The Swan, West Malling: A few loose feathers (January 2014)

A work trip to Kent resulted in an impromptu visit to The Swan, located in the commuter-haven of West Malling. The other members of the party who took me there were familiar with the establishment and spoke highly of it. Most of their praise was justified, but the service did leave a little to be desired. The bright winter sunlight played well to The Swan’s interior, a large, light and open space (once a coaching inn, renovated about a decade ago) with exposed beams, mirrored walls and comfy seating. Being a Monday lunchtime, the place was far from busy, yet we were shown to a table right in the corner. We proceeded to order drinks, hardly a controversial round of two diet Cokes and a sparkling water, yet these took some ten minutes to arrive and from where we were seated – this is the danger of having too many mirrors in your restaurant – the serving staff appeared to be chatting rather than, er, serving. At least The Swan was redeemed by its food. The set winter menu of two courses for £18 (or three for £22) stood out as being a good value option and interested diners have a choice of five starters and five mains. The broad approach seemed to be British comfort food with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. All of our dishes met with success and the mains in particular deserved special praise, elegantly presented and – importantly – very tasty. I enjoyed my pheasant breast with pancetta, red cabbage and mash while the haddock and salmon fish pie was also rated highly. Unfortunately the portion sizes were somewhat on the small side, but at the price, the relative stinginess is probably justified. On the service again, little effort was made to up-sell, the bill took some time to arrive and the general impression was one of indifference on the part of the staff. This is a pity (and maybe we were just unlucky), but The Swan does certainly have potential and may be among the best options locally.