Don't be misled by its cast of slumbering geriatrics, Southwold's Swan is ageing well, and will satisfy even the youngest of diners

Southwold is a gloriously time-warped Suffolk seaside town. It's the sort of place where the policemen nibble Strawberry Mivvies on the High Street and it's a crime wave when someone nicks the donations from the Sailor's Reading Room (though he also bothers to return the empty box).

Southwold is a gloriously time-warped Suffolk seaside town. It's the sort of place where the policemen nibble Strawberry Mivvies on the High Street and it's a crime wave when someone nicks the donations from the Sailor's Reading Room (though he also bothers to return the empty box).

And Chloë ­ 10, and a bit of a gourmet ­ has high expectations of her first ever grown-up dinner at The Swan. She knows I had my first cream tea here in 1968, when I was younger than she is now. She knows that her big brother played peek-a-boo with a pair of old ladies over the back of the velvet sofa. Most of all, she knows that, in all the family summers we've enjoyed in rented cottages, The Swan is where her father and I always escape for romantic dinners.

So she's put on her smartest purple jeans and even brushed her hair. "Where are the olives?" she wants to know as my longed-for glass of champagne arrives. But there are no such fripperies at The Swan. Instead the famous chintzy drawing-room boasts merely a wealth of Country Lifes and Blyth Bugles and ­ serendipitously for Chloë ­ the Halesworth Toy Shop mail-order catalogue.

As we "go through" to the hushed, pink linen dining-room, Chloë gazes around. At the big table in the window, four elderly ladies are discussing Greece as The Cradle Of Civilisation. To our left, an octogenarian couple lift their forks in slow motion, only emphasising the lightning speed with which my daughter grabs a bread roll from the proffered basket.

With admirable confidence, she then orders the smoked salmon with lemon dill and yoghurt to start. I go for the gruyère and leek tart. The careful, elegant food at The Swan rarely disappoints. But it does encourage greed: the challenge is to emerge into the quiet marketplace feeling replete but not nauseous.

My tart is as perfect as I knew it would be ­ the pastry just the right level of crunch and flavours to make you want to close your eyes. When I ask Chloë what she thinks of her chiffon layers of salmon, she says "Nice" ­ and, indeed, the forkfuls are galumphing mouthwards with barely a pause for breath. In fact, the only hesitation emanates, as ever, from the waitresses ­ local girls suddenly asked to perform arcane, delicate rituals.

As her sea bass with basil pesto arrives, Chloë smiles to herself. "It's pathetic, you know, Mummy ­ Jacob is 12 but he still picks the broccoli off his quiches.

"You couldn't bring him here," she concludes with delight.

Certainly, she and I are not picking anything off anything. My roast salmon with leeks, asparagus, scallops and chive beurre blanc is lovely, but Chloë's fish is meltingly gorgeous ­ just how you imagine the grey-green North Sea might taste if it were bathed in cream.

Chloë says she likes the green patterned china and the "free" bread rolls and the way the crumbs are whisked off the table between courses ("Just like the dog does for us at home"). We discuss rollerblades and fiction and what we might call our autobiographies, and I'm just thinking what a surprisingly mature dining companion she makes when, on hearing me torn between desserts, she says, "I'll do an Ib Dib Sky Blue for you."

I tell her I can make my own mind up. We order the sticky toffee pudding and the lemon tart. The nursery food is my choice. Chloë says her thin shell of pastry filled with citrusy flesh and served with blobs of clotted cream reminds her of birthdays.

We retire to the drawing-room for coffee where ­ absolutely in keeping with Myerson family lore ­ the diners seem to come to sleep. Not all of them, though. As Chloë lunges for the raisin fudge, the slow-motion couple who have just settled themselves on the sofa opposite, shudder into life. "Speaking of walking to the pier," says the old gentleman (who hadn't been), "I was remembering that time I had to keep my hand in my pocket all the way to hold my hernia in."

"Gordon!" says his wife, glancing at us.

"Not the most romantic of memories," he says, "but there you are."

"What's a hernia?" Chloë demands to know through a mouthful of fudge. "Is it a type of fish?"

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