Reviewed in Feast issue 37 – June 2019
Daniel Smith is passionate about food. Not that such a thing should come as a surprise when we’re talking about the chef/patron at three of Norfolk’s leading food venues. But he has a glint in his eye that is almost evangelical when he talks about his profession and what appears on the table for his customers. Going out for a meal, for most people, is about the menu, the ambience, the service…But as he declares: ‘there’s far more to it than that!’
His aim is to give his customer a true foodie experience, sampling top ingredients, cooked with skill and care and presented in the best possible manner. Only then, it seems, is he satisfied.
My wife and I were invited to try the tasting menu at Ingham Swan (Daniel also co-owns the Wildebeest at Stoke Holy Cross, and Warwick Street Social in the city’s Golden Triangle). The Swan, as most will know, has risen like a Phoenix from the flames of a disastrous fire back in 2017; it re-opened a couple of months ago with much of the original structure intact, and so retains a familiarity to those who knew and loved it before the fire.
The seven-course Taste of the Ingham Swan is a kind of microcosm of what the food here is all about. It kicks off with snacks, which are sort of upmarket Canapés; we sampled goats’ cheese and red onion on a rice cracker, plus smoked salmon served with crème frâiche and for me the pick of the bunch, the apple boudin on a piece of pork crackling. This would normally be served with a 100ml glass of champagne, but, with a drive home in mind, we opted not to choose the wine flight!
Next came the pre-starter, delicious local asparagus served with a confit egg yolk; the latter calls for considerable skill to get it right, but this one was perfect.
The mere mention of duck – the centrepiece of the starter – always brings back memories of Fawlty Towers and Basil’s ‘reveal’ of a trifle instead of the expected duck. This one, however, was smoked and rich in flavour, enhanced by the tiny jug of duck tea. The pear purée provided a nice contrast to the meat.
The fish course comprised scallop (again, perfectly cooked) with saffron cauliflower, raisin purée and crispy chicken. It’s nice to see cauliflower enjoying a spell of popularity as its nutty texture provides a textural contrast in a dish of this kind.
On to the main course, which featured superb fillet of beef, sumptuous and tender, with potato terrine, pancetta, baked red onion, celeriac and shitake mushrooms, in a port reduction. Neither of us are regular red meat eaters, but felt this was outstanding.
Pre-dessert arrived in the form of a sharp and tangy lime parfait in a champagne jelly, topped with tiny meringues which provided a taste contrast.
There is an old saying about keeping the best until last, and so it was with the dessert, a rhubarb soufflé, with Tonka bean custard and a rhubarb sorbet. Light as a feather and rich in flavour, it was the ideal final hurrah to an outstanding meal.
The tasting menu costs £58 per person; the additional wine flight adds another £32.The Swan also has a fixed price dinner menu (£23.50 for two courses, £28 for three) and an à la carte choice.
Great Yarmouth-born Daniel has enjoyed the kind of cookery career that, in the words of a certain Daily Mail commentator, you couldn’t make up. How many other chefs have started as a teenager dispensing candy floss at Yarmouth Pleasure Beach and then going, via Yarmouth’s Imperial Hotel and Morston Hall, to work at Le Gavroche, run by the Roux family and one of London’s finest? Oh, and appearing on BBC Television’s Great British Menu series, and there are influences from this in his menus.
Such experience has obviously helped shape the way he wants to do things. And if our dining experience was anything to go by he, and head chef Alex Clare, have got it just right!