Reviewed in Feast issue 41 – November 2019
It’s a strange meal, lunch. I am not referring to the food on offer, more the forms it takes and the clichés it has generated. ‘Out to lunch’ implies more than just food; the term Ladies Who Lunch has taken on a particular image; and how about ‘luncheon’ as it always is at Downton Abbey – ‘there will be one more for luncheon, Carson.’
For me it’s something of a treat.
Like a lot of busy families we tend to have our main meal in the evenings to fit in with working members; my lunch is more often a cheese roll and a packet of Mini Cheddars.
So, when the editor offered my wife and me a chance to have a proper ‘sit down’ lunch, we jumped at the chance. What’s more, the invitation was to The Swan, at Loddon, a place I hadn’t been to for about 30 years, particularly since Loddon was bypassed. It was much as I remembered, but, looking at the food on offer, a good deal more sophisticated.
The man in charge of things there is Andrew Freeland, who spared time for a pleasant chat with us as we discussed our menu choices. While the food menu is, like most places these days, nicely pared down – which makes things much easier for the diner – it was the impressive drinks menu which caught my eye.
There are, for example, 20 gins on offer. I am not a gin drinker, but my wife is a recent convert and there seemed to be a suitable gin for all occasions, from the UK, America, Spain and the Isle of Wight, no less. Andrew obviously has his finger on the pulse so far as popular alcohol is concerned, and this is also reflected on his
For a start it’s sensibly priced: it’s difficult to find a bottle for under £20 in a restaurant these days, but the Swan’s list starts at £17.50. But for those with deeper pockets and more discriminating taste buds, there is Andrew’s fine wine list, topped by what sounds like a delicious Puligny Montrachet at £65. Maybe another time!
Although the lunch and dinner menus are identical, there is plenty of choice, despite its dimensions; and there is always a supplementary blackboard choice of ‘specials’ from the kitchen team under the direction of chef Jason Wright, with meat and fish starters and mains, plus pub classics like burgers and fish and chips, sandwiches and puddings.
Though momentarily tempted by the special starter of smoked haddock and parmesan risotto (£7.95), I had already decided to have smoked haddock for my main dish, so went for the goats cheese mousse, with beetroot, apple and walnut dressing (£7.95).
My wife chose the pan fried mackerel fillet, with celeriac remoulade and rye toast (£6.50). My mousse was delicious, silky smooth and creamy, perfectly accompanied by the sweetness of the beetroot and apple. The mackerel was also beautifully presented and enjoyed, although I must apologise to my wife for eating her rye toast (which I thought was mine!).
Other starters on offer included soup of the day, ham hock terrine with a crispy hen’s egg, and cod and coley croquette, with red pepper purée and aubergine.
My wife’s choice for main was the pan-fried sea bream, with dill crushed potatoes, cauliflower, and a warm tartare sauce (£15.95) from the specials board; my smoked haddock, spinach, crushed potatoes and brown shrimp beurre blanc (£15.95) matched it in the presentation sense; and in both cases, the fish was perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned.
If you didn’t want fish, then the menu included pea and mint risotto, ballotine of chicken leg with roasted onion, mash and jus, and venison chops, with butternut squash, roasted garlic mash and kale. See what I mean about the choice?
We couldn’t, regretfully, manage desserts although the choice of chocolate marquise, lemon curd cheesecake, raspberry parfait and Lakenham Creamery ice cream was a tempting one.
Whether it be lunch (or luncheon) or dinner, or just a nice gin and tonic, then it is well worth branching off the A146 and rediscovering Loddon – and The Swan in particular.