By Benjamin Daniells
I’ve recently been lucky enough to join the team at the Black Swan as part of their garden crew. Having visited as a guest for a meal with family, it was great to discover that the restaurant is as awe-inspiring from the inside as it is from the outside. The whole place captures your imagination from the moment you arrive. You may have heard stories from friends, or you may have seen Tommy doing his thing on the tele, whatever has led you to Oldstead, it’s true to say that there is magic behind the scenes.
The Black Swan is old, it began life in the 16th century. To put that in perspective, it’s older than the United States of America. In that lifetime it must have seen its share of development, yet now is surely it’s most exciting period. The whole team is part of a movement to push their own boundaries and add a remarkable chapter to this prodigious history.
Understandably I feel very fortunate to have come on board at this moment. The garden was reclaimed just 3 years ago, from a large pony paddock and comes with the added challenge of a rather steep slope that makes up half the growing space. It was an undertaking that would cause most people to stop and consider their life choices. Yet it has been made to work. In fact more than that, the garden has thrived and has produced food that captivates everyone that enters. And enter you will. The garden has an almost magnetic quality, drawing you in to explore and uncover raw materials that the wizards inside the restaurant transform into an unforgettable dining experience.
Our garden here is built on a blueprint of experimentation that encourages you to grow what others don’t. Standing here surveying the abundance, I am grateful for the effort and work of everyone involved in getting the garden to such an incredible standard. The bar has been set and I have the exciting challenge of raising it further.
For me a huge part of that challenge will be to ensure longevity. We’re only ever stewards of the land. The aim is always to leave it better than when you arrived and ensure it can provide for years to come. As a result most of the work in the garden is quite an understated affair. If it’s done well, everything comes together as people expect. If it’s done poorly, then the signs are everywhere. Good or bad, evidence of your choices will be obvious to everyone who follows.
The work that goes into getting it right, such as building the soil, is all done beneath the radar. Yet factors such as the soil have far-reaching effects and can simultaneously enhance how nutritious our food is, the yields we obtain and ultimately the flavour of what is put on your plate. Despite this, it’s often a challenge to convey the excitement and challenge of any garden. Even I am hard pressed to extol the virtues of any growing endeavour when the chefs are busy creating edible paints with fermented chilli or the bar team are concocting powerful neon cocktails!
Here at Oldstead exist fruit trees that many people wouldn’t realise grow in this country, let alone on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. There are outdoor lemons and limes that catch your eye from the dining room, hinting of the treasures to come. Then there are the wineberries, that will commandeer your undivided attention as you stand and witness your out of control hand reach out again and again for more of the delicious luminescent berries. Not to mention the squash that are straight out of a child’s sketch book, cucumbers that explode, leaves that taste of the sea and chilli pepper wannabes growing on mini trees. In short, there is no where quite like The Black Swan, it needs to be seen to be believed, you deserve to experience it for yourself.
Until then, I’ll try and bring you something different every week and explore how our plants progress from field to fork.
Follow Ben over on our newest Instagram account @theblackswangarden to see how he overcomes the exciting challenges that face him here at The Black Swan at Oldstead.