Something always makes me smile when I see a red kite soaring majestically over the English countryside, as I did on arrival at the small village of Swinbrook in Oxfordshire. The sight engenders a feeling of freedom and style, all boding well for a happy time.
This duly occurred!
The Swan has a fascinating history and pedigree, all contained within a rather immaculate Inn building at Swinbrook, East of Burford off the A40 Oxford Road.
The Inn is situated on the banks of the river Windrush, which meanders through 35 miles of the Cotswolds, contributing much; highly visible in the tourist Mecca of Bourton on the Water, bridged in Burford at the bottom of that town’s magical High Street and on through an idyllic valley famous for trout fishing (one of our loves). Then onwards to Witney, the ancestral home of blanket weaving. For over 600 years Cotswold wool was manufactured into the world’s finest, using, yes, Windrush waterpower for washing, fulling and weaving. The river forms an early part of the River Thames. Oh and there are associations with the ship, the Windrush, which brought the first West Indian immigrants to help Britain recover from the Second World War.
Swinbrook itself was home to the, variously famous or infamous, Mitford sisters.
Debo the Duchess, who still owns the inn; Nancy the writer, misguided Unity whose association with Hitler is well documented; Jessica, a communist; Diana [Mosley], a fascist; and Pamela, the quiet one. It was a complicated family - too much of a story to tell here.
They lived in a house previously occupied by the Fettiplaces one of whom, Eleanor wrote and compiled in 1604, the ‘Mrs Beaton’ of its day, full of recipes (or ‘receipts’), for cooking, preserving - particularly crystallised fruit - and including newly discovered ingredients such as sweet potato brought back from his travels by her friend Walter Raleigh.
This book was rediscovered 400 years after it was written and published, I have a copy and it makes fascinating reading, so different from the delightful food that we enjoyed at this English inn.
A warm welcome by Matt and a refreshing drink in the garden surrounded by delightful playful bantams set the tone for the evening. The bantams, or maybe the sound of the river in the background, calmed our Jack Russell down, so unlike her.
A simple menu using good ingredients honestly, seemed to be the house style. Our choice of salad of goat’s cheese with blueberries and hazel nuts was slightly overdressed but a delicious combination. My pork, black pudding and apricot terrine was honestly made and had good depth of flavour, salad again overdressed.
'No scallops', cried Sandie, who loves them. She went ‘fishy’ with a Cornish plaice with pancetta and capers and loved it whilst I, a real carnivore, chose the Scottish bavette, an uncommon piece of beef cut from the flank. This cut needs very sensitive cooking and it was perfect, much more flavour than other cuts, as Daniel (from Madrid) who charmingly served us, had rightly predicted. Good chips, rocket, wild mushrooms and garlic butter - that sounds like (and was) a meal for a man.
A French pinot noir from Burgundy, Champ de Perdrix, 2012 from J P Charton was good. The French seem to have lost their way with many wines - the rest of the world now chooses wines by the grape type rather than a complicated French code which relied on the implication that all red burgundy was made with pinot noir and all white burgundy with chardonnay, an implication that was not always transparent, or indeed, always the case. Anyway, generic grape types are slowly appearing, as in this case,
A well coloured Rhubarb Brûlée was excellent and I tried that wonderful Gloucestershire cheese, Stinking Bishop, by cheesy pioneer Charles Martell - a superb follow up after beef.
A glass of Sauternes, Carmes de Rieussec, was a wonderful nightcap before a delightful walk to the river with a gibbous moon in the West.
Then to a comfortable bedroom designed as a team by Nicola and the Duchess. A good breakfast also kept us really happy before a long journey to Surrey.
Archie and Nicola Orr-Ewing and team are doing a great job here, as at their other wonderful inn at Bledington, the King’s Head. Now, if only all inns were as good as these…
The Swan Inn, Swinbrook, nr Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4DY
E-mail: [email protected]