Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fine Wine and British Seasonal Food at the White Swan: an evening to remember!

Every so often I come across a restaurant that I just have to rave about to everyone who is around long enough for me to say hello. The White Swan happens to be one of them. I discovered this little gem near chancery lane two years ago, when my boyfriend booked a valentines dinner there as a surprise. When I walked in, my initial reaction was “A pub? Really?” but as we were led upstairs, to a warm and contemporary dining room was when I started to appreciate the sheer simplicity, warmth and ambiance of the place. Two visits later, I sit here writing about my most recent visit to the one of the White Swan’s wine and food tasting evenings.
 5 delicious courses, 5 fantastic glasses of wine, carefully paired together to create an unforgettable dining experience. The stars of this evening were a wide variety of award winning ‘Hunter’s’ Marlborough wines, and we were privileged to learn so much about it as the founder of Hunter’s came all the way from New Zealand to promote her gorgeous wines. I would love to share some of the interesting facts and history of Hunter’s but as I have 5 different courses to discuss I will just direct you to their website http://www.hunters.co.nz/
Citrus-cured Isle of Man king scallop, apple and fennel salad
This was the first dish to arrive at the table so I knew it would be the dish that would either heighten or lower the expectations of the evening. The dish was simply but gracefully presented as disks of cured (thus raw!) scallops were centred in a circle on a white plate with thin shavings of apple and fennel positioned on top. It tasted just as delicate as it looked, with a hint of citrus coming through the subtle taste of the scallops. The fennel and apple shavings contributed a fine tanginess to the dish, creating a palate-cleansing marriage! A starter like that does exactly what it’s supposed to do; tickle the taste-buds, refresh your senses and make you crave more. The wine accompanying the dish was a 2009 Sauvingon Blanc, winner of 13 wine awards, including a gold award in the global sauvignon blanc competition “Concours Mondial du Savignon Blanc 2010”. It really wasn’t difficult to see why it won so many privileges. The wine was preserved in a stainless steel container and lacked any oak quality, thus exposing fragrant tropical fruit aromas as well as some crisp characters of gooseberries. The wine had an acidic element which paired wonderfully with the citrus aspect of the dish.
(Picture unavailable due to impatience,hunger and an unreliable memory!)
Braised south coast brill, truffle crushed celeriac, oxtail beignet.
This dish was definitely one of the highlights for me (just brill-iant). The fillet of Brill was so tender and delicious, one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten. Matched with the celeriac, which was cleverly infused with truffle aromas to add a tantalizing flavour to the dish, the brill almost melted in my mouth while the oxtail beignet was a fantastic addition of texture and meatiness. The juxtaposition of the soft , silky brill paired with a multi-dimensional oxtail beignet, so crisp on the outside and meaty and rich on the inside is a true celebration of British food. The wine match was a barrel fermented Kaho Roa Sauvignon Blanc (2007), which had a more dry and oaky quality, a less fruity wine than the previous Sauvignon Blanc but more crisp with a lingering finish which worked particularly well with the oxtail part of the dish.

Pot roasted Yorkshire quail, quail sausage roll, chanterelle and artichoke ragout.
This dish was a complex combination of four different elements that went so brilliantly together! The quail, done in two ways, provided the hearty factor. The breast was pink and tender while the quail sausage roll put the seasonal aspect back into the evening- so warming and wholesome, just what I would expect on a chilly autumn evening! The chanterelles and artichokes also played on the seasons, as the vivid wild mushroom taste and the rooty grilled artichoke almost brought out an image of walking through a forest with all the fresh smells of mushrooms and earth. Hence why the wine, a Pinot Noir, was such a brilliant match as the rich red wine had a definite forest fruits overtone which really captured that woodland walk image for me! The wine was fragrant and light compared to your typical red, my first impression was “cherries!” which underpinned the forest floor aromas. Sensational!

The cheese and the dessert
The last two courses consisted of May Hill Green cheese with some grapes and toasted bread followed by tantalizing lemon parfait. May Hill Green cheese, despite its preconceptions of being a mature perhaps blue-type cheese, is a soft, pasteurised cow’s milk cheese with a somewhat pungent quality, not dissimilar to that of stinking bishop! It gets its colourful name from the green appearance of the rind, which is coated in nettles. While the previous course had transported me to a forest, this cheese course had no trouble in taking me to a farmland! The creamy and delicate texture of the cheese was cut through by the 2009 Hunter’s Gewurztraminer, a dry and weighty white wine. I always find that something as rich as cheese needs to be balanced out (perhaps a nice chutney could have helped) but luckily the crisp, almost zesty wine did just that, as well as prepare the taste buds for the final course!

The lemon parfait was a perfect finish to a perfect meal. Acting as a pudding as well as a palate cleanser, the parfait was cold and creamy and did not compromise on texture which was smooth yet riddled with strands of lemon zest to give the taste buds a refreshing kick! The pudding factor came in the form of three homemade honey madeleines. While rustic in appearance, these sweet, sugary treats really spruced up the dessert and gave me something to use as a dipping device once the parfait began to melt. To complete the dish, the raspberry sauce tied together the sweet and the sour and established a perfect balance for the palate. Now, I have never been a huge fan of dessert wine, I mean why have something even sweeter than the pudding? I normally choose to have a coffee or a tea to compliment my dessert but as this was not arriving until later with the petit fours, I had no choice but to sample the Riesling Hukapapa (2009). Good thing I’m not stubborn, as that wine was delicious with a capital d! A late harvest Riesling, Hukapapa is sweet and fruity wine, with subtle undertones of honeysuckle and caramel. The combination of the wine and the dessert created a sweet but sharp finish and left me (and all the other diners around me) perfectly satisfied!

If you are a lover of great food and great wine, hurry to one of the white swan’s tasting evenings! For a party of 2, expect a bill around the £100 mark (including service charge.) but when you think of just how much you will get for your money, you will leave with that ‘money well spent’ feeling. Fresh bread on arrival, five enticing taste sensations, five different wine tastings (expect your glass regularly topped up too!), coffee and petit fours, friendly customer service and a talk with a winemaker or sommelier; bring a good friend and you will have great company for a very special dining experience.
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