The Wild Swan is certainly busy, and, while Elaine Lemm was impressed in part, she feels that it could have been better.
Once there was a pub called the White Swan – there’s actually a lot of them in Yorkshire, but this one was in Minskip, near Boroughbridge. Some said it would have been better called the old swan, run-down and neglected as it once was. In swept Karl and Amanda Mainey, two of the county’s highly respected operators, waving magic wands and a lot of money and the Swan is now no longer White, it is Wild; at least a less common name. These two have turned enough pubs around in their time – latterly at the award-winning Crown at Roecliffe – to spot potential and the Swan was oozing with it.
More than just the name has changed. The inn dating back to 1832 has been transformed in and out, a refurbishment that has added immense character. There’s a cosiness born from faded wood, stuffed animals and candles, scribbled blackboards with specials and promises of platters of hearty fodder. There are real fires but in the hottest summer for aeons, understandably they were not lit. They have done a cracking job.
When I rang to book a table I was told apologetically there was room in the bar only, for which, I was delighted. The Wild Swan purports to be a real Yorkshire pub, and in a pub, I only ever want to eat in the bar – I want to be by the action and buzz, not tucked away in another room. The restaurant here was packed out with a couple of parties; the bar was equally heaving, and the atmosphere was great, but at times the young staff struggled to keep up and with that came mistakes.
There are a few menus on offer from the platters, to early birds, specials and the evening menu proper. There is enough choice for everyone and, as a nod to the season, plenty of fish. Unusually, I chose soup over some sorely tempting dishes. Soup is often thought of as the cop-out dish, but it takes great skill and understanding of ingredients to create a good one. Here they scored highly. My minted pea and fresh watercress soup was seriously good, lovely layers of distinct flavours, not a bowl of overcooked, over- blended mush masquerading as soup. Whitby crab and pea risotto, the dish with more failures to its name than I care to think about, and one I usually avoid for that very reason, ranked high too. This one was no rice pudding, instead, a bowl of firm to the bite rice, rich in flavour and creaminess and just as it should be.
High hopes wavered with mains which, coincidentally, corresponded with the arrival of the two parties in the restaurant. The promise of a cod loin and samphire in a clam chowder sounded delicious but the write-up was more appealing than the plate laid before me. There were some highlights, the fish for one was a lovely fresh, meaty chunk and cooked beautifully. The chowder though was missing and on my questioning this I was told explicitly that the chowder was there. No, where it was was still in the kitchen. When it did finally make its way onto my plate, it was good but not good enough to drown out the thrown-together, messy look of the rest of the dish.
A tower of a proper steak burger was much better. The steak was flavourful, even though overcooked, and came piled up with a relish, aioli, Pancetta, cheese, lettuce and a little pot of skinny fries; a substantial plate of enjoyable food.
A gauntlet was thrown down with a resounding thump when it came to dessert. Belgian chocolate brownie, probably the best brownie in the world it said on the menu. I make a seriously good brownie, even if I say so myself, and across the table he thinks so too. The one here was good and nicely fudgy but not the best in the world. As good as mine? No, according to him and had it been, believe me, he would say so.
So a few slip-ups and ones I suspect were more to do with pressure because there were too many high points and evidence of skill in the kitchen to make me confident they are much better than on this occasion. Service was lovely, and mistakes handled so well with sincere apologies and even an embarrassed giggle over the missing chowder fiasco that I would go back for sure and, if they ask nicely, I may even tell them the secret to my brownies.
The Wild Swan, Main Street, Minskip, York, YO51 9JF, tel: 01423 326334. Dinner for two with a couple of glasses of wine each, £69.25. Open: noon to 11pm, every day.