Mikey (my love) and I went on an overly brief holiday to Bampton in Devon. On our first night we pootled past all the town’s eateries, leering at their menus. One particular starter got both of our attention. ‘Pulled pork belly fritter with soy and plum sauce, crackling.’ The rest of the menu became background noise. We wandered into The Swan, starry mouthed, to book in for the following night.
Knowing it would be the sort of feast we’d want to deserve, we spent the day doing a glorious walk. We rambled in the moderate spring sun from Haddon Hill across Wimbleball Lake, round an epic pathway to the almost invisible village of Bury. We passed a trout farm. I loved it. I think the man might have thought I was taking the piss but I really loved staring at his trout.
There were wild horses and hundreds of butterflies, grouse and pheasants everywhere. We were so at one with nature I even made Mikey eat a primrose. We decided there was so much amazing wildlife to live off, that when there’s a zombie apocalypse, that’s where we’ll head.
More than three hours in we met the obligatory doom-foreseeing local who laughed at us: “you’re not even halfway.” He told us our path ahead was “covered in adders” and that we also should beware “The Exmoor Beast”. He’s clearly met me when I’m hungry.
The last stretch was much steeper, sweatier and more treacherous than the rest had been. But no creatures attacked us. By the end we’d worked up achy limbs and two, well three (I’ve got one in the oven) growling tummies. To The Swan!
Into my second trimester and being a West Country girl back in ‘ciderland’ I saved this week’s pathetic lash allowance for a half of the local brew. Ashridge Devon Gold. Tart and sweet apple nectar. It couldn’t have made me any happier.
Then came the starters. We’d got ourselves pretty excited. Just like The Lego Movie, it was just as good as the hype. A crispy crumbed ball sat in a pool of beautiful sweet, tangy plum sauce, peppered with fresh coriander and tarragon. Inside was the juiciest, most sumptuous pulled pork and atop was a shard of perfect crackling. The textures and hearty flavours all made for the fairytale wedding. The fruity sauce cut through the heaviness of the rest of it but that faint burst of aniseed from the tarragon was what really made it shine.
For mains we ordered a steak suet pie and a fish pie, the idea being we swapped at half time. They were both as hearty as they sounded. Oof, they were good, by which I mean hefty.
The steak pie came with chips which were more like roast potatoes, golden and crunchy and, for chips, immense. The pie sat in a dense, rich gravy which was perfect with those massive molten spuds. The veg beside it were a lovely mixture of perfectly steamed carrots and greens in a decadent puddle of butter. The pie was a small mountain of richness. The meat was fall-apart and the pastry a wall of wet crumbs.
The fish pie was a similar heavy mixture of great things. Each flake of fish was gorgeous, the mash and strong cheese topping were heavenly. It missed some herbs or maybe some shellfish, or even a few quails’ eggs to really make it stand out.
Both pies were a tiny bit too uniform and too solid, which could well be an unfair criticism. It was all beautifully presented and massively satisfying. I think what really happened is with that starter they put their headliner on first and as a result the rest of the bill struggled.
I once had to follow famous everyman cockney Micky Flanagan with a full early preview of a feminist show about etymology. It went so badly that someone in the audience emailed me the next day. To see if I’d killed myself. Considering how good that starter had been, those mains actually did really well.
We were both so full, but Mikey had set his heart on a ‘white chocolate cheesecake, honeycomb and peanut butter ice cream’. Never have we made such a pathetic dent in such an incredible pudding. The cheesecake was more creamy than sugary, perfect. The ice-cream and honeycomb were the torch-bearers. Really peanutty and not over sickly. The honeycomb was so beautifully light and transformative. Gently crunching and then fizzing into caramel glue.
All in, with a tip, it was £60. That’s not bad going at all as it was fine stuff made with smashing skills. We rolled home ready to hibernate for a year. I’m just crossing everything that it’s impossible to crush an unborn child with pies.
The Swan, Station Road, Bampton, Devon, EX16 9NG
Tel: 01398 332248
Accessibility: Yes. Slightly fiddly flagstone floors and a one of the two front doors might need opening by staff but they happily oblige quickly. Step-free throughout and there’s a fully accessible toilet.