To beef or not to beef? Pleasant choices await Mike Fairbrass in the Swan At The Globe.
An agreeable spring evening walk takes us from the Golden Hind along the river to the Anchor Bankside pub, both setting up the historical feel nicely as we meander towards the Swan at the Globe.
It’s the fourth reincarnation of what was Shakespeare’s original theatre (the last pulled down by ever helpful puritans). It was built in the 90’s after a campaign by American actor Sam Wanamaker, who was shocked to find nothing but a small plaque at the site when visiting London.
The Swan is next door in a handsome building fronted by what, for the time, must have been an indulgence of leaded windows overlooking the Thames. After bustling through the busy downstairs bar we take our seats upstairs for dinner with a spectacular view almost directly opposite St Pauls.
The restaurant is busy too, a good sign that new executive chef Allan Pickett, the former chef patron of the critically acclaimed Piquet, is a safe pair of hands at the helm, combining his classic French training with seasonal local produce to create a modern British menu apparently “supplemented with homemade pickles and preserves hand-foraged by his own mother”.
We begin with cocktails as my wife is a sucker for a Negroni and this one is a sloe gin version whose strength doesn’t disappoint. I try an Old Fashioned Sherry to get into the old English vibe, although within the surrounding hubbub, all I hear are American and Russian accents.
It’s not an unpleasant drink, but my sherry cocktail just tastes like what would’ve been a nice sherry watered down. Still it’s refreshing and doesn’t numb parts of my face like the powerful Negroni does to my wife, who confesses to feeling instantly tiddly.
The rooms décor has a slight nod to art deco in its details which at first seems odd given the history, but I’m so glad they haven’t retro fitted a ye olde worlde interior of intentionally distressed dark stained wood to force the rustic charm.
It’s clean, simple and elegant. Both ends of the room are divided off by internal glazed walls, with a modern grid of mullions as a nod to the façade. A huge oval private dining table sits in one space with a gaggle of diners and people enjoy intimate soft seating in the other.
Our waiter is American and welcomes us with excellent thyme infused sourdough bread. As we nibble, we play the game of ‘guess what your partner will have’ and are spot on as ever. My wife is a textbook Jack Sprat ordering “hand-dived” marinated scallops (presumably retrieved from the depths by Allan’s mum), Granny Smith apple and squid ink mayonnaise, and I’m a classic Mrs Sprat quickly selecting Old Spot pork belly, black pudding, creamed celeriac and Somerset cider brandy prunes.
Fish and meat - white or red? No rules here as we’re after something robust. Our helpful waiter recommends Rioja Reserva Carlos Serres ’09 and allows us to try before you buy which is a nice touch.
He re-appears with the wine to pour two huge bowled glasses and it’s delicious. Whilst repositioning our plates for the starters a butter knife slips slightly, “My bad” he says and I believe it’s exactly what Shakespeare would've said as a champion and pioneer of slang.
My wife’s scallops dish is very pretty and petite and my tranche of pork belly is generously sized with a good fat layer, so thus far our food matches our physiques. My wife reports light and delicate scallops with pleasantly sharp fresh apple. For me pork belly fat evaporates leaving succulent tasty meat and the black pudding accompaniment has a nice crumbly texture which melts in the mouth although it could be stronger tasting.
I wipe bread around my plate for the last of the juices with all the heroic manliness of Henry V, clearly unimpressed my wife jibes me as uncouth. As daylight wanes the restaurant lighting also become darker giving a cosier feel to the night and further emphasizing the architectural lighting of St Pauls, but if they dial it any lower we will need help to find our main courses in pitch blackness like the sensory restaurant Dans Le Noir.
My wife’s Cornish plaice with cockles, is described as perfect and she’s loving it being on the bone rather than a slim fillet. Salsify and samphire with butter sauce also complement it well. This is good food.
I’m revelling in my haunch of venison with a well seasoned faggot, braised red cabbage and damson preserve. The meat is succulent and full of flavour and the little heritage potatoes we share are especially tasty. I wonder if their local lineage can be foraged back through history to the bard, or if Allan’s mum cheated and got an organic delivery box. She’s a busy woman.
Half way through her vanilla rice pudding and plum compote my wife is getting full. My cheese is delightful but by now I’m stuffed too, however we won’t leave a thing so we plough on through this last act thoroughly enjoying the indulgence. We finally heft ourselves to our feet and thank our hosts before waddling off into the night as the final curtain falls on a splendid evening.
"And, most dear actors, eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath; and I do not doubt but to hear them say, it is a sweet comedy. No more words: Away! Go, away! A Midsummer Night’s Dream"