The gastropub is a concept that could only have originated in Britain: instead of chucking away failing pubs across the country and replacing them with something radically different, let’s utilise what we have and make it so much better. And with London being patient zero for the gastropub craze that has absorbed the entire country, it was time to dive into one of the capital’s proudest members: The White Swan.
Venue and Atmosphere
It's one of London's biggest mysteries that, despite having some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, the area around tube stations are almost always ugly. But The White Swan defies this tradition - being a stone’s throw from the station, the venue rests with the quaint charm of a pub that's settled on the street for decades, yet its interior proudly wears the aesthetics of a contemporary pub, and this contrast runs through its design.
The ground floor bar area is composed of slick wooden furnishings, with stools running across its large, polished bar opposite a row of simple tables and chairs. The patrons were a bit older than us, falling into the mid-thirties to early forties category, but you wouldn’t be able to tell with enthusiastic buzz encompassing the place. Squeezing through the huge Thursday night crowds and past the packed mezzanine drinking area, we made our way to the first floor, where the roar of post-work drinkers are silenced in exchange for the intimate hum of the dining room. The modern/traditional juxtaposition remains, but is complimented by floor-to-ceiling windows that gave the room a pleasant light.
Food & Drink
I eyed up the other guest’s food jealously as we were sat down by the waiter and immediately knew we were in for a gastro-treat. We ordered our cocktails in first, with my brother choosing a refreshing Manhattan Switch (£9) and I the Gingerbread Old Fashioned (£9), which happened to be the friendly waiter's favourite. For good reason, too, as a man who is sometimes embarrassingly familiar with a glass of whiskey, this was one of the best Old Fashioned's I’d ever tasted.
For starters we ordered the Devon crab with cucumber and oyster dressing (£9.50) and the confit duck leg and dorset ham ballotine, prune and Armagnac chutney (£9). The former was fresh and light, just tantalising the taste buds and stomach before the rest of the meal, whereas the duck and ham ballotine was hearty and delicious.
But while it’s hard to argue with the quality of the starters, the main course is where the kitchen really shines. Feeling particularly posh that night (and distinctly un-Essex), I chose the haunch of Scottish red deer (£18), which came with a shoulder croquette, glazed shallots, sprouts and juniper jus. The deer was nicely red, allowing some of the natural delicate richness to pour through. But it was really the shoulder croquette that stole the show, bursting with flavour the moment you bite. However, it did risk overpowering the gentler flavour of the deer. My brother, on the other hand, has the supernatural ability to pick the stand-out dish on any menu put in front of him (he chose the ballotine as well - both of our favourites), and tucked into a delicious fillet of Peterhead cod, with mussel and leek cannelloni and mussel veloute (£18). The cod fell apart into delectable, juicy chunks and the seafood created the perfect partnership on the plate.
We ended with a chocolate and Bailey’s torte (£6) and a treacle tart (£6), both as good as you think, that disappeared from the plate despite the sheer amount of food we already consumed. Apparently, it's incredibly hard to argue with great chocolate dessert when it's staring you in the face.
The White Swan is the definition of a gastropub: contemporary interiors channelling a traditional pub vibe, with tasty food and even better drinks. The restaurant is definitely a date destination, whereas the pub area would be perfect to take your parents to if you want to prove you have inherited the taste of a Londoner.