The Swan at Bampton
I remember as a child, an occasional Friday night treat would be to go to the Hen and Chicken pub just outside my home town in Alton, Hampshire for a lemonade and chicken or scampi in a basket.
It was amazing to take in all the sights and sounds of the great British pub from the chatter of the barmaid laughing with the locals, to the cloud of cigarette smoke clinging to the ceiling like mist over the hills of Dartmoor.
The pub industry has undergone many, many changes since then; to the first gastro pubs popping up in the 1990's serving big portions of hearty food to the smoking ban that was introduced in July 2007.
But things haven't always been great for the industry and, since the 2000, we have lost nearly 25% of this great institution. Thankfully micro breweries have been popping up like spots on a teenagers face, offering locally produced craft drinks, and due to our want for local food, the pub is fighting back. According to stats, in 2018 the industry showed signs of local pubs making a steady comeback.
One pub that is doing wonders is the Swan Inn. Located in the small village of Bampton, close to the beautiful Exmoor National Park.
Owned by Paul and Donna Berry since 2011, this talented couple with many years of hospitality behind them have, with great success, combined great local food with good old fashioned warmth. Along with stylish en-suite b&b rooms, this makes the Swan a perfect place to spend an evening or two.
With this dynamic duo, Paul leading front of house and Donna leading the kitchen team, it's no wonder they have won many awards including Gold Tourism Pub of the Year 2018 from South West Tourism Excellence Awards and Best Dining Pub in the well respected Trenchermans Awards to name but a few. They could let all these awards go their head and start offering big plates with carefully placed micro food which you need to google just to find out what you are eating, but what they offer is the best of local food with hearty portion sizes - allowing you to enjoy a three course meal without feeling so stuffed you'll worry if your clothing will survive the journey home, or left so hungry that at the end of the meal, instead of asking for the bill, you start to bother the barman for armful of snacks.
For starters I opted for the homemade crumpet with salt beef, celeriac remoulade, hollandaise and a poached egg.
What a great start to the meal; a light and fluffy crumpet topped with beautiful shavings of tender tasty beef and with a perfect amount of the creamy remoulade which was well seasoned. To take it to the next level, it was topped with a perfect poached egg. This was a clever, well thought out dish; every element needed to be prepared well to work together and I'm glad to say they did, each part of the dish sang on it's own, but together they formed a well rehearsed choir.
Choosing my main was the hardest choice of the evening; with dishes like Brixham hake, Newlyn ray wing and slow cooked blade of beef to name a few, but in the name of this review I grabbed a gin and tonic from the amazing selection they had on offer and knuckled down my decision.
I chose the corn fed chicken breast, lemon, thyme, parsnip puree, crackling, honey roasted parsnip, fondant potato, and jus.
Chicken is a hard meat to cook - as it's fat content is very low fat so cooking chicken whilst ensuring it retains its moisture is not an easy task. I'm delighted (but not surprised) to report that my chicken was cooked to perfection. Moist, with a beautiful buttery taste, crispy skin and the right amount of seasoning. Everything on the plate was expertly cooked from the salty crispy chicken skin to the well cooked fondant potato. This was all brought together by the jus (no Bisto here) which was so moreish I could have drank it by the bucket load.
With that warm and contented feeling you get after you have had a great meal and that smile on your face knowing that there is still one course to come I took time to look around. The pub was full of happy families, friends gathered to celebrate a birthday and locals enjoying a pint at the bar. You really don't get many pubs like this where everyone is just having a good time and with Paul and his team looking after everyone but never too busy to stop for a chat.
Making its way to the table was a little piece of heaven. If Willy Wonka ever got bored of making sweets and started making puddings, this sticky ginger pudding would have the oompa loompas fighting over who gets to lick the mixing bowl out. A beautiful light ginger sponge with a warming hint of ginger and a silky sauce and a scoop of real vanilla ice cream, nothing else to say about it really - it was the perfect end to a great evening.
Paul and Donna have created something special at The Swan; a place for locals and those further afield to come and enjoy a warm and friendly pub whether you are just having a pint at the bar, a meal or making a night of it by staying at one of the three very nice rooms which offers everything you need for a great nights sleep. And don't feel sad that when you wake up in the morning that your time at The Swan is over, you still have the amazing breakfast full of local produce to enjoy.
The Swan is what makes the great British pub... great! I really hope this delicate industry continues to grow, and if anyone out there is thinking of buying a pub, spend some time at The Swan, it will give you an insight to what you should be aiming to achieve.