The Swan Bar and Restaurant is part of Shakespeare’s Globe, overlooking the River Thames. I think it’s one of the best views of the river and St Paul’s, which rises majestically over the waterfront buildings.
In the days of Elizabeth I this neighbourhood, called Bankside, was a place for dubious entertainment. Its location outside the jurisdiction of the City of London enabled it to become a mecca for pursuits frowned upon by polite society. It had bear-baiting pits, ladies of the night, and playhouses, including the Rose, the Hope Theatre, the Swan and the Globe Theatre, of which one can see a replica constructed in the late 1990s. We were visiting the Swan but, although next door to Shakespeare’s Globe, and bearing the name of that aforementioned Elizabethan theatre, it is in fact a pub and a restaurant.
The Swan fits perfectly with the area. The small windows remind one of Dickensian homes, although I suspect this is all much newer. One mounts the stairs to the contemporary restaurant which at 6pm was filled with tourists. There was then a lull until 7pm when the late diners found their tables. The Swan opens early in the morning so there are culinary temptations all day long. Afternoon tea is served from 2.30 till 5pm from Monday to Saturday, and features a ‘Gentleman’s High Tea’.
Presentation is dramatic
Try and get a window table if possible. The view is striking and one sees that there are still very few skyscrapers just here. St Paul’s Cathedral is imposing and the masterwork of Sir Christopher Wren, Britain’s most famous architect. The building he designed to replace the pre-Great Fire of London Cathedral took nine years of planning and thirty-five years to build. The work started in 1675 and this dome, with the church beneath, is one of London’s most recognised pieces of stonework. Metalwork aplenty can be seen to the right of your vista in the shape of Southwark Bridge, built in the 1920s.
The restaurant at The Swan has its focus on the best of contemporary British cooking and produce. The menu offers something for every taste, and its dishes have flair. We started with British cured meats, pickles, breadsticks, and bagna cauda. This is one to share, so go with a friend, as this is worth ordering. The presentation is dramatic, with the meats and garnishes served on a marble pedestal. The not-so-British bagna cauda is a warm dip typical of Piedmont in Italy and is usually made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter. The version here was very mild but still worked well with the cold cuts. Have some extra bread on hand as you won’t want to waste any of that sauce.
Cockle butter sauce
Salt-marsh lamb rump was my guest’s main course. We have outstanding lamb in the UK and it was showcased to great advantage in this simple but flavourful dish. Slices of pink and succulent meat were served with vibrant green sea vegetables, Cornish potatoes, cockles and cockle butter sauce, which was truly buttery and a great partner to the lamb.
Cornish fish stew was my choice of main dish. Norfolk saffron potatoes and garlic mayonnaise topped a rich broth; plenty of fish and shellfish filled the sizable bowl. This is a must-try for any seafood lover. Full flavours and a generous portion at a very reasonable price. Saffron might seem an exotic spice but once upon a time the UK was known for its crop of these crocuses. In the 16th and 17th centuries the saffron crocus was widely grown in Essex and gave Saffron Walden its name. A delightful and very British dish.
Baked cherry tart with Devon cream was our dessert. This was British baking at its best. Yes, you can talk about French patisserie but I prefer our tarts, cakes and buns to the often over-fussy confections from across the Channel. This tart was light and sweet and the perfect end to a meal which proved to be a gastronomic tour of England.
The Swan has noteworthy food, friendly and professional service, a location second to none, and did I mention that view? I will be returning.
Friday: 8am–12 midnight
Saturday: 10am–12 midnight
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: 8am–11:30pm
Thursday: 8am–12 midnight
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT
Phone: 020 7928 9444
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018