"Sometimes it’s nice to be a little naughty.” Ok. You’ve got my attention.
It’s a cheeky and wonderful philosophy, and while it’s not one we can always live by, when it comes to food it should be adhered to whenever possible.
I smiled and was sold. After reading this line on the website of an eatery I had not frequented for a long time, I resolved to pay it a visit.
Star rating: 4.5/5
Situated in the centre of Stafford, The Swan Hotel Brasserie and Coffee Shop has reportedly been welcoming guests for over three centuries.
Invitingly fresh in its decor, yet packed with many statement design choices ensuring no loss of charm, character or heritage identity, this spacious hotel and restaurant naturally draws the intrigue of passers by in search of sustenance.
As the Queen of Hearts and I approached its doors on a fateful Friday night, we were greatly looking forward to sampling the offerings of an inviting menu, and enjoying an evening at an eatery with a good reputation for atmosphere and ambience.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that although we hadn’t booked, the team at The Swan were able to seat us quickly, and at a choice window table in the brasserie.
A well-mannered member of the front of house team took our drinks orders and left us to peruse the dining options.
Let the games begin!
The Swan’s main menu offers a nice balance of classic dishes, seasonal offerings, and sharing bites. It is pleasantly unpretentious without lacking flair, and draws the diner in with a range of uncomplicated dishes whose flavour combinations speak for themselves and get the tastebuds tantalized.
The ‘grazing and sharing’ options instantly caught my eye. Often wanting to try absolutely as much as I am able without bloating – I’m a big fan of tapas-style dining – The Swan’s small plates offered this experience.
Rather than opting for a starter a-piece, the Queen of Hearts and I chose to indulge in three small sharing dishes that would serve as our joint appetiser: mini Cumberland sausages with a honey and mustard dip; fried halloumi and chorizo cubes; and lamb kofta bites, served with minted yoghurt.
The mini Cumberlands were rich and flavoursome, with a lovely hint of sage and thyme. They were uncomplicated, well cooked, and a pleasant, wholesome treat for a Friday evening.
A marriage of two of my greatest snacking pleasures, the fried halloumi and chorizo cubes, were a decadently savoury treat. The cured and smokey flavour of the chorizo blended superbly with the creamy saltiness of the halloumi, in a simple pairing that was well executed, and nicely presented on a bed of salad leaves.
The lamb kofta bites were an equally moreish indulgence – juicy and deliciously seasoned. The minted yoghurt they were paired with was a natural and familiar bedfellow of these rich lamb delights. A very tried and tested flavour combination – but if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Well cooked, well delivered, well done The Swan.
For my main, I had opted for a seasonal choice of slow cooked pork belly and peppered pork fillet, served with a black pudding bonbon, wholegrain mustard mash, creamed leeks and a cider jus.
The pork belly was beautiful – succulent and perfectly cooked, with a naturally salty flavour and crispy in all the right places.
The mustard mash, again, was exemplary, and it was refreshing to see something sold as such actually containing visible signs of wholegrain mustard. It had a wonderful kick, and was a fantastic pairing with its porky compadres.
The peppered pork fillet was excellent, coated in a bountiful crust of black pepper, which again did not fail to deliver on the expectation the menu had set. While delicious, the mustard mash made up the majority of what was on my plate, and as their flavour had been so satisfying, I would have loved the pork variants to have been served in larger portions. That said, the dish was a strong winter warmer, and served with a cheeky and perfectly crunchy sliver of crackling that would have made my grandmother very happy indeed.
The Queen of Hearts had elected to go for another option from the seasonal section – a slow braised blade of beef, served with truffle mash, heritage carrots, buttered kale and red wine shallots.
Reportedly, the beef was beautifully rich, its flavour drawn out expertly in combination with the red wine shallots. The truffle mash – as with its mustard-infused counterpart on my plate – was flavoursome and packed with plenty of its centre-stage ingredient.
With the sweet menu being far too tempting to ignore, I opted for a warm chocolate and praline tart, served with salted caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce, while the Queen of Hearts chose to partake in an impressive frosted churros and chocolate brownie sundae.
The chocolate tart was delicious, with the flavour of the praline cutting through wonderfully to amplify its richness. Its velvety texture led it to melt in the mouth at the very moment it passed my lips, and the flavour of the salted caramel ice cream was the perfect balance to the sweetness of the indulgent delight that was before me.
The sundae lit up the eyes of the Queen of Hearts in a spectacular fashion, and was bountiful in its composite elements, including chocolate fudge sauce and whipped cream. It was a dessert fit for a queen, and enjoyed immensely by the one in front of whom it was placed.
In general, The Swan serves a strong plate of food with service to match. A stalwart of Stafford’s dining scene for some time, it is good to see that it continues to fly the flag for no-nonsense eating, and unpretentious dishes packed with satisfaction. For those not indulging in a full meal, the grazing and sharing plates would serve as a perfect accompaniment to an evening of liquid refreshment, and I shall certainly be returning to sample more of the chorizo and halloumi goodness over a pint.
Compliments to the chef and the waiting staff – a good score, well deserved.
Slow-cooked pulled chicke, leek and
mushroom terrine, £7
Confit duck hash, £7
Grazing and sharing plate from selection.
£5 each or three for £14
Grazing and sharing
Sweet Potato and Feta Fritters
Crispy Whitebait with lemon and pepper mayonnaise
£5 each or three for £14
Woodland mushroom, chestnut and lentil cottage pie, £13
Roast rump of lamb, £19
Baked chocolate chip cookie dough, £6
Toffee apple and oat crunch crumble, £6
THE SWAN HOTEL,
46a, Greengate Street,