Helmsley
WHAT I'm about to claim could have me hung, drawn and quartered in certain parts of Yorkshire!
It borders on the blasphemous, and is arguably more controversial than Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. But here goes … !
The Black Swan tearoom and patisserie in Helmsley is superior to the legend of the north that is Betty's.
There; I've said it!
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Betty's. Always have been, always will be. But beyond a few seasonal variations, the menu has barely changed in the decade I've been frequenting its many fine establishments. Dare I say it, Betty's has become a little tired; a little too predictable.
My recommendation for those looking for a new Mecca of meals, a fresh citadel of cakes, is to head a little further north to the beautifully quaint market town of Helmsley. And believe me, the extra few miles are more than worth the effort for the ultimate treat in store.
Opened as recently as December 2007 by leading chef Marco Pierre White, The Black Swan tearoom and patisserie – ideally situated at the top of the market square – has already attracted 15,000 visitors, all tempted through the doors by its wide range of savoury dishes, cakes and artisan pastries along with handmade chocolates and featured teas from around the world.
And it comes as little surprise to those who've already sampled this little corner of culinary heaven to discover this galaxy of gastronomic glory has already been nominated for a top regional title as one of just six finalists in the Best Newcomer to Tourism category of the Yorkshire Tourist Board's White Rose Awards 2008.
So what's all the fuss about?
In essence, the answer is quite simple – quality. Quality of produce, presentation, choice and atmosphere. In short, The Black Swan tearoom and patisserie has got the lot!
Earlier this year, this sumptuous setting was accepted into the prestigious Tea Guild, the beverage equivalent of a Michelin star, and is now part of an elite group including the Ritz, The Four Seasons, Claridges and The Dorchester, officially recognised for their exceptional standards. Such highly coveted accreditation doesn't come easily. It has to be earned by consistently producing the finest food and beverages, in addition to offering super service. And this is where The Black Swan excels.
Beautifully and tastefully decorated throughout, you can't help but be impressed by the 'wow' factor the moment you walk through the door of this charming annexe to the main hotel.
No expense has been spared, and the cosy layout is fresh, bright and inviting. Staff are trained to the highest standards – always on hand when needed, but never rushing you ready for the next customer. There's time to sit back and relax; to soak up the wonderful atmosphere of the whole experience.
It might sound obvious, but the menu is crucial to a tearoom's success. It's about striking the perfect balance between hearty meals and generous savoury dishes with dainty cakes and desserts to tempt the tastebuds.
And The Black Swan has achieved just that. Not only can you feed the soul on the likes of posh fish and chips or an imaginative range of daily specials, there's also a superb selection of sandwiches, all served with homemade coleslaw and kettle chips. And if you get the chance, plead for a pot of the classic Black Swan chutney, which is simply to die for! Every dish is prepared to perfection, well seasoned and full of flavour. Portions are ample without being overbearing, and are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Beverages range from champagne to cola, but it's the fascinating plethora of teas that makes the menu really stand out. There's all the usual suspects – Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Lapsang Souchong and Earl Grey – but it's the speciality teas that surprise and delight. There's Chinese White, Green, Oolong and flavoured teas, but the pice de rsistance was the herbal infusion of flowering Osmanthus – an explosion of green tea leaves, unfolding the flame-coloured osmanthus and oozing a warm, peachy taste. Tearoom manager Alison Souter is something of a tea expert, and is happy to explain the origins of your chosen brew.
And, arguably, we've left the best till last – the cakes!
The Black Swan boasts its own head chef patissier Martin Towse, whose stunning culinary creations are nothing short of a work of art. Each handmade masterpiece is a symphony of flavours and textures – sheer indulgence. There's a wide selection to sample, together with an indulgent range of handmade chocolates, so you'll just have to keep going back to try them all! And if you've only left a little room after your savoury dish, why not plump for the selection of four miniature patisseries, featuring the likes of madeleines and souffls, all baked fresh on the premises.
The Black Swan tearoom and patisserie is a wonderful experience I would recommend to all. Prices aren't preclusive – meal deals are often on offer, with a sandwich, beverage and cake of your choice for just 10. Or why not go a little wild for that special occasion or celebration? It's simply the best tearoom in Yorkshire by a country mile and not to be missed.
* The Black Swan tearoom and patisserie is part of The Black Swan Hotel in Helmsley. Dating back to the 15th century, it started life as a coaching inn. The building grew over the years, and today the hotel is a charming combination of Elizabethan, Georgian and Tudor architecture. Log-on to www.blackswan-helmsley.co.uk or call 01439 770466 for room tariffs or information about the restaurant, function suites and new spa facilities. There's also a series of special events this summer, including an evening with Hannah Gordon, a flower demonstration with Jamie Aston and Grumpy Old Bowlers – a night of anecdote, chat and reminiscence from three of the leading figures in English cricket Derek Pringle, Angus Fraser and Peter Hayter.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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