Restaurant review: The Swan, West Malling
PUBLISHED: 13:33 05 December 2017
The ever-popular Swan in West Malling continues to draw the crowds with its imaginative all-day dining seven days a week – and a great line in cocktails
What: Independent Michelin-listed brassiere
Where: The Swan, 35 Swan Street, West Malling ME19 6JU, 01732 521910 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When: brunch Mon-Fri 9am-11.45am, Sat and Sun 10am-11.45am; lunch Mon-Sat 12 noon-5.30pm, Sun 12:30pm-last orders for the kitchen, 5.45pm; dinner Mon-Sat 5.30pm-10pm
How much: Cornish crab £9.80, short rib of beef with truffle mash £19, baked lemon tart £7
As we squeezed into the last space in West Malling’s large, central car park really quite early on a Friday evening, My Blonde Mate and I anticipated teeming streets, but all was eerily quiet in this pretty market town. Where was everyone?
We soon found out. Opening the door to the buzzing front bar of The Swan restaurant, anyone who was anyone was in there, enjoying a drink or, in the restaurant beyond, already tucking into dinner.
I think the key to this independent, Michelin-listed brasserie’s continuing popularity is its relaxed vibe, versatility and sheer availability coupled with consistent quality.
Open all day, The Swan offers imaginative dining seven days a week, from its renowned brunches (a local weekend favourite) to the great-value midweek set menus and an imaginative à la carte menu that includes grills and seasonal favourites too.
And as well as the sleek cocktail bar and restaurant, upstairs there’s a lounge bar and three private dining rooms; in summer the garden is open for diners, drinkers and events, while the top terrace acts as a wedding venue. Pretty much everything you could ever need from one venue really.
But back to that inviting bar, where we ask for cocktail recommendations and are soon thoroughly enjoying two expertly prepared Swan favourites: Rhubarb Chase and Bloosom & Jasmine, both very pretty and very delicious, the Chase starring Dockyard Gin from Copper Rivet Distillery in Chatham.
Tearing ourselves away from the fabulous drinks, we shimmied past the table bearing a giant melted wax ‘feature’ that is the result of hundreds of candle drips over the years and into the elegant, comfortable restaurant.
With its dark wooden floor, modern Art Deco-style central light, mix of seating – including leather banquettes and comfy curved sofas – and soft lighting, there’s a lively bistro atmosphere, reflected in the wide mix of customers: families, friends, older couples.
Service was efficient and kept up to the demands of a busy night, but we had such a bewildering array of waiting staff to our corner table it was hard to keep up – although Lily from Lithuania stands out. There’s a window to the open kitchen, which is always entertaining.
From the sensibly short à la carte we both went for seafood starters and MBM, being on a bit of health kick, was delighted with her slow-cooked salmon with beetroot relish and seaweed mayonnaise, each element of the dish (served on a fabulous swirling red and black-patterned plate) a fresh and zingy contrast to the other.
Ordering Cornish crab with crushed avocado on toasted sour dough felt like a bit of cop out, but I was really impressed with the quality of the crab and the hint of lemon and scattering of salad leaves was just right, as was the glass of Picpoul de Pinet (Blondie had a Gavi from Piemonte).
Mains weren’t quite so successful – MBM’s sea bass was nicely pan-roasted but practically drowned in its tomato and chick pea sauce, with only a hint of the promised mussels and chorizo.
And my lamb cutlets, the only ‘special’ on that evening, were beautifully ‘pink’ and tasty but sat on a very finely diced selection of veg that reminded us both a bit of school dinners. Lovely side dishes, however – green beans and meltingly delicious aubergine gratin – and my favourite Malbec the perfect accompaniment.
To follow, MBM had her first ice cream in years, but struggled to find the alleged Gin flavour and felt it needed a bit more in the way of presentation than a couple of small scoops in a plain glass dish. But you can’t go wrong with baked lemon tart and mine was excellent, wobbly-light and fragrant, with vanilla mascarpone to provide a hint of sweetness.
This is a place that never rests on its laurels and in addition to The Swan, partners Nick Levantis, Diccon Wright and Darryl Healy are now looking forward to opening their new venture, Amano, in West Malling in early 2018.
It replaces The Lobster Pot in Swan Street and will be an Italian restaurant serving hand-made pasta, pizzas and classic Italian cooking. Four bedrooms have been added upstairs.
To showcase the menus and wines on offer at Amano there is a pop-up event at The Swan this month on 1 December from 7pm, when Amano head chef Fabio, originally from Rome, will cook. Watch this space for more!
Meet the chef
Lee Edney, head chef
Tell us a bit about you
I have worked at The Swan for 3.5 years, before that I was at five-star The Landmark Hotel in central London. I enjoy working with all our local producers as I am a strong believer in supporting local businesses and being able to show provenance of food on my menus. I have formed friendships with many of the suppliers and I also enjoy getting to know our lovely customers
Your key suppliers?
Kentfield Country Estate, Spadework in Offham, Romshed Farm and Chart Farm
Top cookery tip
Always taste right from the start
Who has influenced you most?
Gravetye Manor and Chapters Restaurants
Must-have kitchen gadget?
My Vita Mix
Who would you love to cook for?
Marco Pierre White
Breakfast this morning?
Porridge, fruit and nuts.