The Swan Islip

The Swan Inn in Islip is the most awaited pub/restaurant opening in Oxfordshire this year. Without question.

If I had a pound for every time I’d been asked about The Swan, I’d be writing this from the Caribbean. It’s hardly surprising, because not only is it a hugely exciting venture, but it’s had more stops and starts than the rail strike. read about it here

Having nabbed Paul Welburn of Michelin starred 215 fame just before he left Oxfordshire for good, new landlady Nina Gray announced she was re-opening The Swan in Islip and redoing it from scratch.

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

Then came Covid, building and product delays, staff shortages and the bar opening but not the restaurant. The anticipation was palpable!

FINALLY The Swan’s Cygnet Restaurant opened this month and I was there quicker than a rabbit out of a trap. But would it live up to the hype?

the cheddar custard tarts were served like Oreos – black with a white filling – tasting of cheese straws with a filling of Black Cow cheddar custard topped with a blackberry ketchup

It’s a quirky set up. The open plan kitchen is the first thing you see when you walk in the door. The bar is to the side, where the famous bar snacks are delivered, then a private dining room and finally the long awaited dining room which despite extensive decorating, local art on the walls and impressive bar and a plethora of staff, still feels slightly bare.

Glancing around I noticed the great and the good were there trying it out, hailing from The Nut Tree, The Mole, Pompette, Quince and Clover, The Worton Organic Kitchen – Oxfordshire’s foodies were there en masse.

As for the food, Paul is cooking what he wants to cook, that was always the deal, so it’s five courses for £60 with a matching vegetarian offering.

Bread and snacks at The Swan in Islip

Just like its Michelin starred neighbour The Nut Tree read our review, or the newly opened The Crown in Faringdon read our review here or acclaimed Pierre Koffman’s new venture at The Muddy Duck in Hethe read our review here, fancy food is back it would seem.

And it kicked off in style! From the first dishes – amuse bouche of the most perfect looking gin smoked trout served in tiny crispy croustades to the cheddar custard tarts served like Oreos – black with a white filling – tasting of cheese straws with a filling of Black Cow cheddar custard topped with a blackberry ketchup, it had everyone is raptures. Impressive from the word go.

The cheddar custard tarts

“So we’ve established that Paul can cook then,” one guest said as they crammed his home-made bread served with with a yeast butter (think Marmite) and tiny arancini balls with a side of caponata, into their mouths, silencing the table.

The dishes flowed on – a confit beetroot with cheddar custard, maple, hazelnut and mulled wine, so delicate and intricate, yet allowing the individual flavours to shout out – my favourite a green pine puree addition. So clever.

a confit beetroot with cheddar custard, maple, hazelnut and mulled wine

A brown butter glazed stone bass, apple dashi, kohlrabi, Granny Smith with sea vegetables followed, (the same but with hispi cabbage for vegetarians) the sweet Japanese broth contrasting with the salty sea veg, crisp granny smiths and the beautifully cooked fish. Not sure the hispi cabbage was a suitable veggie alternative though.

Then a sublime venison loin; simply served with cauliflower, red cabbage and haunch hunters pie (like shepherds pie but with venison haunch ragu, potato puree and puffed potato) and a dusting of red cabbage powder. Beautiful to behold it silenced the table.

The venison loin

And an intricate Roscoff onion tart with red cabbage and a mushroom and onion hotpot for the veggies which was rich and seasonal without being overwhelming.

Dessert was a chicory root cheesecake, burnt white chocolate, coconut sorbet and lime, which was almost a palate cleanser and all about textures and sensations.

With some excellent wine from sommelier Shaun Corrigan, it wasn’t a cheap night – £450 for four, but with people queueing up to try it out, the price doesn’t seem to be deterring anyone.

Because Paul’s cooking is not only passionate and all consuming but it’s inventive, brave and proud. There’s nowhere he’d rather be than in the kitchen at The Swan in Islip. No doubt the Michelin inspectors will be along soon to verify.

Either way it’s a massive bonus for Oxfordshire. We are lucky to have kept him and the frisson surrounding The Swan is so heartening in the current climate and much deserved. Long may the concocting continue.

The Swan Inn in Islip