Over the past few years, the Swan Hotel’s special menu events have gained a dedicated following, plus a reputation for being somewhat lavish affairs. At the table next to us are a couple who attended last year’s Food Festival event and ‘weren’t going to miss it for the world’ – despite having now moved fours hours’ drive away to Devon. On our other side is a last-minute hotel guest who can’t believe her luck as a never-ending assortment of dishes magically appear in front of her. She dutifully takes a photo of each plate, telling us that her family won’t believe her otherwise. And it really is that impressive.
This year’s event doubled as a preview evening for elements from the upcoming winter/Christmas menu and ranged from the hearty and homely (a blinding tomato and garlic soup; roast pork and apple sauce) to the festive and luxurious (a super-indulgent hot-smoked salmon, a dainty field-mushroom wellington). There seems to have been a stronger focus on providing quality vegetarian dishes this year too – a teensy bubble and squeak cake topped with a perfectly poached quail egg is a mini-mouthful of joy, and the gently cumin-spiced falafel are now at the top of my ‘must-go-back-for’ list.
Local and quality suppliers (as always) were firmly to the fore, and we were lucky enough to have one of the local-est producers – Sue from Roly’s Fudge – join our table, having carried her Fairtrade coffee fudge from the shop directly across the road where it had just been made that afternoon.
At the end of the evening, we are introduced to chefs Scott, Stuart, Tom and Natalie and asked to vote on a contentious issue – is one team’s baked cheesecake tastier than the other’s unbaked? Whose will make it onto the Christmas menu? Mary Berry never had to make a tougher call. (The unbaked won, by the way, and it’s scrumptious.)
All in all, it’s generous, jolly, informal, friendly fun. There’s attentive service from Beate and the gang, a raffle to win a Pallant of Arundel veg hamper, personalised labels on each table wishing us an enjoyable evening, Christmas crackers, free packets of grow-your-own salad seeds, complementary Fairtrade chocolates and info about the Food Festival’s chosen charity FareShare as take-homes – a host of tiny details that, once again, add up to a tremendous whole.
Proof once again that the Swan’s kitchen and staff are still well at the top of the of their game. Can’t wait until the next one!