Restaurant review: The Swan at Southrop

The Swan in Southrop

The Swan in Southrop - Credit: Archant

As Katie bids farewell to one of her flock, an excellent experience at the Swan at Southrop provides comfort and consolation

Miles, my baby, is off Interrailing in Europe, and I can’t sleep for the disasters queuing up for him. My children know I think like this. They send me texts when they’re away that either say, “Still alive!” or “Arrrgghhhhh!” depending on how generous they are feeling.

“Text me every day!” I beg Miles.

“Look,” says Miles. “If I promise that, and then I don’t have signal, you’ll think there’s been some kind of disaster.”

“I’ll think that anyway!” I point out. “In the 24 hours between texts.”

“Yes, but you’ll have Interpol out.”

It’s odd, I guess. When I was that age, away at university, we barely had carrier pigeon. There was one communal phone, in the block hallway, that only got answered if someone happened to walk past; then – if they could be bothered – they had to track down the student in question. My friend Fran (who made me play rude-word Scrabble every time a boyfriend dumped her) was thrilled when she answered a call for a boy she’d eyed for ages. Not only that but, when she knocked at his room door, he was in. Tragically, owing to stage fright, she fluffed at the crucial moment. Instead of saying, “Phone call!” she trilled, “Phone number!”, leaving him baffled, and another game of four-letter-word Scrabble on the cards. A fervent Catholic, she once daringly had me join her in a darkened room to recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards - though there was confusion as to whether this meant word-order- or complete letter-reversal. I’m sure God got the gist.

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In one particularly quiet term, Fran and I played hooky and caught a train to Brussels where her family had a huge, uninhabited mansion, the creepiest place on earth. Behind heavy velvet drapes, there were photographs of beautifully-gowned Victorian children, all in white, prone and wan - taken after death as if in the sweet repose of sleep. According to Fran, the sometime housekeeper, who silently served us cold meats and warm pastries at breakfast, was the product of an incestuous relationship between her father and his own daughter. In this dour Gothic finery, I (barely) slept in the ancient bed, high and hard, in which Fran’s grandmother had breathed her last. Fran was careful to tell me that. We made the mistake of watching a murder mystery that night on television.

“So you see,” Ian says, as we try to find the entrance to the Swan at Southrop, “Miles will be fine.” The entrance is only obvious once you realise it’s the entrance. But, when inside, it’s rather nice: warm without obvious sources of heat; candles burning cheerfully everywhere.

I’ve never been to the Swan before – an unforgiveable omission – but I already have a soft spot for it. It’s part of the estate that includes a country house hotel, holiday cottages and – significantly - the Thyme cookery school, where Ian once baked a never-to-be-repeated leg of lamb. Previous to that, he’d only ever tackled Findus Crispy Pancakes. In a microwave.

You know what? I often rather like restaurants; it’s quite rare that I love them. And rarer still that Ian and I agree on mutual admiration. But the Swan? Wow. These are the sorts of flavours that you get once in a blue moon: fabulous. I start with a wild nettle soup, dotted with quail eggs from the Swan’s own poultry (almost all the veg and salad are from the estate kitchen gardens), while Ian has a plate of Pata Negra Reserve (deliciously melting ham from plump Iberian pigs, named for their black trotters, who stuff themselves with fallen acorns) manchego, watercress and Pedro Ximenez – a dressing made from sweet Spanish wine. Just gorgeous: beautiful ingredients, perfectly handled to let the food speak for itself.

But, if we thought the starters were good, the mains are superb. I have pork fillet wrapped in prosciutto, with a baked saffron risotto, simply but effectively complemented by garlic, parsley and capers. So good. While Ian goes for an expertly cooked bavette.

And this is a pub where everyone is so nice! Did they have gluten-free bread? (A whim on my part.) Yes, of course, they’ll find some. Nothing too much trouble. And super-fast, friendly service, right up until ordering dessert, when the waitress disappears inexplicably. But we are forgiving, especially after tasting the most fabulous rhubarb crème brulee and a spicy orange and pistachio cake.

There are plenty of plans ahead, so I hear, as the Swan launches two gardens. There are also new visit-the-kitchen-garden days, followed by Sunday lunch.

Look - it’s not ‘cheap’ cheap, which makes it difficult to score (starters from £7.50-12.50; mains from £12.50 for a burger to £21.50 for a slow-cooked rabbit leg to £24.50 for that bavette. But, blimey, you’re repaid in full with sheer quality.

As we leave, the quiet corners are filling out with fellow diners. Good. It deserves to be full to the hilt.

I leave, relaxed and replete. And then the phone rings.

“Mum,” says a familiar, faraway voice. “I’ve missed my connection to Amsterdam.”

Ambience 8

Service 7.5

Food 9

Value for money 8

The Swan at Southrop, GL7 3NU, 01367 850205;

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