Monday, 15 August 2011
The White Swan, Fetter Lane
I am pleased to report that salt is making a comeback. For years it seemed this staple seasoning (for most of us of a certain age) was on the way to being banned from cooking altogether.
We all heard the arguments as salt was blamed for everything from obesity to diabetes, with a healthy (or not) does of high cholesterol thrown in. The knock-on effect was that people stopped cooking with it. Not only did you get meat without seasoning, but things like chips were served sans salt. Surely a sign that the world was going mad. To be fair, you could argue that in many cases salt was being used to hide cooking sins - particularly in the pub industry - rather then enhance dishes. However, it is no coincidence that the revival of seasoning happened at the same time as the rise of the British gastropub.
And arguably the best components of this now-established form of dining are the Martin brothers, Tom and Ed. These guys are the dream team behind such gems as The Botanist in Sloane Square, the Gun in the Docklands and the recently opened (and reviewed) Chiswell Street Dining rooms.
However, my first experience of the sibling's magic touch was the White Swan near Fleet Street. And it was with pleasure that the Northerner and I took a stroll down memory (or in this case Fetter) lane to revisit the Swan. Housed in what used to be the Mucky Duck pub, which was as good as it sounds, the Martins transformed the White Swan into a stylish drinking and eating establishment. Dark brown woods and snug booths give the downstairs pub an almost rural feel. You half expect a group of ramblers rather then local barristers to drop by. In the upstairs restaurant, lighter shades of white, crisp linen-topped tables, and iron-framed windows make it feel like a public school dining room, albeit without the stuffiness.
But it was the food that first brought us here all those years ago, and again it didn’t disappoint.
The Northerner started with the fine tart of mackerel, baby onions, black olive tapenade and balsamic, which was sharp and wonderfully, well, tart. I went for the Crubeens - an Irish food made of boiled pigs' feet deep fried and crumbed (in case you’re wondering), which came with sauce gribiche, endive and fried quails eggs. These were perfect in texture and gorgeously moreish - the quails eggs working wonderfully with the rich pork meat.
For mains I opted for the slow-cooked lamb, smoked anchovy, cos lettuce and pheasants eggs. To my surprise this came served in the style of a Caesar salad, but certainly didn’t lose anything as a result. To the contrary the lamb, lettuce, egg and anchovy combination was delicious and it benefited from the lightness of its salad style. The Northerner had the lightly poached sea trout, peas, bacon, baby onions, lettuce and pea shoots. The trout fillet was steak-like in size, and cooked to pink perfection. The accompanying sauce was by her palette a little salty (did I mention seasoning had made a comeback?) but flavoursome nevertheless. We shared an Eton Mess for dessert (in keeping with the public school theme) which was fruity and not too sweet - a common flaw with this particular concoction. We drank a bottle of Salice Salentino 2006 which was light and spicy, and the perfect complement to our meal.
The staff were charm personified, and so considerate that they even asked if we wanted them to ask some of the other diners to keep quiet. It makes a change from us, opined the Northerner. The ambience is formal and slightly stilted, and while we had a lovely time, you’d be hard pressed to claim it is romantic. I think a little bit more in the way of background or mood music wouldn’t go astray. Perhaps the White Swan is missing what its food so obviously has: a little bit of seasoning.