Food review: Curry is the real deal at The Swan in Stonnall, near Aldridge
We’ve all tried, haven’t we, in the pub, those curry dishes, hoping for the authentic taste of a proper curry house.
Usually, we are slightly disappointed with the gallant effort from the pub chef, or feel slightly better with meals that are bought in from an authentic Asian restaurant.
But for me, it always loses something in travelling and reheating. So it’s good to find a pub, yes a pub, serving authentic mostly Indian curries which taste like the real thing, and at the top end of the scale to boot. Just such a pub is found in Stonnall, near Aldridge.
The Swan, formerly The Old Swan, is now owned and run by an Asian family who combine the hospitality of a British boozer with the culinary delights of Indian cuisine, with a Punjabi influence.
There are no pretensions of Michelin status or gastro pub dishes with bizarre cheffy names, just a spotlessly clean, family-friendly village boozer with a large garden, offering something for everyone, whether TV sport, a warm atmosphere and a good selection of food and drink.
It is active within the community hosting various events and special entertainment evenings.
We are always greeted with a friendly smile and memory of drinks previously ordered, (oops), and have always salivated at the smells coming from the kitchen.
So as it was Halloween we thought we would have a treat without the tricks and get stuck in.
The menu is comprehensive, offering the kind of fare you would expect in a restaurant including a decent vegetarian selection and a limited Chinese and British traditional menu. We had booked, which is advisable, but arrived early and we sat to peruse the menu.
My wife and I were determined not to follow the usual pattern of spending 10 minutes looking for something different and ending up ordering the same thing every time. This would be different. Definitely.
We both eyed up the mixed grill, not your normal mixed grill, but an Indian equivalent, but it looked too much of a challenge and in the end, we both decided to for a starter and a main meal.
The other half went for spicy lamb chops (£9.95) and I chose the fish pakora (£7.25). Both arrived rapidly and beautifully presented, the lamb on a platter of sizzling onions while the fish pakoras came with a colourful salad and sauces.
The size of the portions should have been a warning of what was to come as we both tucked in. The pakoras, a good half dozen, were delicately spiced and succulent, the only slight criticism is that the batter could have been crisper.
No criticisms of the lamb, all six of the cutlets, cooked in a tandoor with herbs and again wonderfully spicy. I am not a lamb lover but had a taste and it hit the spot for me.
The truth is, the starters alone with a couple of side orders would probably have been enough, but we had to battle on. The main courses followed in reasonably swift order, just as the place was beginning to heave at this point.
Instead of the usual jalfrezi, I had gone with one of the three ‘Swan Specials’ while my wife’s resolve to try something different failed again and went for her usual chicken balti
Unusually, they do not sell poppadoms, which is probably a good thing, given the portions that arrived.
The size of the dishes, traditional balti dishes, was daunting. We had ordered sides of chilli chips (£3.95) and normal chips (£3.25) plus a garlic naan to share, but given the size of the starters, should have known better.
My Punjabi Chicken special (£10.95) proved a hot and spicy delight and perhaps should have come with a warning about the heat. The tender pieces of chicken were combined with extra fresh ginger, garlic and green chillies for an explosion of taste.
While the heat was an initial shock, the flavours combined brilliantly. The chicken balti (£9.45) was an equally large portion, again with tender chicken chunks finished with a fragrant combination of spices and herbs and a creamy consistency.
“The best I’ve had in years,” the other half declared. I tasted it as well and it was packed with flavour, if a little salty for my palate.
Quite often, when curries are served in these vessels, they are at best half full. What was obvious was the difference here and how the bowls were nearly full.
We shared a tasty garlic naan (£2.95) and the chips, as suspected, were barely touched. Neither of us got close to finishing, so the doggy bag was summoned. Another mouth-watering experience to come.
A real east meets west experience with friendly and attentive service delivering excellent value.
What struck us both was the efficient and friendly service, even when the place was really busy, the waiting team were courteous, attentive and helpful. To the point that when we forgot to leave a tip, we made a return journey to rectify that oversight. Money well spent.
The place is nearly always packed and you can see why.