Wind along country lanes between picturesque villages such as Helmsley and Pickering in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, to find chefs using an abundance of local produce. From smart, seasonal dining to delis and pick your own strawberries, here are eight of our favourite spots to eat and drink in the moorlands and market towns northeast of York.
The Black Swan, Oldstead
A 2.5-acre allotment in picturesque Oldstead provides The Black Swan with the ultimate kitchen garden. Everyone from the chefs to the owners of this Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms mucks in to tend Minnesota midget melons, oyster leaves that taste of the sea and myriad other fruit and vegetables.
When we arrived owner Tom Banks was collecting eggs from the Indian Runner ducks while eldest son James had come to collect honey from the family’s bee hives, and youngest son (and head chef) Tommy ducked into the greenhouse to pick green tomatoes.
Cocktails, snacks and the tasting menu at The Black Swan are all produce-led. Nestle in to a booth in the cosy bar area and enjoy sherbet-y rhubarb schnapps with meadowsweet, lemon balm and rhubarb vinegar along with intricate amuse-bouches – 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.
Move in to the dining room and bag a table by the window overlooking the vast kitchen garden while Tommy and his team work away in the open kitchen preparing ingredients picked that same morning (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).
The highlight of our tasting menu was a beetroot steak that had been roasting in beef fat on the grill since 8am that morning. And a scallop tartare with celeriac crisp and apple was fun: served on a bespoke plate made by a potter in York, when you’ve finished you lift the plate to reveal a second scallop dish, this time roasted in citrussy butter with olive-textured spruce tips and celeriac puree.
Puddings are inventive, too – a trio of lollipops had 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. (If you can fit anything else in, order an espresso and it will be served with the likes of delicate lovage macaroons, or intense butterscotch truffles.)
The Star Inn, Harome
At this 14th-century thatched inn it’s a tough choice of tables between huge oak benches overlooking the kitchen garden and a snug little nook in the low-ceilinged bar. Either spot is ideal for a gin and tonic made from Whittaker’s Gin, distilled in Nidderdale using local bilberries, hawthorn and thyme.
In the kitchen garden the team grows broad beans (used, among other things, for a delicious lovage-buttered pea, broad bean and asparagus soup), baby leeks (served alongside elderflower-scented Norfolk quail ‘osso bucco’), and lavender (just a dash of which is added to sheep’s milk and strawberry eton mess).
What owner and head chef Andrew Pern can’t grown himself he sources in and around the village of Harome – slow-growing, free-range Loose Birds chickens, Harome roe deer for cottage pie, and Mrs Hall’s honey in crème caramel with honey- soaked sultanas. This is food cooked from the heart with great finesse.
Helmsley Walled Garden Cafe, Helmsley
Set on the outskirts of Helmsley Walled Garden, a five-acre idyll blooming with fruit trees, peonies, clematis, cornflowers and much more, The Vine House Café is a lovely way to enjoy the gardens and its wildlife.
The menu focuses on simple, homemade dishes such as seasonal soups (spring veg, feta and mint), open sandwiches (chicken with a spicy peanut sauce or ham with homemade pickles), and beautiful salad boards (the Yorkshire salad includes local pork pie, ham, cheese and pickles). For dessert, order a pot of Yorkshire tea, or coffee roasted in York, and a freshly baked cake and take in the peaceful scenery.
The White Swan, Pickering
This 16th coaching inn, in Pickering, is an ideal, centrally located, stop for anyone doing a foodie tour of Ryedale. Rooms in the inn’s converted stables are clean and comfortable with squishy beds, heated stone floors and giant televisions (the DVD library is extensive). In winter, snuggle into a squishy sofa below exposed beams in the guest lounge, The Bothy. Help yourself to complimentary Yorkshire tea, coffee and homemade biscuits, or choose your tipple from the honesty bar and put your feet up by the log fire.
Breakfast is sourced locally – Whitby smoked kippers, Doreen’s black pudding triangles from Dalton, house-soaked prunes and apricots, and sausages and bacon from Marleys Butchers in nearby Helmsley. Go for a full Yorkshire or try something ever so slightly lighter – smoked haddock kedgeree or eggs benedict.
The local ethos carries through to the dinner menu. Try super lightly battered Whitby fish and chips with homemade tartare sauce, herb-fed loose birds from Harome with farmhouse potatoes, and lobster from Bridlington. And don’t miss the pork belly or the beef. The meat for both comes from the Ginger Pig and with the company’s farm just up the road, the hotel can arrange a farm tour for interested guests.
