My french may be lousy, but The Swan restaurant in Tetsworth is brimming with gallic flair. Read my review and book in - it really is that good.
I have a long history with The Swan at Tetsworth, starting with some sedate but excellent meals when it was owned by the antiques centre next door in the early Noughties, then re-discovering it with delight when it was taken over by the Antoine Chretien and Camille Veronin 2013, who brought Gallic flair and some seriously excellent maitre d’ ing to the restaurant.
Locals will know that The Swan suffered a terrible fire in Nov 2017 which shut it down for six months. Then the chef left. Now fast forward to 2019, and the replacement chef – French of course – has been in situ for several months, there’s a high tech kitchen in place of the previous (burnt) one and a whole new reason to check it out again. Whoopo!
English elegance meets French flair. The restaurant itself has always been attractive in a take-your-mum sort of way– it’s not next door to an antiques store for nothing! Enter the handsome white-washed Grade II listed Elizabethan coaching inn and you’ll find yourself in a large open plan restaurant with two flowing sections, dominated by stunning, oversized chandelier. There are two huge fireplaces, mirrors and blackboards on the walls, and lots of wooden furniture. It feels slick and grown up. But the upright piano (which the chef tinkled beautifully after service), Gallic-looking lo-fi bar/café and the exceptionally assured service lift this restaurant into gotta-visit territory.
SCOFF & QUAFF
One of the easiest food recommendations I’ll make this year – the food was incredible. Four of us ate and every one of us on every course couldn’t believe the quality – the dishes themselves but also the plating, which looked sensational. I started with European Lobster ravioles, Cognac and lobster bisque, Seaweed Isingy and creme fraiche – the bisque had a depth of flavour that was utterly delicious.
My main was a sea bream, chosen mainly because I cook so little fish at home rather than because I was passionate to eat the dish. But oh my god, it was divine.
And check out Mr M’s moules, below, he was in raptures.
And dessert was the prettiest plate of cheese I’ve devoured in a long time, with a mix of artisan French cheeses (and a couple of English ones from hazy memory).
No prizes for guessing that a French restaurant of this quality will nail the wine list, but there was also an enticing cocktail list that topped and tailed the evening, combos like lavender martini, raspberry and vodka cosmopolitan and champagne with brandy.
OUT AND ABOUT
If you love antiques and eating you can kill two birds with one stone – The Swan antiques centre goes over several floors and really is worth your meander for a couple of hours. Depending on the time of day you can hit The Swan restaurant for breakfast (10am – 11.30am), lunch or dins. There’s not much else to hold you in Tetsworth, but 2 miles down the road is LASSCO Three Pigeons architectural salvage for more interior quirkiness. You’re a 10 minute drive from Thame if you want to wander round a typical Oxfordshire market town – highlights include the brilliant FROM giftshop, Rumsey’s chocolaterie and Woodworks coffee shop, and the cool Pretty Like Pictures art gallery/framers which is a quiet obsession of mine. Oxford is a 25 minute drive.
We ate a la carte and I’m warning you now that it’s pricy, with starters mostly £13-17, mains £22-29 and desserts around £9-14 – so it’s in the same ballpark as other highly regarded restaurants in the area like The Sir Charles Napier Inn and The Oxford Kitchen. If that’s too rich for you, definitely try one of The Swan’s regular prix fixe evenings – there’s one tonight actually (21 March 2019), a Soirée Normande where you get two courses and a drink for £15! Offers pop up regularly on the website.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: French food lovers wanting the real deal; foodies in general; romantics on an evening; larger groups particularly will enjoy the ambience and can stretch into the space offered.
Not for: Those expecting glorious outdoor space in summer. There is a small courtyard but you’re in Tetsworth and the motorway noise is a humming constant. It’s not aimed at kids – if you’re expecting crayons and colouring books, go elsewhere. And night owls might object to the restaurant closing at 9pm Tues-Thurs and 10pm on Saturday, though I’m told those hours extend when required!
£££: A couple of quid per course more expensive than average restaurants – but who wants average?! Entrees between £8-15, mains £18-29. The prix fixe nights are great value at £15-£25 per head.
The Swan at Tetsworth 5 Upper High St, Tetsworth, Oxford OX9 7AB. Tel: 01844 281182. Website