Dining Out: The Swan, Olney

The Swan Inn & Bistro in Olney

The Swan Inn & Bistro in Olney

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These are difficult times for pubs across the country.

The Campaign for Real Ale claims our hostelries are closing at a rate of 18 per week which shows it is not an easy time for publicans and pub companies.

And that is why it is so heartening when you see one that is thriving.

Take a short trip over the county boundary into Olney and there is much to enjoy – not least The Swan.

It is somewhere we are always keen to go and, judging by the number of people who chose to eat there on the Wednesday night we visited, we are not alone in that.

It was heaving.

A decent gauge of how good a place is can be found in the difficulty you have to book.

When there is a lengthy pause, then the muttered sounds of mental processing, followed eventually by a friendly: “Yes, I’m sure we can fit you in” – you know you are going somewhere popular.

The pub’s existence stretches back to the 18th century and the exposed beams and brickwork of the slightly higgledy-piggledy layout give it tremendous character.

There is a wonderfully warm feeling to the place.

A traditional pub with no airs and graces but with no lack of quality.

If the building’s old-fashioned charm creates the ambience for your visit, the food makes it a pleasure.

A chalkboard on the wall displays the main menu with a separate one detailing specials for starters, a couple of fish main courses and two vegetarian options.

The ‘regular’ starters include Brixworth pate, grilled goats cheese, ham hock gratin and pigeon breast salad while mains begin with lasagne or chilli at around £9 and go up to the rack of lamb at just shy of £20; although we must confess to not seeing many of the latter come out of the kitchen.

We opted for seafood to begin – the Thai fishcakes for my wife Sue and king prawns in filo pastry for me.

The delicious garlic mayonnaise with mine made it for me, while Sue’s intensely-flavoured fishcakes were exceptional.

I was not to be swayed when it came to the main course.

It might not be the most adventurous but I had eaten steak there before and I was going to eat steak there again.

Sue wavered more.

The pork belly?

The filo parcel of – among many other things – feta, pine nuts and spinach?

The lamb?

But, having seen a plateful go past she was persuaded to join me with the steak – both ordered rare, both cooked to perfection.

I had mine with a powerful stilton sauce which perhaps overpowered the steak a little but was a wonderful dip for the chips.

Plates were scraped clean, the home-made chips were excellent, and pudding selected.

A sticky toffee pudding and a chocolate torte to be shared half each and, once again, there was nothing left before long.

By this time we had whiled away a couple of very pleasant hours and yet the pub was still busy.

The bar area full of chattering drinkers, the restaurant section full of replete diners.

It goes to show that, even in these difficult times, if things are done well then pubs can still be extremely popular and successful.

And The Swan do things very well.

VALUE: Very good

FOOD: Excellent

SERVICE: Good

DISABLED ACCESS: Yes

PARKING: A small car park to the rear but plenty on the nearby market square

FINAL TOTAL: £53.90 without drinks

JIM’S STAR RATING: 9/10