The Swan At the Swan in Bampton, Paul and Donna Berry have created a traditional inn with a modern touch, says Russell Brown
Dating back to 1450, the Swan in Bampton, on the edge of Exmoor, was originally a lodging for the stonemasons working on the village church. When husband and wife team Paul and Donna Berry took over the property six years ago, they were initially a bit stumped as to exactly what to do with it.
“It looked like a city wine bar,” recalls Paul. “It has changed completely over the years – we never stop thinking about ways to improve what we do.”
The room is dominated by the handcrafted oak bar and it draws a mix of locals, holiday-makers and people in the area for business, weddings, or for shooting.
Food is served seven days a week, with space for 60 covers, and fluctuating trade isn’t an issue. Paul says: “We are so lucky it is not seasonal; the clientele may change, but it is busy all year round.”
This is the second property that the Berrys have run in Bampton, having previously been landlords at the Quarryman’s Rest. The Swan could best be described as an inn in the true sense of the word. It has three letting rooms, which have all been refurbished in the past couple of years and the drinks offer is as important as the food.
Both Paul and Donna have significant experience in the industry. Paul worked mainly in hotels and restaurants until his mid-thirties when he opened a pub in Buckinghamshire – the Green Dragon at Haddenham – with his parents. Here he was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand and two AA rosettes.
Donna has spent most of her career working in pubs, with some time also spent in the healthcare sector. Today they both cook at the Swan alongside the team of three other chefs. Tom Lugg is head chef, but Paul describes the operation as being very much a team effort.
“We’ll all put our hands in the sink when necessary. Both Donna and I go where we need to in the kitchen – we don’t always have to be in there. I can be helping front of house and then be in the kitchen if I need to be.”
The menu is awash with local and regional ingredients and changes on a rolling basis. Paul comments: “Consistency is key, and is something we really work on.”
The menu is broken down into five sections: nibbles, small plates, mains, grills and afters.
Currently the best-selling dish on the menu is a starter based on breakfast: butcher’s shop bacon is served with a quail scotch egg, black pudding and homemade baked beans in a tomato and pancetta sauce. Priced at £6.50, it outsells everything else on the menu 2:1.
Other favourites include the ox cheek lasagne at £6.50 (Paul credits the inspiration for this dish to chef John Hooker from the Cornish Arms in Tavistock); fillet of Brixham cod, leeks, potted shrimp butter and pea sauce at £16.50; and ginger parkin, Granny Smith sorbet and salted caramel at £6.50. Saturday nights and Sunday lunchtimes are peak periods, but over a week the Swan will serve between 500 and 600 covers.
The wine list runs to around 50 bins in total, with 10 wines available by the glass. Pricing runs from £14.95 to £60 per bottle, with Laurent Perrier Rose NV sitting at £55. The small selection of specials, in keeping with the rest of the list, shows excellent value for money. A Charmes de Kirwan Margaux 2011 is £55 and a Montagny 1er Cru Les Millieres 2014 is £24. Tasting notes on the list are concise and informative with some personal touches, such as a mention for the landlords’ current favourite, a 2014 Saint-Veran.
A current project that Paul and Donna are undertaking is to get a house beer brewed for the pub, which will add to the large number of real ales that appear on the pumps each week.
The name of the house beer is Bevy, the collective name for a group of swans, and is being brewed by Bays Brewery in conjunction with drinks supplier Tolchards. On average there are between 10 and 12 different beers a week, many of them from South West breweries. The list might include Bays Up and Under, St Austell’s Proper Job and Otter Brewery’s Amber.
From the menu
● Duck liver parfait, apple and date chutney, walnut toast £6.50
● Goats’ cheese fritters, beetroot purée, clementines £5.95
● Ox cheek lasagne £6.50
● Steak and kidney (Geoff Holloway Farm) and ale suet pudding £11.95
● Fillet of Brixham cod, leeks, potted brown shrimp butter, pea sauce £16.50
● Slow cooked salt brisket (Waterhouse Farm), winter vegetables, mash £14.95
● Passion fruit cheesecake, vanilla ice-cream, hazelnut praline
● Chocolate moelleux, blood orange and Champagne sorbet, burnt blood oranges
Station Road, Bampton, Devon EX16 9NG