The winner of last month’s competition is in for a very enjoyable break at the Black Swan. My friend and I arrived on a cold, windy afternoon, via the Howardian Hills of North Yorkshire, to a welcome as warm and friendly as the log fires that burned in several rooms.
This boutique hotel of 45 bedrooms was originally a coaching inn, but has expanded to include the adjoining Georgian and Elizabethan houses with a new wing at the rear. We were delighted to have a large room on the first floor, overlooking the delightful market square. There was a charming mix of “olde-world” beams and creaky, uneven floor with modern comfortable furnishings and decoration in a lime and chocolate brown colour scheme. It was light and spacious, having twin beds, a comfortable sofa, writing desk, side table and a deep, upholstered window seat, TV and tea/coffee making facilities with the widest choice of beverages I have ever seen. Large wardrobes were located in a separate area, adding to the spacious feeling and the classic white-tiled bathroom, with luxury toiletries and bathrobes, also overlooked the square.
Before dinner we enjoyed a gin-and-tonic in the cosy bar area, while a member of staff from the restaurant talked us through the 6-course taster menu. My friend does not care for seafood or raw fish, and he helpfully arranged with the chef for alternatives to the smoked salmon, scallop and tuna elements of the meal. Each course was exquisitely presented, the flavours of even tiny drops of sauce, jus, jelly or dressing complementing the main ingredient of tuna, rabbit, scallops, chicken and lamb. Two multi-layered desserts transformed banana and ice-cream into a delicious indulgence, precluding the option of an additional cheese board (available at a £5 supplement). You can opt to pair each course with a complementary wine for £30 per person, but instead we chose a bottle of Sauvignon, which suited our menu perfectly.
Head chef Paul Peters was recently awarded 3 AA Rosettes, and kindly signed the menu I requested as a reminder for writing this review. There is a 10 course taster for anyone capable of appreciating it.
Dinner is not the only meal for which the Black Swan is famous. An award-winning tea-room is accessible from both within the hotel and directly from the square. It serves scrumptious afternoon teas, with a vast array of teas, being a member of the prestigious Tea Guild. Unfortunately, as we were meeting friends for lunch in nearby Thirsk, we didn’t have time to try the tea-room, but will certainly do so on a future day out. We did find time though, after a big breakfast, to relax in the lounge and read the papers before leaving.
Checkout is at 11am, but a permit issued on arrival allows you to park right in front of the hotel until noon. Without exception, the staff made us feel welcome and I have just received a card hoping we enjoyed our stay.
This area is right in the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, and visitors staying in Helmsley have a wealth of interesting places to see, from castles and abbeys to gardens and birds of prey. Towns such as York, Whitby and Pickering are an easy drive away. Helmsley itself is worth exploring. Bright with flowers, even in March, it is full of quaint cafes and tea-rooms, elegant jewellers, chic gift and furniture and clothes shops, and outdoor specialists to remind you where you are.
Altogether a most enjoyable stay which though brief, allowed us to see why the Black Swan has such a fine reputation.
The Black Swan
Helmsley, North Yorkshire