There’s no shortage of pleasant country pubs in this green and pleasant land, and no shortage of reasons to visit them, either. Gloucestershire gastro-pub The Swan, which stands in the limestone village of Southrop, is worth a visit not only because it’s attached to Thyme – a frankly dreamy destination for a countryside retreat – but because I’ve found few other country kitchens that take seasonality quite so seriously.
The Swan forms a part of the Southrop Manor estate, a farm with Anglo-Norman roots (it’s referenced in the Domesday Book), and several acres of land that’s used to grow produce to serve The Swan’s kitchen. Thyme’s Culinary Director, Charlie Hibbert, explains: ‘everything we do is based around our garden and farm. Food is at the heart of all things at Thyme and The Swan. The garden dictates the day’s menus and demands that we think in harmony with the seasons.’
This gives Hibbert and his team access to the cream of the crop (quite literally) when it comes to concocting the pub’s fare each morning. ‘Our chefs pick each day’s produce from the farm at Thyme, creating dishes that come from our own stores, and including ingredients from other producers across the British Isles, Ireland and France, for a nod Southrop’s Norman heritage.’ Said suppliers include the likes of local cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy and Cotteswold Dairy, and smoked meat and fish from the Coln Vallery Smokery.
What should you expect then, if you choose to take a drive up there? Well, The Swan’s just had a face-lift, and the 17th century coaching inn feels surprisingly light and airy. Traditional design features like stone-flagged floors and hefty wooden beams remain (and a proper bar with local ales on tap), but they sit within a chic design scheme alongside walls lined with colourful artworks by local artists. The menu is clean cut, with four or five choices for each course, plus sides and a board of daily specials. The food’s hearty, thoughtful and big on flavour.
We enjoyed a charcuterie board with fresh sourdough to start, and the pub’s potted devilled crayfish, which is spot on – buttery, meaty and big on turmeric. The main courses were similarly satisfying; pink lamb cutlets on a bed of braised beans, and pork tenderloin with potato gratin, garden greens and a punchy anchovy dressing. Regardless of your choice of main, make sure your order the truffled cheesy chips – which’ll knock your socks off with truffle oil. The pub’s signature dessert of the moment is a summer treacle tart, served with homemade ice cream and a big kick of Amalfi lemon that cleans the palate just so.
The Swan is also a champion of English winemaking, and alongside its intriguing selection of European (largely French) wines, there’s a range of English creations – red, white and sparkling – to sample. ‘It’s a growing industry that needs support and there are some incredible choices to enjoy right on our doorstep,’ says Hibbert. Certainly, the crisp Kentish white we tried was enjoyable and surprising – with ample character to stand up to a comparable Sauvignon Blanc.
So, The Swan serves a tasty supper, with the added satisfaction of knowing you’re eating food that’s been created with sustainability and intelligent, local sourcing in mind. It’s a reassuringly simple recipe, and it works a treat. If you’re in the mood for a bank holiday foodie trip, and a scenic drive to boot, it’s well worth the journey.