Not so much a hotel, more an entertainment venue – Paul Naylor visits a 300-year-old inn...
While its roots are well and firmly linked to the 18th Century, one former coaching inn, on Stafford’s high street has become so much more.
The Swan Inn, part of the family-run Lewis Partnership, is around 300 years old and while it retains some period features, is very much a contemporary choice.
In recent times it has been subjected to a wonderful makeover, with refined guest rooms and suites featuring TVs and free WiFi, as well as tea and coffee making equipment. Some rooms also have four-poster beds.
Amenities, which are also open to non-residents, include a cafe, two bars, a garden plus a sophisticated Brasserie.
The brasserie was my destination on a recent visit to the county town.
I hadn’t been to The Swan for some time and on this revisit I found it to be a most vibrant hub. The cafe was buzzing with life, as were the two bars, with folk milling around the covered archway leading to the Brasserie, some eyeing up the artwork on display that was for sale. All very cosmopolitan.
Along with my partner Mandy, I made my way towards the Brasserie, announcing my arrival at reception.
For a Saturday lunchtime, it was reasonably busy. We were seated close to the window – perfect for people-watching – by a pleasant young lady. In fact, the young staff were all very polite throughout.
The Brasserie is rather pleasant, where plenty of space is afforded in this beautifully lit dining room. A wall of eclectic mirrors add to the brightness, while beams and deep windows remind you of its heritage. We were asked if we would like water with our meal – always a nice touch – and ordered a bottle of pinot grigio (£16.50) too.
The menu is good. Plenty of fabulous options, whatever your tastes.
I opted to start with the crab (£6.50). Described on the menu as tempura soft shell crab, with Asian salad, chilli, lime and coriander dressing, I shouldn’t have been surprised when it arrived. However, I was.
Perhaps I was expecting something more deconstructed, but my starter was a whole crab, battered.
I picked my way around it. What I ate was delicious, but having discussed the dish with a friend of mine – who is something of a foodie – a few days later, I could indeed have eaten more. Apparently it was all fair game. My inexperience beat me on this occasion. If you enjoy crab, you’ll love this.
Mandy’s goats’ cheese starter (£5.95) was a little disappointing.
It was described on the menu as ‘pistachio crusted goats’ cheese, freeze dried beetroot, aged balsamic and toast. Unfortunately, the beetroot was fairly non-existent and the toast laughable. It looked more like someone had eaten the toast and left a few crusts. It was a tasty enough dish, but again, perhaps not served to expectations. The cheese to bread ratio inexplicable.
The mains rectified the mild disappointment of the introductory course.
My pork belly (£13.50) was delicious. A confit of Tamworth pork belly, served with an intriguing bacon jam, cider pickled cabbage and bramley apples, it was perfectly balanced with creamy mash and a rich jus.
Mandy’s sweet potato burger (£11.25) was greeted with equal relish (no pun). Sweet potato, chick pea and lentils form the burger, with roasted peppers, fried halloumi, coriander and lime mayo, served with French fries. A great choice.
When it came to dessert, I had already spotted an eyebrow-raising alternative on the menu. In addition to the more regular puds, a list of tasty cocktails was on offer. And the most eye catching was called The Grasshopper (£5.50). I liked the sound of that – a grown up mint choc chip treat, featuring creme de menthe and blue curacao. It was indeed a treat. I thought it could have been a little greener, but the taste was amazing.
Mandy’s more down-to-earth choice of a chocolate brownie (£5.50) was also good, but lacked the wow factor of my cocktail.
Leaving through the bustling arch, with friends and families enjoying all that the venue had to offer, I reflected on what had been an enjoyable experience. Yes, it is a fabulous place to go for a drink or meal, and I have no doubt that the rooms are excellent too.
My main criticism would be that if you advertise toast as part of a dish, folk expect more than a crusty remnant.
Would I return? Of course. It is superb. I’ll just be careful what I order next time.
By Paul Naylor