5 (minimum 1)
on 30 Oct 2009 /
I was looking for somewhere smart for a birthday dinner and the Swan seemed to fit the bill; it has a very smart website suggesting old world gastro-pub opulence and an up market, ‘fine-dining’ menu with prices to match. Main courses will set you back £11-15 with any vegetables or potato dishes costing an extra £3.00 so expectations were high.
The Swan has also been lauded for managing to retain its local clientele will also operating a high-end restaurant but unfortunately this means smartly dressed diners have to run the gauntlet of challenging looks from the gaggle of hard-drinking smokers gathered around the front entrance.
The welcome inside was hardly better; with a rather indifferent barman casually thumbing the direction to the restaurant as he pored the next pint of lager. Despite having booked two weeks in advance when we reached the restaurant they had no record of it but were ‘lucky’ that they had a table spare.
Although it was mid-week the place was nearly full so it obviously has a good reputation but unfortunately only two waiting staff so service was quite slow. We ordered a chicken and leek terraine and a mushroom tapenade to start with sea bass in a cream sauce and slow-cooked belly pork and chunky chips to follow.
As it was a special occasion we ordered two glasses of champagne which were priced at £7.00each on the main menu but, it subsequently turned out, priced at £7.50 on the wine list and charged to our bill as £15.00,not £14.00.
If we were to put our ‘Masterchef’ heads on (and at these prices who else are they aiming for but that Masterchef generation) then he chicken and leek terraine definitely needed more seasoning and the leeks were under-cooked. The mushroom tapenade was serviceable enough but came on a disc of white bread that had been over-toasted so that every attempt to cut it resulted in a small explosion of hard bread fragments across the table. Both dishes were accompanied by a small pile of very dry rocket leaves which were just screaming out for a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
On to the main courses and the sea bass was delightfully cooked although the sauce was very rich to the extent that my wife decided against a desert afterwards. My ‘Jimmy Buttler’s’ slow-cooked belly pork came with a very tasty sauce on a bed of new potatoes which were delightful.
Sadly the pork itself hadn’t been slow cooked properly and was tough that it was unmanageable without a steak knife and I eventually gave up on it. The chunky chips however would have passed the Heston Blumental ‘thrice cooked chips’ test being golden brown and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and these were probably the highlight of the meal. The meal was accompanied by a reasonably priced Orvietto which proved to be good value.
Our empty plates seemed to sit in front of us for an age before I eventually stacked them on an empty adjacent table which finally prompted the waitress into action.
For desert I had a pear and almond frangipan which was delightful but would have tasted better had I not had to clean dirt my spoon before starting and it is this sort of lack of attention to detail that lets the restaurant down.
W finished with a cappuccino and liquor coffee made with some pretty watery single cream (if it was cream at all) which was a long way removed from the concept of a gloriously creamy floater coffee which is what I’d thought I’d ordered. All in the bill came to £90 for two of us and even after allowing for the champagne and the desert that had been provided free of charge because of the inedible pork it was still a whopping £70 for two courses, wine and coffee.
For that sort of price I think we’d have expected something special but the service was below par and although the menu was good the cooking was generally very ordinary with a couple of mistakes thrown in.
Sadly too many pub restaurants seem to think they can just throw on some grey-green paint, put out some of those minimalist square oak-veneer tables and call themselves a gastro-pub in order to charge people £35 each for two courses with wine. Unless they actually deliver on the food and service, customers will not come back and eventually, when reviews like this start to accumulate they will stop coming altogether.