This month our destination was the Swan Hotel in Bibury, which has been loved for two centuries because of its idyllic position overlooking the sleepy river Coln .
William Morris, he of wallpaper and furniture design fame, that archetypal enthusiast for all things English, described Bibury as ‘the most beautiful village in England’. And who are we to disagree with a man of such good taste?
The Swan’s elegant Georgian feel and warmth of character is what all visitors who come to Britain (except for those who come exclusively to shop) are looking for. The offer is made complete by log fires, comfortable sitting rooms and thoughtfully furnished bedrooms.
Bibury attracts overseas visitors by the thousand over the course of a year. While we were there on a Thursday, over the course of two hours, three busloads of very welcome visitors from various parts of Asia were decanted out of luxury coaches, to stroll about, eat, and to take photos of the river, the hotel and the picture postcard Arlington Row, Cameras focused on this famous row of weavers cottages angled at right angles to the river a few hundred yards east of The Swan, beautifully framed by the river Coln. It’s all very ‘Cotswolds’.
Back at the Swan, a new brasserie has opened to welcome visitors, residents and locals.
The style is good honest and understandable - English food at its best. Classics such as steak and ale pie, good fish and chips, braised lamb shanks and fishy pie are each perennial favourites and, when done well - as is the case here - very lovable and comforting. In the evenings there is slightly finer dining with excellent choices.
Our lunch, yes, lunch this month, was good. Spicy Indian croquettes with raita, well made, for me and a chicken liver, black pudding and bacon salad for Sandie, my wife. She was very enthusiastic, while my gentle first course was a good prelude for the next course.
Steak and ale pie for Sandie was up to house standard, with good vegetables. My sirloin steak was accompanied by the correct accompaniments, including a delicious béarnaise sauce. I would have liked to know more about the provenance of this meat (the area of production or even the type of cattle), but that is just me being me. On the positive side of things, the menu stated that the steak was 31 days hung.
The hanging time (it’s almost a case of the longer the better under ideal conditions) allows for the enzymes in the meat to develop flavour and increase tenderness. This process has become very popular again, overturning supermarket policy. Supermarkets said that their customers required juicy looking, very pink meat (sometimes this was enhanced by lighting!). This sadly led to a whole generation not knowing the joys of properly hung meat.
I believe the ‘big boys’ did not hang meat because in the process there was weight loss which pushed prices upwards, but the difference really is palpable.
Our new favourite wine is Pinot Noir from New Zealand and today’s wine (Vidal Reserve 2011 Hawkes Bay) was one of the best.
An orange Crème brûlée, with homemade strawberry ice cream and an excellent coffee finished a fun lunch.
Nothing was too much trouble for the charming team of young people who were running the ’front’ with enthusiasm, thank you to Rebecca, Ross and Quintin and of course the unsung heroes in the kitchen for their gastronomic contributions.
Long may the Swan prosper, it is in the very capable hands of the Horton family. Pamela has ‘done’ the interiors in her delightful and quirky way and left her trademark wall of logs, an idea that reoccurs in some of their other inns.
In all, The Swan is very central to the main treats of the Cotswold towns and villages. It’s an ideal place to bring a visitor to our wonderful area.
Especially if they love good food and own a good camera...