Restaurant review: The Swan Inn, Esher
PUBLISHED: 09:31 08 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:41 08 January 2018
It’s been there or thereabouts on Surrey Life’s must-visit list for so long that the only surprise is what took us this long. Matthew Williams settles into Esher’s The Swan Inn, hot on the heels of their Tom Kerridge supper club
Heavy hitting chefs Daniel Clifford (Midsummer House), Dominic Chapman (The Beehive), Tom Kerridge (The Hand & Flowers) and Claude Bosi (Bibendum) walk into a bar… much sensible foodie chatter and ridiculously delicious cooking ensues, obviously.
Okay, so I’ve condensed the timeline a little here, but in-the-know residents of Esher must have been thinking they were dreaming as some of the country’s top chefs walked through the doors of The Swan, in Hare Lane, in recent months.
Despite such exalted dining companions, The Swan has set its stall out from the start as a cosy pub to enjoy really good food, rather than reaching for the stars. It’s always a fine line, and I was intrigued to see how they’d walk it.
Cool, calm, classy
My wife Sylviane and I are met by manager Joseph Hendriks, who worked with Claude at his two Michelin-starred restaurant, Hibiscus, in Mayfair and then at The Fox & Grapes pub in Wimbledon. He’s got a lovely manner from the off; enthusiastic but assured. He talks about a manic week that’s seen Tom Kerridge at the stove, MasterChefs visit and reviewers from The Telegraph pop through the door. Just your average week in the Surrey pub world then…
Sat in her highchair at the well-appointed table, our three-year-old daughter Iona’s imagination is immediately stirred by the tree of life sprawling across the ceiling draped in glass bottles and flowers. It’s special and evokes a Petersham Nurseries-style trip into Wonderland. The music is chilled, the seating is comfortable and our thoughts quickly switch from a quick lunch to ‘the works’ as we take a glance at the menu.
To allow us a little time, Joseph slides some snacks onto the table. The pork crackling and apple sauce is pub perfect and the cockle popcorn and curried mayo gets added to my list of things I’d never planned to order but loved. I’d have it again in a shot.
The hit parade
I tackle my aged salt beef with crispy hen egg, capers and pickled onion with gusto. Get that egg flowing and the components mixing and it’s a dream. Sylviane’s wild mushroom and French brie tart with smoked hollandaise has us a little awed from the start. It’s a gorgeous-looking pub dish with a flourish. From the small forkful I receive, it delivers.
A fascinating gentleman recently told me he only ate in restaurants that “served food for men” these days, despite eating at some of the best in his time. He in no way meant that in a derogatory way; he’s 6ft 5in with a ‘joie de vivre’ attitude. I can appreciate the sentiment too, even if my curiosity lets me explore all foodie avenues still. Long story short, he’d approve of The Swan’s main courses. Both Sylviane’s pan roasted halibut and my venison were epic in proportion and flavour. The Grand Veneur (or huntsman’s) sauce with the venison was so good that despite it being a veritable mountain of a dish, I could have probably eaten two. As it was, I had to tuck into the halibut with its delicious cep gnocci afterwards to help Sylviane out. Sometimes you must take one for the team, right?
So much for that light lunch then, but then The Swan turns out to be one of those hypnotic places that you could happily while away a day with good company and grand food. The dessert menu is stacked with delicious dishes, but I went for an old family favourite: sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce, which brought fond memories flooding back.
There have always been pubs that have taken their food very seriously in Surrey. Only this year The Anchor blurred those lines further by winning restaurant of the year at the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards. The Swan feels like yet another upping of the game. There’s a city slicker swagger to this pub, matched with food that sweeps you back to your old favourites.
Need to know
The Swan Inn
2 Hare Lane,
Esher, KT10 9BS
Tel: 01372 462582
What we ate:
Pork crackling and apple sauce, £2.75
Cockle popcorn and curried mayo, £3
Wild mushroom and French brie tart with smoked hollandaise, £8.75
Aged salt beef with crispy hen egg, capers and pickled onion, £8.50
Pan roasted halibut with cep gnocchi and hazelnut pesto, £21.50
Bodmin Moor venison with sweet potato, savoy cabbage and Grand Veneur sauce, £20
Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce, £7
Tupungato Mendoza 2016,
£7.50 a glass