Cotwolds Corker: The Swan at Swinbrook
When you come across a pub with in a setting this pretty, you know things are going to work out just fine.
I’ve been dipping into the Cotswolds a lot over the last year, mostly for days out or sneaky nights away with Mr Muddy, and while the Cotswolds will never be accused of being edgy (unless referring to the perfect lines on a new Farrow & Balled barn conversion) there’s no doubt that the pubs, inns and hotels in the Cotswolds are chic, foodie and set in stonkingly beautiful countryside.
The Swan at Swinbrook has a strong reputation – a few locals whose taste I’d trust nodded approvingly when I told them I was going there for lunch, and this is an area of the Cotswolds that boasts the likes of The Wild Rabbit, The Kingham Plough and The Chequers at Churchill – and it’s also on the Oxfordshire side of the Cotswolds, between Burford and Witney, so it’s not a massive schlep if you want to go for a Sunday lunch.
First impressions inside were good. It’s not styled to the hilt, though the more traditional side of the Inn with its open fires and low beams are attractive in themselves.
The association with the Mitford family is hammered home relentlessly with the blown up photos on the walls of the Mitford sisters and village life – the Inn is part of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s estate, but I didn’t mind it actually, I’m as fascinated with the Mitfords as the next person.
The garden outside was pretty – not particularly wide, but deep, with bantams on free range and tables dotted around for proper lunch service.
… but it was so extraordinarily hot the day I visited that I ate inside in the restaurant area instead, probably the one area of the pub that is serviceable rather than particularly attractive, with its rattan chairs and bistro tables.
But styling only goes so far and a good meal far outweighs these kind of stylistic quibbles. Let me be blunt, the food is fantastic. I started with salad of goats cheese, fresh blueberries, hazelnuts, beetroot & rosehip syrup (£8.25) – ingredients that sounded just perfect for a hot summer’s day, and they worked together beautifully.
Then it was a magnificent moist salmon – have you seen the size of this baby?! It was just incredible.
and just an experiment to see at what point I might explode, I topped it off an Eton mess. Kaboom!
There are rooms at The Swan at Swinbrook – quite a few of them actually, six in The Stables and a further five by the riverside, all beautifully appointed in a traditional Cotswold Inn style (some quite cool, others a bit more twee) and offering good value for B&B from £125 per might, with king size beds, wifi, tea making facilities (YES!! – the Holy Grail for Muddy) and flat screen TV in the newer rooms.
Drive 15 minutes anywhere in the Cotswolds and you’ve found another beautiful village with a historic doo-dah but it’s worth pointing out that The Swan at Swinbrook is an easy 15 minute drive to Kelmscott Manor (William Morris’s exquisite arts and crafts home), and Buscot Park near Faringdon, and of course Burford is a mighty, er, three miles away so you can cycle it! So there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you did want to stay over and see what culinary delights meet you at breakfast too.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Day trippers, romantic getawayers, family gatherings (those 11 bedrooms come in handy), serious foodies looking for locally sourced, great value experiences. Anyone looking to eat in glorious countryside – it really is quite a spot.
Not for: The tables at The Swan are quite close together so if your children run to feral or you have tank of a baby buggy, I’d book into the garden rather than the restaurant. The Inn feels very traditional – it’s really its selling point – so if you’re looking for cool Cotswolds you’ll have to drive up to Great Tew and break into Soho Farmhouse instead. Service was a little slow on the day I visited, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
£££: On the upper side of mid range, but the food justifies and extra quid or two on a course. Entrees are largely between £8-9, mains £16-18, though you can choose good value options like sharing antipasti platters for £14.50 too.
The Swan Inn, Swinbrook, nr Burford, Oxon, OX18 4DY. Tel 01993 823339.