Willowgate Bistro, Pickering
Husband and wife team, Matthew and Gemma Bird, opened this tiny bistro at the top of the hill in Pickering just two weeks after their son was born, and their passion and dedication really shows. Choose an aperitif from the tiny wooden bar in the corner of the room and listen to soft jazz as you peruse the short and well thought-out menu.
Matt runs his kitchen just as you would do at home – he buys meat every morning from Horseley’s butchers next door but one, and pops across the road to Taylor’s greengrocers to gather his fruit and veg.
The menu focuses on simple but imaginative home cooking with clever twists. Locally shot pigeon breast is served on parsnip puree with air-dried bacon popcorn. Pan-fried sea bream and crunchy sautéed vegetables are spiced up with a fragrant, homemade Thai green curry sauce. Chicken comes as a mini chicken kiev with creamy celeriac puree and more crunchy greens.
Save room for the chocolate fondant sponge with a gooey middle and a swirl of coulis made from raspberries picked from an allotment at the top of the village. With a generous scoop of homemade chocolate and Bailey’s ice cream, this is the perfect pud to end a comforting and great value meal.
Cedarbarn Farm Shop and Cafe, Pickering
A trove of Yorkshire produce, this deli and farm shop on the outskirts of Pickering is an ideal spot to stop off at if you’re looking to pick up a few foodie souvenirs to take home with you. Rosebud Preserves jams, Yorkshire honey, Cartwright and Butcher butterscotch crunch biscuits and Wold Top Brewery ales are all popular sellers.
If you’re renting a self-catering cottage, ask the on-site butchers to prepare home-reared beef and lamb, pick up an Aberdeen Angus steak pie, or choose flipping-fresh fish caught just 15 miles away in Scarborough.
Or, if you want to go one step further, grab a punnet and pick your own strawberries. Then reward yourself with a cottage pie in the café or a burger from the Flying Yorkshireman dining cart that opens as a pop-up café at lunchtimes.
Hunters of Helmsley, Helmsley
Set in a prime location on Helmsley’s Market Place, this corner shop is so much more than a deli. Punters queue at a hole in the wall to wait for scoops of locally made Brymor ice cream (or, in winter, to enjoy hot, deep-filled topside of beef sandwiches, made to order).
If you’re into your craft beer, this is the place to indulge in a spending spree (or should that be taste test?), with over 40 locally brewed bottled beers in stock (we liked Riggwelter and Scarborough Fair).
Upstairs is a food hall jam-packed with Hunters own preserves, local honeys, teas from Taylors of Harrogate and artisan chocolates from Lauden in nearby Leeds.
Feversham Arms, Helmsley
On a sunny day, make the most of the poolside courtyard at Feversham Arms, an upmarket hotel in the village of Helmsley. Though service can be a little hit and miss in the main restaurant, The Weathervane, we found the poolside area a lovely spot to lounge; perch on one of the funky sofas with an Aperol Spritz or a Pimms and you could almost mistake your surroundings for Provence.
The big hit here was a cream tea, complete with fluffy scones, strawberry jam, lemon curd and thick clotted cream. If you’re in the market for a bit of pampering, this is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
New head chef John Schwarz was about to take over the kitchen when we visited so we’re looking forward to seeing him work his magic in Helmsley
Other places to eat and drink in Ryedale
Ryedale Vineyards, North Yorkshire
There’s no visitor centre, shop or café at England’s most northerly commercial vineyard, rather a tiny winery set in a listed cowshed. Here Stuart Smith conducts tastings, once his wife Elizabeth has guided guests around the entirely unmechanised site. Tours and tastings take place between April and October, or, if you’re staying at the vineyard, you can book a private tour for any day of the week. ryedalevineyards.co.uk
What to eat At Mount House B&B in Terrington, owner Kathryn might cook venison in the autumn, or seabass, followed by a creamy Italian pud. Book dinner in advance for £30 for 3-courses.
What to drink One of Ryedale’s award-winners, such as a bottle of Yorkshire’s Lass, a delicate dry white.
Where to stay In a pretty, homely double or twin at Mount House starting from £90 per night.
For more information about eating and drinking in Yorkshire, listen to our podcast here
Written by Alex Crossley
Photographs by Alex Crossley
First published July 2016
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