Modern country life

So you thought the height of rustic dining was pie and chips in a traditional pub? This is a much more sophisticated affair
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Restaurants in the countryside are frequently downright dire. Our green and pleasant land is irrefutably ensnared in a culinary time warp. Tatty pubs still serve soggy sandwiches and "home-made" lasagne and little provincial eateries specialise in anything as long as it's with chips. It's a place where you are, sadly, totally elated if a restaurant is open after eight o'clock and will not necessitate colonic irrigation. Or so I presumed.

Restaurants in the countryside are frequently downright dire. Our green and pleasant land is irrefutably ensnared in a culinary time warp. Tatty pubs still serve soggy sandwiches and "home-made" lasagne and little provincial eateries specialise in anything as long as it's with chips. It's a place where you are, sadly, totally elated if a restaurant is open after eight o'clock and will not necessitate colonic irrigation. Or so I presumed.

In a Georgian town house within the sleepy hollows of Kent's West Malling, The Swan (a new restaurant venture) is positively chic. It has ousted all the cimmerian, cramped spaces of my usual country dining experience and has gone bright, spankingly modern. There is plenty of pale wood, a stainless steel bar and Phillipe Starck lighting all around. Upon the fashionably shaded walls are black and white photographs and against them comfy leather banquettes complete with jersey cushions and nickable ashtrays.

Past the dolled-up locals sipping Leffe on tap is the dining area - a small, discreet and airy space of about 30 covers. Over half the seats on this weekend lunchtime were already occupied by young families whose children were watching the inspired addition of a wide-screen DVD showing The Jungle Book (without sound). We sat at a window table set with a spray of scarlet chiles, hefty napkins and house-made rosemary loaf. On the wall the specials list included that Sunday lunch staple, roast lamb, and the pleasing wine list orbited allies such as an old vine Grenache, a Marsanne and, joyously, a Riesling.

For the first round we could have picked celery soup or a crab and ricotta paté but for my mother (who is always in search of the perfect risotto) it was a plum tomato do with lemon oil and parmesan. For me, spicy duck pancakes with celeriac coleslaw.

The rice, even Mum conceded, was good. It had enough bite to preclude stodginess and that sweet, earthy gusto of proper tomatoes which were further encouraged by the lemon oil and balsamic dressing. It was, moreover, small as suits such a dish and beautifully presented.

My duck was also cheering. A chic layered affair of herb-flecked pancakes straddling scrapings of duck and celeriac. The dish worked very well at the room temperature it was served at and the duck was both agreeably demi-sec and well met by the celeriac whose sour heat and gruff texture was a welcome addition to the whole. Both the Riesling and the Pinot Grigio, the former Australian, the latter Italian, were light, well balanced and suitable.

By this time the families had departed and little Mowgli had returned to the man village leaving Baloo to dance into the sunset. In his place was a large, balding individual sporting an apron. Not, it turns out, a cross-dressing cable channel but the kitchen crew shaping our spread. This was an altogether new parlour game where you could eye your meal and, more pertinently, keep an eye on the freakish antics of chefs, while awaiting the main event.

For our last round we had tagged the lamb special and a breaded pork fillet with spinach and black bean sauce from a thankfully concise menu of maybe six choices. The lamb was not exceptional. It was a shoulder slice in need of ten more minutes in the oven. The mash and spring vegetables that sat beneath, however, were excellent. The pork sacrifice was a little disappointing with no ingredient gaining much from the inclusion of the others. The fillet was, though, skillfully cooked and I liked the addition of some lightening lemon zest to the black beans. It was a simple faux pas of textures and I would happily have done away with the breadcrumbs so that the pig could have made the best of the virtuous and well prepared saucing.

We were gasping for a cigarette by now (the dining room is no smoking) and headed to the bar for coffee and the damage. For £60 I acquired refreshed optimism for the small town restaurant. Perhaps, in time, all the ugly ducklings may turn into swans.

The Swan is no ugly duckling, providing fashionable food in modern surroundings

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