Nina Gray and Paul Welburn outside The Swan in Islip

The Swan in Islip is heaving with builders, electricians, chefs, staff, plumbers, wine merchants and delivery men as the finishing touches are applied to the bar and kitchen ready for opening night next Wednesday.

Chef patron Paul Welburn stands amidst the chaos beaming from ear to ear, gesturing around him, happy to be back in the kitchen and raring to go.

Because with carte blanche over the menu, kitchen and staff, and a point to prove, he couldn’t be more excited.

when the Cygnet RESTAURANT opens it will serve a four course set menu which changes weekly

New landlady Nina Gray is equally as excited, knowing that with Paul’s expertise in the kitchen and her passion and determination to restore The Swan to its former glory, the stage is set for some real magic.

Paul Welburn( centre) with his kitchen team – chef de partie Jenildo Dos Santos (L) and (R) Peter Wilton

Not that there hasn’t been blood, sweat and tears going on behind the scenes over the past year, with the electrics, gas and drainage all being installed from scratch, and an extensive refurb that included taking out all seven bedrooms and turning them into the bar and dining areas. Read about Paul’s initial announcement here!


An open plan kitchen will now greet guests who walk through the door, the luxurious bar area on the left then leading guests through to the dining room at the back. For now though only a small sharing plate menu will be on hand when the pub officially reopens on Wednesday – the Cygnet restaurant planning to open in late November.

Nina Gray and Paul Welburn

So what can we expect? “We want The Swan to be more than a pub, we want it to be a destination restaurant, somewhere a bit different, somewhere special,” Paul promises.

And considering Paul was ready to head back to Yorkshire and leave Oxford for good, we are delighted that Nina approached him to put The Swan’s name on the culinary map.

“I’d given it until the end of the month when Nina rang me,” he confirms. read about his departure from 215 here. “But I knew immediately The Swan would be somewhere I’d be able to make my mark, and the new owners encaptured everything I was looking for – passion, vision, understanding and determination.

Paul Welburn( centre) with his kitchen team – chef de partie Jenildo Dos Santos (L) and (R) Peter Wilton

“So I’m in it for the long run because I have the freedom to create the food I want to cook and bring my vision to fruition, which is so rare.

Considering Paul held Oxford’s only Michelin star at Oxford Kitchen (then 215) read about the change of name here it would have been a massive loss for the county, had he gone.

“the kitchen is my comfort zone, my safety net, it’s how I express myself”

Instead, we can enjoy a mini-version of his food on the small plates bar menu which boasts 13 different options. And then come November, when Cygnet opens, Paul and his team will serve a a weekly changing four course set menu with bread and nibbles.

Nina Gray and Paul Welburn at The Swan in Islip

A bit different then? “Yes I didn’t want to do a la carte or tasting menus so this was a happy medium,” he says “and I’m really excited about offering these two different dining options. We want to create a really new experience here and take people on a journey.”

“Besides, it will be nice to be back in the kitchen,” he grins. “It’s my comfort zone, my safety net, it’s how I express myself. Let the fun begin.”


Nina chose the decor – pictured here in the newly refurbed toilets, which each have a different theme

As for future plans, once Cygnet is open, the third and final phase is the garden which will be open by next summer.

In the meantime, Nine is proudly showing me around the new interior, which she decorated herself. Nina lives next door to the pub, and was determined to bring The Swan back to its former glory.

“The prevailing factor was the food. It had to be right,” she says. Which is why she was so delighted when she heard Paul had left 215, because he was exactly what she was looking for to head up The Swan’s kitchens.

“Everyone knows I do things properly or not at all, so it was a case of go big or go home. And besides who doesn’t want their own boozer?” she laughs.

Paul Welburn and Nina Gray outside The Swan in Islip

As for the Michelin star, presumably Paul would like to see that back on the menu too? “My food is my food. It has the same ethos, the same vision, so we’ll see,” he smiles. “To be honest I’m just happy to be back in the kitchen.”

And with that the pair are off, ready for the grand opening and I’m already excited. Excited for them and for us, because the way things are going already, The Swan is going to be epic!

Katherine MacAlister