I’ve passed The Swan Hotel many times on road trips out of Bristol. It sits on the A38, just past the M5 interchange in Almondsbury, so not the most glamourous of locations, but easier to get to than most rural pubs – no reversing half a mile back down a country lane here!
I’d also heard a fair bit about The Swan’s aspirations to be a destination for food and service in the area, and so I was relieved to see that the interior of the pub was just as cosy and welcoming as the outside, rather than just another over-styled gastropub.
We were welcomed by the hosts and landlords Garth & Katie Jackson, who explained that whilst they strive to be the best in the area for well cooked, locally-sourced food, they also don’t want to exclude the locals by going too over the top, and so do a lot within the local community, as well as making sure that any events they hold are as family friendly as possible.
The pub even won Best Family Friendly Restaurant at the Bristol Good Food Awards this year, adding that to their trophy cabinet alongside their Taste of the West Gold Award 2014. All this fanfare made my appetite all the rowdier – so, what was the food like?
We were served a bite-sized selection from their current menu, which included some light tea-smoked salmon, a rich and comforting game stew, some pleasingly stodgy arancini, and some very tasty mini hamburgers, which I felt like a bit of a philistine for praising as highly as the beautifully cooked and plated herb-crusted cod, but there you go.
To drink we were first given a Marmalade Mule, served in a cute jam jar with a stripey straw – it was bright, fun and fairly potent too; all the things I like in a cocktail. It was then time to move on to wine – I stuck to red and was seriously impressed with the one we were served; it was from Menage a Trois in California and is a blend of three grapes (hence the wink-wink name) and was so rich & fruity that I had to stop myself from quaffing it too quickly (it’s £18.95 for a bottle, or £6.50 for a large glass, incidentally). You can imagine my extreme glee when I then went on to win a bottle in the food quiz later.
We didn’t have time (or room) for dessert, but eyeing up the menu I was impressed that as much attention had been put into the puddings as the starters and mains; rhubarb cobbler, amaretto & sour cherry mousse, chocolate marquise, sticky toffee pudding – it was a good mix of indulgent favourites and refined twists.
The final part of the evening was a food quiz, organised by Emily of Bristol Bites, encompassing a vegetable identification round (I did atrociously – what the hell is tarrow anyway?), a Bristol food facts rounds (aced it) and a mystery foods tasting round (I will forever hang my head in shame). Somehow, despite my appalling knowledge of obscure vegetables and having what turned out to be a pitiful palate, I managed to win, beating Louis from Simple Lampoon by a mere half a point (he accepted it graciously, as you can see in his write up of the event). Success!
A wonderful evening came to a close with a talk from head chef Nigel Bissett, explaining his background and what he is trying to achieve at The Swan Hotel. His focus is on local produce, strong flavours and testing the boundaries of what the customers expect and are willing to try. Therefore the menu is always a balance of recognisable classics such as burgers, stew, steaks and sharing platters, with some exciting flourishes thrown in here and there to keep things interesting. They also have a specific gluten free menu, a dairy free menu, and a decent kids menu.
Nigel is clearly a confident and accomplished chef with some great ideas, taking a keen interest in every stage of the food he prepares, from knowing what time the boats arrives in with today’s catches, to listening to his vegetable suppliers to find out what the best and most seasonal products are.
Between his passion, the enthusiasm of the owners, and the location keeping things from getting too fancy, I think The Swan Hotel is a good shout for anyone looking to enjoy some seriously good food in a comfortable setting, without having to break the bank.
You can find The Swan Hotel at:
14 Gloucester Road, Almondsbury, Bristol, BS32 4AA
01454 625 671
Disclaimer doodle: This meal was provided free of charge, but we were not asked to write a positive review, or asked to send any copy in advance, or do anything else that would compromise our mega integrity and professionalism*.
*I may have inadvertently hassled the chef into giving us a little taster of one of the desserts, but that was it.