They say variety is the spice of life don’t they?
Well, if you’re a believer in such anecdotes I’m telling you now, you’re currently in the wrong place.
Here is where you need to be:
The Black Swan, Oldstead, run by 2016’s Great British Menu winner, Tommy Banks.
Who by the way totally came to our table, served us the most wondrous tasting beetroot dish ever and probably caught us staring and giggling at him like school girls (yes, you included Mr. GTMHTC!) from the table at the window. Erm, yeah, sorry about that…
Drooling aside, let’s get serious here.
The man did thee most amazing thing to a simple slab of beetroot: He made it taste better than a fillet of beef.
That’s not cooking.
It began while I was watching him take his steps to victory on the TV, and as I work for a farming publication myself, he stood out a mile with his outlook on food and its provenance.
It’s hard enough these days to get our generation, a culture of low fat, no fat, no nothing, to really appreciate what great produce can do for your health and of course, happiness and I remember thinking you know what? I need to speak to this guy because he can make farming look cool. He could just make people look twice at where our food comes from.
With his ingredients growing in the garden and all produce locally sourced, it’s difficult not to taste the hard work, dedication and sincere passion that’s gone in to forming such intricate yet humble plates of food.
The journey started when we found ourselves off the beaten track – literally – as we drove in from the side that was…the muddiest. A long winding track with views across the countryside, we were on the lookout for, well, the restaurant obviously but were surprised to stumble across a beautifully rustic yet delicate cottage like building, just quietly sat there, unassuming and quaint.
As we walked in the fire was roaring and I could make out the faint but unquestionable voice of Bobby Gillespie singing away. Now this is my kind of place!
It was so insanely relaxed.
After our appetisers – smoked eel tart and a chicken brioche dumpling – we were taken to our table where yet again, everything was just so damn chilled. The chefs on view were flat out but never once seemed rushed or flustered; our waiter casually rhyming off the details of our courses with ease and class.
Now to me, that’s how you want to dine.
The tasting menu was a seemingly never ending homage to the entire food chain: From spelt risotto with pickled onions, scallop two ways, the aforementioned wonder beetroot to venison with “boozy” red cabbage puree and buttered sprouts and sourdough bread with hands down, the silkiest butter to ever pass these lips.
I was slowly slipping in to a heavenly food coma. And that’s not even all of it.
Quite frankly, I was stuffed. In a good way though.
Yet there was still dessert to be polished off but could I do it?
Ha! Stupid question. Presented with lollipops, one of which was made of celery (utterly refreshing, who knew?) and chicory root and loveage cake (cue Google), I managed to wolf the lot.
Turns out that loveage is an old English herb which kind of epitomises everything this place is trying to do: It uses history and cultivates beauty and taste from the simplest of things you pull from the garden.
The beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat, topped with linseed crackers and pickled beetroot, and the venison which came with buttered sprouts, meaty chestnuts and a moreish red cabbage puree. It’s my new favourite meat for sure.
They both just tasted so incredibly earthy and real but more so, it was as though there was a reason for each taste and element; a natural flow of how ingredients fit together.
If there’s one thing I could say about the food, it’s that you guys as chefs, respect it.
And I reckon if everybody did that a little more, we’d live in a happier and healthier world.
So thanks to you, Mr. GTMHTC for making my birthday extra special with such an amazing present! The way to my heart, as you know, is with food.
And thanks to you Tommy, for bringing out the best in what the seasons have to give and giving meaning back to growing your own and locally sourcing.
Happy birthday me!