Review: The Swan Inn, Hertfordshire

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy the Harry Potter Studio Tour, it’s the kind of thing that could be magic… or very naff. But it was a gift from my sister, and I never look a gift Thestral in the mouth (little Harry Potter humour there!).

In fact it was brilliant, from the genuinely impressive original sets like the Great Hall and the Griffindor Common Room, the fascinating collection of grotesquery in the creature workshop, the astonishing intricacy and beauty of all the schematics and concept art produced long before anyone ever dons a wig or hefts a camera, right through to the frankly awe-inspiring scale model of Hogwarts used as the set for all the outside footage. Even the Butterbeer was good; a sort-of butterscotch soda with a creamy head and a delicate fizz, sweet but (surprisingly) not overly sweet. If it was sold in pubs instead of coke, I might actually order a fizzy drink occasionally.

Conversely, I was expecting The Swan Inn in the bucolic village of Denham to be something fairly special: Les Routiers Dining Pub of the Year for 2011, after all! Okay, so it isn’t really a pub. It’s a restaurant in an old pub that still has a bar, but essentially every table in the place is set up for dining. Lovely oak chairs, cosy fire. Service from the team of young ladies was efficient and friendly, without being particularly personal.

My starter of rabbit rissoles was good, with carrots pickled in star anise and a slightly bland sweetcorn puree. It was an inventive and effective combination. Maureen’s beef carpaccio was very good, a light Waldorf salad in the centre being an excellent complement to the melty meat. That’s the highlights out of the way.

Well, the Swan has certainly boldly and unashamedly perfected the English pub lasagne! The beef wasn’t minced, it had been slowly braised then pulled to a sticky shred before being cooked in tomatoey sauce. The cheese on top was cheddar, and there was a scattering of wild mushrooms hiding in there along with chunks of carrot. It worked, in a hearty way. Maureen’s roast beef was a thick chunk of pink meat, but not the most tender nor the most flavoursome roast. Gravy was in short supply, but in other regards this was a huge plateful of food topped with a somewhat stodgy Yorkshire pud.

Our dessert really ought to have been taken off the menu if chef was having such a struggle to make it set. Salt caramel chocolate torte sounded promising, but the chocolate was a milky concoction so un-chocolately it could have been Cadburys, and more like a rapidly melting mousse than a torte. The oozing dollop of sweet pale fudgey caramel on top was left as the only flavour on the plate, with the occasional salt bomb from an errant crystal of Maldon.

Prices were about typical for a home counties gastropub, perhaps £25 for three courses without drinks. There’s a good number of wines by the glass, though neither of the ones we had were particularly great. Hey, if you want a posh pub lunch in one of the odd patches of rusticity inside the M25 then this’ll do fine. I’m just not sure why it would win any awards.

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