Restaurant review: Bear and Swan

by Crumbs

10 July 2013

"The duck was a beautiful looking plate of food – the breast being sliced into thick strips and languishing on the mountain of earthy roast beetroot half-moons, stumpy little carrots and broad beans and peas with a sweet, just-picked crunch."

MARK TAYLOR knows good food and, with a nudge in the right direction from his hardened editor, he knows where to find it too. Our man on the ground heads to Chew Magna for some satisfyingly good pub grub

“Taylor, come here, I’ve got a little job for you!” came the blood-curdling yell from my cigar-chomping editor from beneath her green eye shade across the clatter of typewriters in the noisy, smoke-filled Crumbs newsroom.

“Get yourself over to Chew Magna immediately, and check out this story about the bear and swan.”

Well, it wasn’t quite like that. More of a gentle ‘ping’ into my email inbox sent from the fragrant serenity of the Crumbs desk, but it was enough to get me hotfooting it across to this lovely village on the outskirts of Bristol to see what was occurring.

Located close to the Chew Valley lakes, where swans are a thankfully more common sight than bears, Chew Magna is one of those bustling little villages with those rarest of things – a small butcher, a Post Office and three decent pubs within staggering distance of each other.

With its gorgeous, in-your-dreams houses and lovely 12th-century church, it’s one of those timeless villages that you tend to forget still exist unless you are addicted to Midsomer Murders and know the work of John Nettles intimately.

At the stroke of midday the Bear and Swan pub was just warming up for the day, although it opens from 9am for breakfast and coffee and is handy for anybody heading off to the airport nearby.

There were a couple of locals propping up the bar with chilled glasses of Chardonnay, poring over the free copy of the Daily Mail on the counter. And then there was a family of retired walkers settling down by the crackling log fire for reviving lattés and toasted BLT sandwiches. In another corner, two retired tweedy chaps with voices as rich and plummy as a Christmas pudding were already making light work of a bottle of Merlot as they tucked into plates of beer- battered haddock and homemade chips.

In other words, it was another normal day at the office for the new owners of this lovely stone-built Victorian pub which dates back to 1886. The new custodians of the Fullers Brewery-owned pub are the Warburton family who also run the popular Old House at Home near Castle Combe and The Northey Arms at Box. Run under the umbrella of the OHH Company, they took over The Bear and Swan at the end of May and it has been busy ever since. On their first bank holiday here, they served just under 100 meals alone.

Executive chef Chris Alderson has been with the OHH Company for eight years, and he’s taking a break from The Northey Arms while he oversees the new kitchen team in Chew Magna. The menus are similar in style to the group’s other two pubs, with plenty of light options (sandwiches, ciabattas, salads, ploughman’s) for the many walkers and cyclists who stop off in the village.

For those of us fond of more gastronomic pursuits, there are plenty of interesting dishes to choose from on the a la carte menu served lunchtime and dinner.

I could have happily started with chicken liver and foie gras parfait with toasted brioche before moving on to pan-fried calves liver with black pudding mash, spinach, honey roast carrots and bacon. Or perhaps you might want to kick off with crotin of goat’s cheese, poached apple and piccalilli and follow it with tiger prawn linguine with lemon, tomato, chilli, garlic and parsley.

With such a multiple choice menu, whittling it down wasn’t easy but the Britain’s Got Talent-style yeses eventually went to pan-fried scallops with lemon risotto, rocket and Parmesan (£8.50), followed by pan-fried duck breast with roast beetroot, baby carrots, garlic, fresh broad beans and peas (£15.50). They were both faultless.

The scallops were spankingly fresh, firm and juicy and their sweetness worked especially well with the zestiness of the very lemony risotto.

The duck was a beautiful looking plate of food – the breast being sliced into thick strips and languishing on the mountain of earthy roast beetroot half-moons, stumpy little carrots and broad beans and peas with a sweet, just-picked crunch.

To follow, an impressively wobbly yoghurt and thyme panna cotta with poached raspberries (£6) was a light, clean and refreshing full stop to a meal that was punctuated with a well-kept pint of London Pride and a rounded and juicy Rioja.

But then I did assure the editor that I would brush up on my punctuation when I was despatched to Chew Magna to track down that bear and swan…  

Bear and Swan, 13 South Parade, Chew Magna, BS40 8Pr; 01275 331100;