This week I was invited, along with several other Bristol-based food bloggers, to attend an evening at The Swan Hotel in Almondsbury. To us jaded and bleary-eyed city folk, the suggestion that Almondsbury, which is technically in South Gloucestershire (and therefore ‘in the country’) was a mere 15 minutes drive from central Bristol seemed unlikely. However, this turned out to be entirely true, and we arrived at The Swan after we’d barely had enough time to exchange Twitter handles. Loitering out on the no man’s land that is the Almondsbury Interchange, it’s easy to sail right past the hotel. The relatively unassuming exterior belies what’s inside however, as we were about to find out.
We were greeted by the charming owners Garth and Katie, whose passion for food and service is evident from the moment you meet them. We were plied with wine, and given a cocktail each in a jam jar complete with a kitsch stripy straw, which again defied expectations to be an surprisingly original take on a Moscow mule, made with marmalade. We were then presented with several dishes to taste, including tea-smoked salmon, fried pigs ears (which divided opinion) and herb-crusted cod. The food was cooked with obvious attention to detail, and the menu demonstrates chef Nigel Bissett’s passion for local produce and skill in letting these ingredients shine.
The next part of the evening consisted of a food quiz. I surprised myself by correctly labelling kohlrabi and salsify in the vegetable identification round, but didn’t fare quite so well when our knowledge of Bristol food trivia was tested -Ribena originated in Bristol, who knew?! We were then presented with a range of Heston Blumenthal-esque concoctions, and we had to guess the main flavours. The one that flummoxed all of us was a dark, sticky and intensely sweet substance that tasted not unlike blackcurrants (or maybe I just had Ribena on the brain from the previous round). This actually turned out to be Guinness, reduced down for several hours to a sickly paste. Other dishes included iridescent orange pearls of ‘salmon caviar’, with cauliflower puree and apple smoke, which was more pleasing to the palate and less confusing to the brain.
This was followed by a delicate lavender panna cotta, topped with ground bee pollen, which was slightly harder to identify. We casually mentioned that we liked the look of the Amaretto and sour cherry mousse, and charming little cupfuls of it were whisked over in seconds. Nigel delighted in explaining how he’d come up with the idea and how he made the mousse – describing techniques and thought processes that would be at home in top restaurants. He obviously reigns in his ingenious creativity when it comes to the main menu, as I doubt Almondsbury is quite ready for apple smoke wafting over their roast dinner. But these dishes typify the playful experimentation with flavours that makes the food at The Swan so much more than just your standard pub fare. It was a lovely evening, not least because it was nice to have a meal with people who don’t roll their eyes in a long-suffering manner when you whip out your phone to take a picture of every dish.