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An unforgettable dining experience - Chef’s Table by Josh Barnes at Swinton Park

I was lucky enough to be invited along as a guest to experience the Chef’s Table by Josh Barnes at Swinton Park Hotel. I have often collected guests from the hotel and visited a number of times with Tour Operators on Familiarisation trips, but had never dined there, so I was excited by the opportunity.


I’d never experienced a Chef’s Table event before either, so a quick Google search told me to expect…


“A table located in the kitchen of a restaurant, reserved for special guests and allowing them to see the chef at work and sometimes to be served a tasting menu”.


I was looking forward to my visit as I had heard about Chef Josh Barnes arriving at Swinton Park earlier in the year and had read about Josh’s plans for an “Estate to Plate” ethos of food offerings. With the Swinton Park Estate being larger than Manhattan, the estate can provide a huge range of ingredients, many of which are seasonal and can be built into tasting menus.


A bit of background about Josh Barnes…

His reputation preceded him and there was a buzz around the Yorkshire food scene when he arrived at Swinton.


Josh came to Swinton Park after a spell at Goldsborough Hall just outside Knaresborough, securing an entry in the Michelin Guide. Before that he had served as Head Chef at the Galvin Brothers’ La Chapelle restaurant in London, retaining the restaurant’s prized Michelin Star and 3AA rosette status. So pretty good credentials!


Upon arriving at the Estate at 7pm, we were met by Matt, the restaurant manager and our sommelier for the evening and shown into the room which also hosts the Swinton Park Cookery School.


The large room complete with double fronted Aga, is light and welcoming with drinks and wines set up in the far corner, a huge island with seats for dining of up to 12 and a small seated area with glass table with classic cook books. There is even one by Rosemary Shrager who originally set up the cookery school at Swinton Park.


We were provided with a glass of fizz and served some appetisers. The most interesting being the sinew of a cow that had been cooked and puffed up to a crisp, served with wild garlic and peppercorn mayonnaise. Josh explained that he had a philosophy of not wanting to waste any edible part of an animal, so had experimented with the sinews, dehydrating them and then and frying them in hot fat. They were served on a bone and looked like fungi, but with the dip were delicious.


Matt then served the first wine. I have to admit I was at first surprised as we were shown a Japanese white to go with the first two courses. I was worried it would taste like Saki, but it really was an unexpected treat, with Matt explaining the back story behind the family business.


The first course was a Smoked Seabass, Lobster Emulsion and Turnip. This was served in a puffball which gave a strong smoky flavour upon biting into it. It was lovely and who would have thought that turnip would go with lobster!


Course two was a Lincolnshire Poacher, Leek Veloute – a really strong cheese flavoured dish with a crunch. A posh Dairlea Dunker was apparently how someone had previously described the dish. I really enjoyed this, being a fan of strong cheeses.

It is worth noting that as well as the food and wine being great so far, this was not just about fine dining, it was more of an experience. The atmosphere was relaxed with Josh, his Sous Chef Kieran along with Matt, chatty and friendly. We were able to watch them prepare dishes, ask questions about the ingredients, their preparation, presentation, where the ideas had come from and how they were cooked.


It gave a real insight and understanding into the whole process and how much thought had gone into each dish.


Continuing on with the courses we were served a lovely warm sourdough bread with home made butters, but were careful not to fill up too much on this with a number of courses still to come.


The bread actually came with a Duck & Waterfall Farm Pork Liver. Whilst this was paired with an Olifantsberg 2018 white from the Western Cape (which was wonderful), Matt also asked us if we would like to try another drink they were considering as an alternate pairing.


This was a wild fermented Thornborough Cider from just down the road, close to the historic Thornborough Henges. The owner of Thornborough Cider had only dropped the bottles off that afternoon, so we felt quite proud to be the guinea pigs! It was very dry and I felt it worked well with the pork liver but Josh was less sure!

The next dish was called Beef Part 1, served with a Pinot Noir/Cabernet Sauvignon by Binz & Batts. It was a pleasant light red which went well with the crispy style beef served with sheep’s yoghurt and wild garlic.


Next up was a Cod dish. The Cod which had been dry aged was wrapped in spring cabbage and served with a mushroom broth. This was delicious, the dry aging of the cod giving it a much stronger more intense flavour and was served with a Spanish Alvarinho.


The final savoury course was very special and aptly titled Beef part II! This was a more traditional beef dish served with lovage, seasonal vegetables from Swinton’s walled garden, wild garlic and beef tendon. This was a more classic dish than the previous more experimental Beef Part 1 and I think just shaded it for me.


Worth mentioning that this was served with a Lebanese wine from Chateau Musar, but not the most widely recognised version, but a Pere et Fils called Hochar. It really was an inspired choice and complimented the dish perfectly.

With all the accompanying vegetables it was interesting to hear about the close working relationship Josh has with Dame Susan Cunliffe-Lister, mother of Mark the 4th Earl of Swinton and owner of the estate. Now in her 80’s, Susan, a former president of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, is head gardener at Swinton and helps provide a wealth of seasonal produce that is either foraged or grown within the large walled garden.


On to the sweets...


First up was a Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, Ivoire and Aged Soy. I love rhubarb and this dish did not disappoint, the tartness of the rhubarb offset by the custard and a super sweet white chocolate.


The final dish was Carmelia, Chicken of the Woods and Milk Ice Cream. It may sound strange but this was where mushroom had been infused into chocolate to create a distinctive intense chocolate flavoured pud. Matt had paired this dish with a really unusual dessert wine from Uraguay – an Alcyone. I have never tasted anything like this, the first mouth full giving you an intense chocolatey hit before calming into a more floral, sweet flavour.


A lovely dish to finish.


So to the costs, The Chef’s Table by Josh Barnes is £90 per head (and the wine paring an additional £70). But the event is more than just a tasting menu with great food, as mentioned earlier it is the whole “dining experience”.


In summary, the event can accommodate 12 diners each evening and runs from Wednesday to Saturday each week.


It is not every day you get to chat and learn from such a highly rated chef and in reality I think this would be an experience that all “foodies” would enjoy. Whilst the Chef’s table is often attended by guests from the hotel, it is open to all and would be a memorable part of any visit to the Yorkshire region or people wanting a special occasion for friends or family.


The menu is constantly tweaked as Josh experiments and ingredients come in and out of season.


It was certainly a memorable experience for myself and my wife. I hope to be back later in the year with friends.




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