Restaurant review: José Pizarro at The Swan Inn in Esher
PUBLISHED: 12:45 08 July 2019
Acclaimed chef José Pizarro recently expanded his restaurant empire out of the city and into Surrey with his purchase of The Swan Inn, near Esher, from Michelin starred chef Claude Bosi. Matthew Williams visits this new 'Spanish pub' to take a tapas adventure
Finely blending city and country living, Esher has long enjoyed a cosmopolitan vibe. You can travel the world through its restaurants and, with so many actors, musicians and sports stars living locally, you never know who might be sat across the table.
Now, on a wave of Spanish sunshine, acclaimed chef José Pizarro is the latest restaurateur to sweep into this town, which ebbs and flow a little quicker than most in our county.
Originally from Cáceres, a city in western Spain's Extremadura region, José has lived in London since 2000. He's worked at some of London's most prestigious Spanish restaurants including Eyre Brothers, Brindisa and Gaudi since the move, before launching his first solo venture in 2011.
At José Tapas Bar and Pizarro on Bermondsey Street and José Pizarro at Broadgate Circle, his food celebrates the flavours and spirit of his home nation with a few localised twists thrown in for good measure. It's clear that London has taken his food to its multi-cultural heart, and it's no surprise that there has been much excitement surrounding his new venture in Surrey.
When the Swan Inn's previous proprietor, Claude Bosi, decided to sell up to focus on his two Michelin star Bibendum restaurant, the story goes that José felt it was time to follow his 'Spanish pub' dream and add a countryside retreat to his mini-empire.
Found only a short walk from Claygate station, the new incarnation of The Swan Inn feels similar in many ways to Bosi's version but then there were already good bones in place. While the bistro-style dishes have been replaced by tapas, the focus is still on relaxed and informal dining. Somewhere to bring your friends and family, have a few drinks, enjoy good food, and leave your worries at the door.There are photos of generations of Pizarros on the walls and smiles and light chatter from the staff - it's set out to make you feel at home.
We arrive out of the commuting traffic very early in the evening, when things are a little quieter, but by the time we leave there's not a spare table in the house. Tapas, of course, is all about social eating, enjoyment and ingredients and, while there's whole turbot at market price and rather epic sounding roast Spanish suckling pig for six to eight guests available, the menu is mainly made up of lighter bites.
After much discussion, my wife Sylviane and I settle on our hit list of eight dishes to share between us. First up, Jamón Ibérico remains a little taste of heaven to me. I'll never forget my introduction to this indulgent charcuterie made from acorn fed pigs. It was carved straight off the leg by Fernando Stovell at his Chobham restaurant then, and it doesn't disappoint on this occasion - it's a flavour blanket that settles on your taste buds. There's also cured meats from Tom Whitaker and Dhruv Baker's Tempus (based just down the road near Weybridge) on the menu, which is well worth trying.
Next, the daily changing croquetas are moreish fun. Looking unremarkably civilised from the outside, one cut of the knife pours forth black squid inkiness and prawn. They are dark, mysterious, intense and decadent.
Simplicity itself, pan con tomate has an unerring ability to whisk people off to sun drenched beaches. Crisp toasted bread topped with Catalan tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, it's a no fuss dish that is bursting with freshness, flavour and memories.
It wouldn't be a pub without a decent Scotch egg and The Swan has its own twist on one of our national staples. The egg is all gooey yolk surrounded by intense Jamón Ibérico and butifarra negra (blood sausage) and, well, just bring me another! We don't use much of the vibrant mint allioli, but it's there to dollop on to taste.
From there, it's hit after hit. The spicy sauce with the patatas bravas zips around the palate on top of crisp spudly earthiness; the lime cured salmon and seabream zings with citrusy goodness and provides a marked contrast to our other dishes; the hot chorizo al vino is an established favourite; and the grilled English asparagus celebrates the season and plonks the flag in the table for Jose's Spanish/English pub tapas. To finish, the sticky toffee pudding is as good as I've had in any traditional country inn and, coupled with something a little naughty off the dessert wine list, it's a real treat.
By this point, you may not want to leave. Fortunately, you could happily retire to the bar area to chat about the good times over a couple more drinks or book one of the rooms to stay the night. For me, I'm just waiting for some entrepreneurial sort to build a beach and boating lake on Hare Lane Green across from the pub!
Pour a glass of Spanish wine, grab a few of your favourite dishes, add sunshine and relax. Who needs holidays anyway?!
José Pizarro at The Swan Inn, 2 Hare Lane, Esher, KT10 9BS; 01372 462582; josepizarro.com
- Some of the best restaurants and pubs in Surrey - Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs