When I visited: Various times from 2015-2017
Location: Tetsworth, Oxfordshire
Team: Robin Saint-Paul (Head Chef), Valentin Hay (Assistant Chef), Antoine Chretien (owner), Mathieu Colombet (General Manager)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: Not rated in the Guide
What to wear: Could go casual
Ambience: Warm, roaring fire, comfortable, friendly
Course of the meal: Dark chocolat ‘surprise’
If I could change one thing: Introduce bread plates
I have visited this restaurant several times and it has consistently demonstrated excellent service and really great food. The fact that it is not even recommended in the Michelin Guide is a great mystery to me.
There are tons of rooms of antique items in the same building which you can explore if you are that way inclined, and you can drop in for a quick coffee and (superlative) cake if you don’t want a full meal. You can also buy some of their excellent special salts, cookbooks or chocolate if you fancy it.
I happened to be in Tetsworth with my partner Owl and Owl ancestor and we were pleasantly surprised by this gem of a restaurant in this sleepy village. From the moment we walked in we had excellent service.
We ate butternut squash with puff pastry and bread (served with Hawaiian red salt which was so good that we bought a pot to take home), rack of lamb served pink with truffled mashed potatoes, and chicken with sauce and Calvados apples. The meat was sumptuous and tender and we were given a choice of Laguiole knives from a box (a nice touch). The glasses of Riesling and Pouilly-Fume that we chose to accompany the food were fresh and delicious.
In fact, the food was so good that we decided to stay a bit longer. My partner Owl had the cheese board, with bread and salad, and said the soft cheeses were especially good, although the board could have done with a ‘sweet’ element for extra balance. We also shared a trio of chocolate desserts – a fondant with strawberry, an ice cream on nougat biscuit served with a physalis, and a dusted chocolate rectangle. This dessert was very good although perhaps one ‘different’ element, such as vanilla rather than chocolate ice cream, would have improved it even further.
As we’d booked a lunch this time, we had more of the food and also shared a bottle of white Meursault wine, which was creamy with hints of honey and a lovely golden colour. We got the same good bread selection as before with butter and French salt.
Our starters included a beetroot and mustard soup with prawn-shaped cheese, which made for an interesting texture and was presented well, and trout “two ways” – one was rolled up and one as a tartare – with gravadlax, which was very light and tasty, and also came with lump fish eggs with creme fraiche.
Mains across our table were the lamb with truffled mash potatoes and Perigot truffle sauce, beef Wellington with spinach (the staff apologised for not bringing enough initially and immediately brought some more!), the fillet of dourade with quenelle-shaped potatoes (see my fine dining hallmarks post) and green vegetables, and the millefeuille of vegetables. Everyone very much enjoyed their mains and still had room for dessert.
The trio of creme brûlées included lavender, vanilla and caramel editions, while the crepe suzette en flambé came with Grand Marnier. The profiteroles were filled with vanilla ice cream and the pastry was particularly sumptuous, while the aumonière of apples was presented in a “beggar’s purse” shape.
We finished off with jasmine tea which came with hourglass timers (to let you see exactly how long you should ideally let each type of tea stew for) and coffees, which came with sweets (nougats and lemons). As it was near Christmas we also got a shot glass each of cherry stone Marnier which was sweet and festive and helped to maintain the feeling of welcoming warmth right to the end of the meal.
After my second visit, I felt inclined to recommend this restaurant even more highly and certainly thought that it deserves to be recommended in the Michelin Guide – it completely outshone several of the recommended restaurants in the 2016 edition.
After thoroughly enjoying The Swan on our previous two visits, my partner Owl and I returned with assorted ancestor owls and owlets for an evening meal. I am glad to say that The Swan again didn’t disappoint …
The wine list was short but packed with quality choices, and the white Pouilly-Fumé (smooth and fruity) and red Bordeaux Graves (2012) (fruity, quite light) were both delicious. We also got the usual tablet of free bread – mini baguettes, brown slices and white with butter under a chic cloche and Hawaiian red salt. My one minor gripe about this visit was that perhaps the restaurant should introduce bread plates.
Between us, we had starters of a seabass ceviche (beautifully presented with wonderfully light citrus accessories), the cassolette de la mer (sole and scallops in pastry), goat’s cheese with beetroot and foie gras served two ways with a glass of Gewürtztraminer. Everyone really enjoyed their starters and most of us opted to have the apple sorbet with calvados (apple liqueur) before our mains.
The mains we selected were beef Wellington (in sumptuous thick pastry) with onion gravy, fillet of dourade, beetroot flower, lamb with fondant potatoes and jus and chicken with lemon and mashed potatoes. Perhaps the menu could do with a few more vegetarian options, but with a small staff and a deliberately ‘French’ vibe it’s understandable that the focus at the moment is on good-quality meat dishes. The side vegetables that we shared were tasty but another minor gripe was that the carrots should be thicker (the thin ones were a bit floppy).
The desserts we had between us were the ‘Declinaison de chocolate’ (chocolate presented in different ways, including in the forms of fondant slices, a dark chocolate biscuit and chocolate and hazelnut ice cream scoops), strawberry millefeuilles, an apple tart satin and the cheese board. Interestingly, having written that the thing I would change after my second visit was that the cheese board should have some sweet accompaniments, we noticed that the board (which already boasted a comprehensive selection of cheeses) now comes with lots of grapes and figs … I’d love to think that I’m the reason that this changed!
The tea selection was artfully presented in a box and we went for fresh mint and jasmine. We also got a free mini glass of champagne each, which was a sparkling finishing touch. On top of this, the service throughout was impeccable and we even met the head chef (who was then Sebastien Rouard) who was keen to find out what we had ordered and what we thought. I quite enjoy meeting chefs and seeing the faces behind the food (as has previously happened to me at L’Astrance and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay).
Most recent visit:
The wine list has grown and our bottle of white Chardonnay Beaune was absolutely delicious. We also got a gorgeous amuse bouche this time (our first visit under new chefs Robin Saint-Paul and Valentin Hay) – a warm turbot mash with a tiny slice of bread covered in pesto. As usual, the free bread was excellent, especially the darker slices.
The starters around the table included a vegetable tart with quail’s egg, which had a lovely large yolk, St Jacques scallops, foie gras with sweet wine, and butternut squash velouté (perhaps a slightly weak point as it was not frothy enough in texture and really more like a soup). Mains were the canard with sweet potato and sea bass with frites, which were both excellent.
Everyone else ordered the tarte citron and they were all then rightfully envious of my dark chocolat ‘surprise’ (pictured below):
We all partook in some Sauternes sweet wine at the end of the meal – I don’t normally go for dessert wine but something about the cosy atmosphere at the Swan suits lounging around with it after your food. We also enjoyed our usual green teas and coffees with the hourglass timers provided and got some bonus Clairette de Die at the very end with tons of sweets sugarcoating the bill.
The thing about the Swan is that the food is consistently great but its USP is really its service and the way that the management remembers its guests and what they like (in our case, what we like apparently includes Clairette de Die and frites). It is such a pleasure going there and I still don’t understand why the Michelin Guide hasn’t recognised this restaurant yet.