Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks on his new restaurant Roots

The Staff Canteen

Tommy Banks, chef owner of The Black Swan at Oldstead, is enjoying breaking out of the Michelin mould with his new restaurant Roots, in York.

He spoke to The Staff Canteen about this new challenge, discovering a different side to dish creation and how hard it is to open a restaurant from scratch!

tommy banks roots 2
Tommy Banks - credit
Richard Vines instagram 

Tommy Banks and his team have had the full focus of the foodies on them for the past two years, being named Best Restaurant in the World by TripAdviser definitely put the spotlight on them and the tiny village of Oldstead.

Tommy comes from a farming background and the family run restaurant is now known for its self-sufficient ethos –  you won't find much on your plate which hasn’t been grown on their land.

Now he has a new venture, Roots, in what used to be a pub next to the River Ouse in York. It has been transformed into one of this year’s most anticipated new eateries. No pressure!

“It’s been a major project but it’s looking beautiful,” said Tommy. “It’s had a complete facelift – when you start a project like this you think it’ll be easy and you can do it but then there’s one thing after another and it’s turned into quite a big job.”

He added: “I’m better at the actual cooking and running of a restaurant than the making of a restaurant!”

Tommy was just 17 when his parents opened The Black Swan and he says he ‘wasn’t really relevant in that’.

“This has been a learning curve and it’s completely different. Coming up with the concept and the branding and that kind of thing, that’s the really fun part. But the operations and the logistics side is something new to learn,” explained Tommy.

“We just wanted to create a space which is unique and beautiful.”

The doors opened on Saturday (September 15) and the menu for the 55-seater restaurant is based on Tommy’s book also called Roots. There will be three menus a year and they are opening in the ‘preserving season’ chapter of the book so they have been on a drive to preserve ingredients this summer to support this.

Lamb and Fermented Turnip Bao
Lamb and Fermented Turnip Bao

It will be sharing plates with only one dish coming over from its big brother, The Black Swan, and that will be the beetroot. At Roots you can expect dishes such as Oldstead onions, duck egg and truffle or lamb and fermented turnip bao.

Having built such a huge reputation at The Black Swan and guests needing to book months in advance to try Tommy’s food – will visitors to Roots be expecting that same Michelin-starred experience but without the price tag?

Tommy said: “I think that is one of the reasons I didn’t want to do a tasting menu restaurant, the comparisons would have been so obvious and yes people would have expected them to be the same. The sharing plates menu allows you to order the entire menu if you want to and it gives Roots a completely different feel to the Black Swan.”

He added: “The ethos is the same and the produce is the same, but the dishes are different. I’ve tried to make a real point that Roots is a standalone restaurant in its own right. It’s more casual and informal.”

He went on to say that The Black Swan can be quite contradictory in terms of its self-sufficient ethos as a tasting menu only small restaurant. They may do 1000 perfect tomatoes which are exactly 1cm across but all the tomatoes which don’t fit that – where do they go?

“You have to find a use for them and Roots takes a lot of pressure off The Black Swan as we can use that produce, it’s really helping with the farm and the self-sufficiency,” explained Tommy.

Tommy will be splitting his time between both sites, if you want to see him in action at Roots which is open six days, lunchtime is your best bet as The Black Swan doesn’t do a lunch service! Roots will have two kitchens, a production kitchen and a service kitchen, these will be headed up by Joel Foulds and Nick Brown and Tommy says his staff have been key in this new project.

“The core members of staff are people who have worked at The Black Swan for three or four years. A lot of them are at a point in their lives where they are looking to start a family, so I wanted to create roles which could be done during the day or Monday to Friday, nine till five. The hours are very easy for a chef job.

roots team
The Roots team - credit Roots York instagram

“One thing I was told a lot by chefs about opening a second place was that I’ll lose a lot of chefs in the first few weeks or months. I couldn’t understand why if you had everything organised, so that was the thinking behind trying to create a sustainable environment from the get go.”

The sharing dishes have been something new and interesting for Tommy who is used to the smaller, intricate dishes at The Black Swan.

He said: “You get used to making very precise, petite, nice bites of food on a tasting menu so it’s been fun to start making things a bit bigger.

It’s a totally different type of food, which is a good thing and it gives the guests different experiences.”

“It’s been a challenge. I know The Black Swan and its food, I know whether it’s good or not,” he joked. “But for Roots you question yourself and I imagine like most new restaurants in six months we’ll have changed everything!”


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th September 2018

Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks on his new restaurant Roots