Why The World’s Best Restaurant Is Rooting For Beetroot
A cooking lesson from Mr Tommy Banks, the chef behind The Black Swan.
The best restaurant in the world is a family-run country pub in North Yorkshire, England. That’s according to you – well, more specifically, the online review site TripAdvisor, which handed The Black Swan the accolade in its 2017 Travellers’ Choice Awards based on user recommendations. The man in the kitchen is Mr Tommy Banks, a born and bred Yorkshireman and Michelin-starred chef who champions local produce. He sources most of his ingredients from the adjoining kitchen garden or from the nearby farm, which has been in the hands of the Banks family for generations. This December, as a snowstorm blew in and swaddled the land he grew up on with a blanket of white, MR PORTER visited Mr Banks at The Black Swan to discover how a policy of “a minimum distance from field to fork” has turned this remote restaurant into a world beater.
Our story starts on the farm, where a small field has been given over to the crapaudine beetroot, a gnarly, toad-like strain of the vegetable that has been growing natively in the British Isles for 1,000 years. This ancient root is the star of Mr Banks’ signature dish, crapaudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat, which he was inspired to create after learning just how heavily the country relies on imported produce. “In relative terms, Britain’s only able to feed itself until August every year,” he says. “This dish is a homage to the land and a reminder of what we’re capable of growing ourselves.”
These crapaudine beets – nicknamed “craps” by the Banks family – grow incredibly slowly, reaching a full size of more than 1kg and developing a tough, woody skin that protects them from spoiling once harvested, assuming they’re stored correctly. “The beauty of this vegetable is that we can sow it once, harvest it once and serve it all year round,” says Mr Banks. The beets are cooked on a low heat in beef fat for four hours, during which time they caramelise, sweeten and take on the flavour and texture of a piece of prime beef. The cooked beets are smoked, glazed and then served with slivers of pickled beetroot, cod roe emulsion and linseed crackers. “This is my version of a fillet steak,” he says. “You wouldn’t think twice about cooking a piece of beef in vegetable oil, so why not do it the other way round?”
For all of its benefits, a commitment to using exclusively home-grown produce is never an easy one. It becomes especially challenging during the meagre winter months, when the output of the land is reduced to a handful of brassicas, hardy perennials and root vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes and the famous crapaudine beets. Limitations inspire creativity, however, and The Black Swan’s enticing winter menu – not to mention the small matter of its accolade of TripAdvisor’s best restaurant in the world – is testament to what’s possible with a few simple ingredients, a little bit of patience and a bold imagination.
Roots (Seven Dials) by Mr Tommy Banks is out 5 April 2018. Pre-order it here
What he wears
Film by Mr Kyle Macfadzean