Fine dining at Lavenham's Swan
PUBLISHED: 13:09 31 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:39 20 February 2013
One of Suffolk's finest medieval villages also offers one of the county's finest dining experiences. Claire Frank samples the menu at the historic Swan Hotel in Lavenham
One of Suffolks finest medieval villages also offers one of the countys finest dining experiences. Claire Frank samples the menu at the historic Swan Hotel in Lavenham
Here in Suffolk we are privileged to have some of the most beautiful villages in the country, but none are more picturesque than Lavenham; especially on a warm and bright summers day.
With over 300 listed buildings, it is Englands finest medieval village and was once one of our wealthiest towns. It is an artists paradise, with its prettily painted half-timbered Tudor cottages leaning askew into the distance in various shades of pink and white.
The large houses of wealthy merchants stand next to simple beamed cottages, and although it remains small today, it is a vibrant community where visitors and locals mingle together.
In the midst of this incredible architecture you will find the Swan, still there in all its glory since it was built in about 1400, before the reign of Henry VIII. It was originally the Wool Hall, a former guild hall that was used for trading cloth, but then became three houses, and later still included stables for 50 horses. The entrance, which is now used for deliveries, was built just high enough to take the baggage wagons for a coach known as the Lavenham Machine, operating three days a week to and from London.
The long standing relationship that Suffolk has with visiting Americans looking for family connections is visible in the Old Bar, once the haunt of servicemen who were stationed in Lavenham during WWII.
Poignant memorabilia remains in the form of a collection of signatures on the wall, recording the names of servicemen who had successfully drunk ale from a boot shaped glass in the shortest time.
The bar is still busy and informal, with visitors being shown round by friendly and knowledgeable staff, as others drink and eat, and it seems that you can eat almost anything you choose here at the Swan from morning coffee to afternoon tea with eight different blends of tea, cakes and v
v sandwiches, and at least two lunch menus.
Todays lounge and bar menu features sandwiches with marmalade glazed Suffolk ham, Shipcord cheese and homemade piccalilli at 6.50, or rare roast beef with English mustard and watercress at 6.75, or the Swan club sandwich with house fries at 8.95. For those with bigger appetites there are some delicious main courses Cromer crab thermidor with local new potatoes and seasonal greens at 14.50, grilled fillet of native sea trout, crushed pink fir apple potatoes, leaf spinach and a spring onion dressing at 13.95 or a Swan beef burger topped with mature cheddar and smoked dry cured bacon in a homemade sesame bun served with house fries for just 10.95, all served from 12 to 2pm.
In summer, al fresco dining beckons you into the pretty garden, or for fine dining into the elegant Gallery Restaurant, built in more recent times but seamlessly matched to the buildings original history.
I chose the restaurant, busy on a Monday lunchtime and great value with two courses for 14.95 or three courses for 18.95. I started with risotto of native crayfish, garlic roasted langoustine and lobster oil from the evening dinner menu; priced at 35.95 for three courses this can also be part of the dinner, bed and breakfast package in the hotel.
It was as summery a starter as you v
v could hope for, lively with pea shoots, broad beans and a tender langoustine. I followed that with calfs liver with Lyonnaise potatoes a seemingly popular choice as I saw that several other diners had chosen this too.
Everything was so good that I couldnt resist the poached pear scented with elderflower for dessert and left feeling that I had been well looked after by their attentive staff and their chef.
Nick Wilson is relatively new to Lavenham but has a long career with the best of Modern British food, having worked with Christophe Novelli and since then developed a distinct style that has strong modern British roots, combining robust flavours and fine ingredients.
His exciting seasonal menus are strongly based on quality ingredients. He makes freshly baked bread using flour from Glebe Farm, has local seafood including Lowestoft kippers and Cromer crab, supports the Nash family with chickens from Sutton Hoo, cooks Blythburgh pork, uses Red v
v Poll Beef and asparagus from Sandersons Farm at Beachamwell and serves tempting cheeses, Suffolk Gold from Salisburys Guernsey herd in Coddenham and Mrs Temples Binham Blue and Norfolk Smoked Dapple a philosophy of good and local food that was evident in my lunch.
Their wine list is extensive too, it includes Old and New World wines that can be sampled by the glass or bottle, and features a wine made a few miles from the Swan at Gifffords Hall in Hartest. It is similar to a good, dry Champagne and at 36.95 is great for a special occasion, with the satisfaction of knowing that a Suffolk wine business might benefit as a result.
The Swan Hotel at Lavenham is a beautiful country retreat, offering a peaceful charm and quality service in one of our most delightful villages. You dont have to be from America to go there; it is just a few miles down the road.
The Swan Hotel, Lavenham. Tel: 01787 247477. www.theswanatlavenham.co.uk