PUBLISHED: 11:45 01 November 2013
It is a truism today that the presentation of the website, because it’s a social media tool and therefore a crucial part for marketing one’s business, must be sophisticated, slick and full of up-to-date information. At Adlard’s we spent some time getting it right but my Achille’s heel was a wine list of 400 bins. With vintage changes and the suppliers running out of wine and because my stock was low I created a rod for my back and was chained to the computer. It was crazy!
So, of course, I searched out the website of The Swan at Loddon; menu up to date, wine list lacking a little behind on that one. The photography in the gallery at the time did not look too encouraging - yet we were so wrong. From our greeting by cheerful, smiling young staff, the evening suddenly boded well. The bar was indeed very busy on Monday night. The restaurant tables, over half full, were spread around the main bar which maintained a buzzy atmosphere with a flow of drinking customers. The restaurant tables, rightly unclothed but neatly set with “throw-away” place mats of an old picture of the pub (terrific!) and starched napkins (classy!) The beams above were stylishly decorated with dry hops. On a beautiful night with the front door open the whole demeanour was relaxed and friendly.
For the burger addict, this was a special of the night and also on the menu, but we avoided that temptation and chose something which is a little bit more demanding. Duck spring roll was my first course and it introduced a succession of stylish and well-worked dishes. The main course of crab and lobster ravioli was actually an open ravioli. The pasta, made in-house, was perfectly cooked and soft with a cream sauce made of reduction of fish stock, shallots and white wine – ideal with spinach and roast red pepper on top.
The sweet of Herringfleet elderflower cheesecake was spectacularly simple – nestling against the tart was a banana-shaped tuile biscuit, a quenelle of cream with one cut strawberry nuzzling into it. A tart of lightly cooked raspberry added another splash of red.
Da’s choice was not so lucky. Her vegetable starter, smokey aubergine and pepper salad, was poor compared with all the other dishes we chose. The smokey taste was elusive and the presentation was not special. However panfried Moat Farm duck breast restored her good experience for the dinner. Nicely turned fondant potato and red beet with crisp outside of the duck (a serrated knife would be a welcome addition) elegantly arranged on dark “jus” flavoured with cherry. A good espresso coffee for her was the substitute for the sweet.
We left The Swan in a real feel-good mood, standing outside after the dinner to enjoy the ambience of a lovely, monumental building in quiet, historic Loddon.
The Swan, Church Plain, Loddon, NR14 6LX; 01508 528039; www.theloddonswan.co.uk
Bar bites, £2 to £5
Bar menu, £7 to £14
Starters, £6 to £8
Mains, £10 to £16
Grill, £9 to £22
Meet the chef:
At the age of 44 Alan has great experience in the kitchen, but started off at the Pink Elephant (now Bedford Brasserie in Norwich) where his mother was working. He was seduced by the busy, bustling atmosphere and moved to Sprowston Manor kitchen as well as studying at Norwich City College, thence on to Animal Inns where he worked with Brendon Ansbrow.
At The Swan Alan has observed that “customers are more astute and keen to understand where the food on menu comes from” so he spent six months researching farmers, fishermen, producers and suppliers across the region to find the very best, and this is reflected on the new Swan menus. His ambition is to put the Loddon Swan on the map as a great place to eat locally sourced food. It’s not just about dressing the plate but also eating great produce which has been cooked really well.
His mentors are Marco Pierre White, with whom Alan worked on The Great British Menu, and his friend, Brendon Ansbrow.