One of the first things we realised after moving back to Britain in 2021 was the South West of England has more than its fair share of convivial country pubs where it is a pleasure to relax with a quaffable ale or a glass of wine and quality nosh that ranges from good pub grub to creative cuisine. In our first month, we notched up seven different pubs, all of them worthy of a return visit. One which became one of our go-to favourites for special occasions is The Swan in Bampton.
A regular on Estrella Damm’s list of Top 50 Gastropubs in Britain, The Swan successfully straddles the line between friendly local pub and fine dining restaurant. The décor is tastefully country rustic; bright and airy, but not too bright; the furnishings attractive, but not so you feel you’re in a show home. Not only is there a lot of space between tables, an offshoot of Covid, table space itself is generous. On many occasions, the two of us have occupied a chunky table that could comfortably accommodate four with plenty of elbow room, and six at an intimate squeeze.
Staff are friendly and chatty, always making us feel welcome. There’s never any rush to order or to vacate the table. The first time we visited, we thought it was a pub that had gone over entirely to serving food, given there are only a handful of stools at the bar. But on later visits we realised The Swan switches back into local pub mode when the food stops being served. It’s a combination that presumably works well for both diners and drinkers.
Food at The Swan
It’s the food where The Swan truly excels, the reason it turns up on lists like Estrella’s. Most of the ingredients are sourced from the South West, with a blackboard showing that fruit, vegetables, bread, fish, meat, game, dairy all come from within a ten-mile radius. But quality produce means nothing if you don’t have a good chef, and The Swan has an exceptional one. Their menu combines crowd-pleasers (Brixham beer battered haddock and chips) with ones that have more of Mediterranean personality (wild black bream with saffron potatoes).
From traditional homity pie and arancini that converted me to liking arancini, to Brixham cod, wild sea bass, Creedy Carver duck breast, and then the ubiquitous sticky toffee pudding, the food is lip-smacking good. On our last visit we took a vegetarian friend because The Swan’s vegetarian options are invariably as enticing as its meat and fish ones (on the current menu, three out of six starters are suitable for vegetarians, and two out of eight mains). To say she gushed about the place is an understatement.
And to top it all, Bampton’s main car park is directly opposite the pub, something that is very welcome in a county where finding parking near village pubs can prove a task, especially for people who don’t know the area.
Our tip: Although there’s an upstairs dining room, the friendly atmosphere in the bar area makes for a far better dining experience in our opinion.
The Swan, Station Rd, Bampton, Devon; theswan.co; average cost of main course £17.