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The White Swan Pub & Dining Room - Fetter lane, London EC4

Stephen Higginson discovers a city slicker with great taste

The area in and around the City of London is pretty quiet in the evenings as soon as the after-work drinks sessions are over. As a result, when it comes to food in the area, the emphasis is on lunch rather than dinner; indeed many restaurants only offer lunch. However, the scene is changing. As more people choose to live in the inner city, it is becoming economically viable to stay open and serve an evening clientele. One venue, which took the plunge about three years ago and has achieved good things gastronomically, is The White Swan Pub and Dining Room. Tucked away in a corner of Fetter Lane off Fleet Street – once the centre of newspaper production where long lunches were legendary - it once was a journalists’ drinking den nicknamed the Mucky Duck. Its transformation by brothers Tom and Ed Martin into a gastro-pub of note has been remarkable.

The dining room, situated upstairs above the charming bar, has a décor and ambience which would not be out of place in a West End location. A plush intimate feel is achieved with rich dark woods, crisp white linen, well placed tables, comfortable tub chairs, a tasteful mirrored ceiling and good lighting; it radiates ‘elegant dining’ – and that is what the White Swan offers.

We chose the evening to see how it felt at a quieter time, rather than dive into the more hectic lunch time buzz.. It was good to see a decent sprinkling of diners of all ages already enjoying chef Shannon Wilson’s adventurous menu when we took our seats at 8.30 pm on a Tuesday.

Six starters, six main courses and six puddings is the formula, and the avowed aim is to provide ‘modern British cuisine’. It is always a good indication of the chef’s skills when one wants to try everything on the menu! We disciplined ourselves and chose starters of grilled quail, chicory tart tatin with Sauternes soaked golden raisin salad (£9), and the poached duck egg on chorizo, Alsace bacon and fresh pea salad ( £6.50) – both beautifully presented. The quail was delicate, almost understated – a finely tuned dish where the ingredients melded perfectly. Similarly the poached duck egg; subtle but enlivened with the spicy bite of the chorizo and salty bacon. Great starters designed to stimulate your taste buds and make you eager for what else was soon to come – and it worked.

The only dud note so far was a Sauvignon Blanc by the glass, Haut Poiton (£4.20) that we had chosen- thin and without character. Bad luck, especially as there is a very resourceful list of over 150 wines to chose from.

Next we went for the Pan-fried fillet of Gilt head bream, fricassee of summer vegetables, coriander pesto and shrimp sauce (£17) and the confit duck leg, warmed new potato and shallot salad, salsa al rafano with cabernet sauvignon dressing (£16.50). Although the plates of food were more than adequate, we greedily added side dishes of runner beans (£4) –snappingly fresh and perfectly seasoned and cooked, and rocket and parmesan salad (£4) –lush, generous with a very good dressing. The bream was ultra fresh, moist, delicate and delicious - given added sparkle by the other zingy elements. Nothing was left on the plate! The duck was splendid too, perfectly crisp skin on the outside, tender and piping hot on the inside. The potato and shallot salad worked really well against the strong duck whilst the salsa and dressing also softened the richness of the meat.

This time the wines were fine. A glass of Viogner, Domaine de Campuget Gard from the Rhone with the fish (£4.50) - stunningly fragrant - and a plump and resinous Syrah Mouton de Gassoc, vin de pays de l’Herault (£4.50) which proved a great match for the duck.

Finally, puds -baby apricot clafoutis with almond ice cream for me, honey nougat parfait with blueberry compote and thick Greek yoghurt for my colleague. The first was delicate (seemingly a characteristic of the White Swan!) and melt in the mouth, although the almond flavour was too faint. The second, nutty and rich, delightfully counter pointed by the sour yoghurt and dense blueberry compote. Both very ‘poised’ puddings. The kitchen at the White Swan is a really professional outfit, and the food goes beyond what you would expect from a gastro pub. Indeed the owners are right to label it a ‘dining room’; for with its cool, sophisticated ambience and polished inventive food, that is exactly what it is.

The White Swan Pub & Dining Room,
108 Fetter lane, London EC4 1ES
Tel; 020 7242 9696
The Dining Room opens between 12 noon and 3 pm for lunch and between 6pm and 10pm for dinner.

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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