“Hope you’re hungry and like fast deer! Great country retreat…“
It’s a fairly drab Saturday afternoon in May, a shuffling sweep round the bathroom showrooms of Stockton Heath is not exactly getting the juices flowing. Still let’s not get too downhearted The Cooktwit had bagged The Flame a slap up binge at The Black Swan in somewhere called Lower Withington.
This black version is a stable mate of The Swan at Newby Bridge, a place The Flame and I have enjoyed on several occasions in the past. It’s a fair old romp to get there though. The M6 gets you thereabouts but then it’s a gentle swage through its leafier bits. Twemlow and Sweetenham are just two of the many haunts who gain your patronage on the way to this fine outpost.
The Black Swan makes a fine sight as you enter its domain. Its jaunty ‘swan with a cap’ brand lifts the spirits. There’s some serious hardware in the car park on arrival. Not too many beat up Mondeos here. I reckon some pretty hot horse, ‘rugger’ and ‘gunnery’ pastimes are enjoyed by the clientele here!
If you think the external branding is quirky, wait til you get inside! Whilst I am a fan of the industrial heavy metal of the Manchester scene it is a pleasant change to step into the chintzy country style of the Swan. ‘Sandersonesque’ prints swathe the comfy chairs and the odd wall. A flock of dead deer adorn one wall. They must have hit that wall hard! Mr Farrow and Mr Ball have done well. ‘Sagey’ greens get a good airing. The Flame is totally enchanted. It’s definitely a female setting, very homely. No harm in that, so its smiles all round as I quench my thirst with a pint of their very own local ‘Mucky Duck’. A light session ale with only three point six points on the ‘drunkometer’. It’s good stuff.
We select from the ‘hand written’ black on white menu (always a good thing). For starts I go for the chorizo scotch egg with a saffron aioli (£6.95). The flame is teased into seared sardines with vine tomatoes, toasted brioche with salsa verde (also £6.95). At first my egg looks a bit lost and boring, but it soon livens up when I plunge in. Turns out it was rather good. The chorizo cover was lovely, particularly when married with the saffron aioli. I’m pleased to say the flames’ sardines are good too. She suggests the brioche is a little sweet for her, but all in all despite the long wait, we’re chuffed.
For mains I am drawn straight away to the ox cheek ragout with pesto linguine and pecorino (£12.50). I’m partial to the cheek of ox (see recipe here). The ox cheek bit was plentiful and superb though I did detect a slightly curious, deep scented taste, which could have been basil or basil oil? Another pedantic note is that the sheer volume of linguine had even me quaking. I reckon at least a third less would have done me! The flame had the beer can chicken with chunky chips and ranch salad (£11.95). She elected to forego the sweet and spicy BBQ sauce. Again a good portion (I had to finish half of it!). We couldn’t really detect what the beer can had added. As expected it was good well cooked chicken. The salad was especially good being chunky and fresh.
As usual for research purposes I had a dessert. And boy what a dessert. Banoffee cheesecake with toffee sauce (£5.95). This really was good, as good as any I’ve had in a good while. Guaranteed as being homemade by Emma our young, smiling waitress it was a creamy and dare I say almost boozy triumph. A fine end to a most enjoyable hour or so.
Amongst the advertorial material on the country table was a notelet about a natty little walk. The suggestion being that one should troop round the advertised route and pop back to the swan for brunch (they are open at 10am). I think we’re on for this. That’s our next plot when we’re next in err……..Lower Withington. I reckon you should try it.
The Black Swan
SK11 9EQ 01477 571770