June 5 2019

Pig Guide review: The Swan, Swineford

The Swan (Swineford, around halfway along the Bath-Bristol A431) is a very special pub that makes you realise how very un-special most contemporary pubs actually are.

You know how loads of pubs these days train their staff to be ‘welcoming’ (as in, apparently, call everybody “guys” and take it from there), and bang on about being at the heart of the community because they donated £26.71 towards the renovation of the local Village Hall the year before last, and boast that “tradition is at the heart of everything they do” even though their ‘traditional’ pub grub is delivered by refrigerated lorry every third week and stored in a stack of vac-packed boxes in a cold room they coyly refer to as The Pantry? Well The Swan is the polar opposite of all that.

Part of an unassuming row of roadside cottages (I’m guessing, 18th century-ish, although the road itself has a history that dates back to Roman times, while popular legend has it that Swineford is where Prince Bladud herded his pigs across the river and the mud provided a cure for his leprosy and that of his pigs – so there), the pub doesn’t have to do much to make itself look appealing because its surroundings easily do all the hard work for it; think, rolling hills, wild flower-strewn road verges and the River Avon’s Swineford Lock within walking distance, and you get the pretty picture. Meanwhile, a spacious beer garden turns a pub pitstop into a pastoral paradise experience, and an extremely well-appointed children’s play area keep the little ones happy while you sup your pint of Gem.

Gem? Yes indeed – or Sulis, or Prophecy, or Wild Hare, perhaps? For we are, after all, on Bath Ales territory here… so therefore in very safe hands indeed. And from the off, it looks as though the kitchen has ‘got this’ (as the young people say) too; there’s a massive homemade blueberry and lemon cake under a cloche on the counter, and braised squid and chorizo bolognese on the specials’ board, and a chalk board flagging up the pub’s latest taster menu event highlights some of the most imaginative fresh fish/seafood dishes I’ve heard tell of in a very long time… but darn, I missed the date! (Note to self: sign up for the pubs’ news and offer bulletin immediately.)

What we didn’t miss, however, is rather a lot, because the pub’s regular menu is a neat, sweet, accessibly-priced array of something for everybody, including several fascinating meat-free options and lesser-spotted, imaginative twists such as that bolognese keeping attention levels up at every turn.

Starters of a generous, shimmering tangle of wild mushrooms in a silky cider and tarragon cream sauce that turned the toast foundation into a decadently moist, sensual experience, and super-fresh, super-non-rubbery chilli and lime squid served with a classy saffron aioli were of a standard one would normally expect to encounter in a very posh Bath city centre restaurant and generous enough to be enjoyed as a stand-alone lunch. For mains, we opted to take a classic route: for me, succulent fish (Bath Ales battered, of course), perfect chips (loads of them!), a mound of minted, crush peas and a lavish wave of proper tartare sauce; for Mr Pig, a fat, juicy sirloin steak served with intensely tomato-ey confit tomato, peas and more of those perfect chips. Both dishes were flawless examples of their genre, massively satisfying and really well presented, and all-round rollickingly good.

Have you got room for dessert?” Well the pear frangipane tart sounds promising, and you just know that the apple and berry strudel is gonna be good, and who doesn’t go weak at the waistband for a chocolate brownie? But hey, we’d already spotted that blueberry and lemon cake. And so it came to pass that we shared a huge wedge of celebrated cake-flavour combination, tender as an early summer breeze, soft as a willow frond, sweet but brightly sharp… whoever is responsible for making this cake deserves a Hollywood Handshake, let alone a Prue Prize.

So, just to reiterate: The Swan is a very special pub that makes you realise how very un-special most contemporary pubs actually are; we hereby heartily recommend that you swan along to Swineford on a regular basis.

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