Travel: Country chic meets classic cooking (with steak to die for) at The Ingham Swan
PUBLISHED: 19:00 12 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:16 13 January 2020
Want to get away from it all closer to home? Our food and drink editor suggests a little escape only 30 minutes from the heart of Norwich.
When I rocked up at The Ingham Swan I looked a little, shall we say, dishevelled?
My Volvo, which had decided to go into 'limp mode' on the journey, spluttered into the car park, having just done a rather hairy manoeuvre on a roundabout.
And so the sight of Ingham's Holy Trinity church, illuminated against the dark night sky, appeared as a beacon of calm.
With a cool westerly breeze on the air I was keen to get into our accommodation for the night - one of three bedrooms at Swan Cottage, newly opened by Ingham Swan owners Dan Smith and Gregory Adjemian, taking the room tally to seven.
Only 30 minutes from Norwich, an air of instant calm ensconces the cutesy property, boasting northerly views over fields, with nothing but the broad Norfolk skies in the distance.
Our hideaway for the night, created with London designer Kathryn Mazure-Hudson, emanated Mid-Century Mad Men cool. A bouncy (I checked) bed with blue velvet headboard. Pistachio shaded wood panelling. A pink velvet chair in the corner (presumably for draping with one's stockings and garters - I had neither but it kept my cashmere sweater in shape over night). Herringbone flooring (with underfloor heating), echoed in the furniture design.
The only nods to modernism were a fancy coffee pod machine, radio and a TV (I'm not sure whose Netflix account I was watching as I got changed, but thanks).
Polished refinement is the only definition I could prescribe to the shower room, where a cabinet-style sink with brassy fittings, oversized mirror, rainforest shower (for two), generous basket of fluffy towels and lushly scented soaps and whatnot awaited.
As an added touch, the nice chap who showed us the room pointed out the inclusion of an umbrella and a wall docked torch at the entrance - handy for walking to the pub proper. "That is," he said, "if you decide not to drive". At which point I had to chuckle as the Swan is literally two minutes around the corner on foot, maybe one minute. While others have been known 'car-it', I happily tottered over in chunky heels, and without a jacket no less!
Suitably attired in smart-casual, admiring the great job the team have done taking The Ingham Swan back to pre-fire (2017) glory, and glancing into the kitchen, where the steamed windows hid the edible treasures inside, I was excited to get into the restaurant to sample Dan and award-winning head chef Alex's food.
Set about with comfy blue velvet chairs and flinty walls, there was a ritzy but relaxed vibe to the dining room.
We went in for the £58 tasting menu, planted in the seasons and local produce - with not a strawberry or asparagus spear in sight.
Chef Dan says he takes inspiration not only from the bounty of Norfolk (of which there is lots) and from time spent working in other kitchens, from his career launching time at Morston Hall, where he gained a Michelin star, to a stage with Clare Smyth at trendy London eatery Core.
Water arrived in a Wade jug, styled as a fish (we thought a carp) giving a flick of a tail. Turns out Dan bought hundreds of them and acted as some kind of upmarket Del Boy for a spell. So if you like the water vessel, give him a shout!
To start, some snacks. A chef's treat of briny oysters spooned with a generous helping of caviar. Spanking fresh with minerality. Pops of salty cockle popcorn. Goats' cheese with caramelised onion. And bon bons (I hate that word) of gelatinous pulled pork, crowned with apple and sitting on a sweet puree of dates. A good start.
And matched by the joy that was the homemade bread. Perfectly proved, plump and cushiony, and with a malty finish, it was paired with a tangy, moreish dill aioli and barrels of salted butter.
Next arrived a sweet little carrot - a dish inspired by Core - which appeared simplicity itself. But looks, as we know, can be deceiving. Braised and tender, the luminous root veg paired with shavings of lightly pickled carrot, a carrot puree and niblets of savoury granola studded with fennel. A playful bit of joy.
The celeriac consommé bathing wild mushrooms, and subtly oak-smoked duck could, I feel, have done with a bit more power. It worked only with every element eaten at the same time - including the garnishes of coriander cress and charred flecks of shallot.
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White wine arrived before our fish course. An acetoney, Sauternes-like Malvasia Il Caretto Biano Di Puglia, which opened on the palate to an off-dry, peppy, crisp finish, bursting with gooseberry and fresh cut grass, and the Domaine Grand Roche Chablis from Burgundy, which displayed honeyed notes on the nose, but gave up citrus, and almost light sherry notes with touches of butterscotch and salt on tasting.
These both paired well with magenta-rouged, beetroot cured salmon slivers, dressed with cucumber pearls, pickled sweet beets, pomegranate and a dusting of fudgy-textured horseradish snow.
We were offered a break before the next course - which being a gannet I of course declined.
What a treat. Sensationally pink (and not from the sous vide either) fillet of beef from award-winning Swannington Farm, charred and sweetly caramelised at the edges, yielding within, served with buttery mash, a twist of spinach, mushrooms sautéed with bacon and buttons of courgette, a crazy-good spoon of creamed sprouts (nothing like what your nan cooked to mush on a Sunday), and a lick of bone dense jus. I didn't lick the plate, but I may have run my finger through the remaining drizzle of sauce.
We paired it with a dry, smooth, toasted fruit cake drop of Chateau La Fleur Grands-Landes, and Argentinian Malbec Camuyo Mendoza - redolent with dark chocolate, dried sour cherries and liquorice, with bold, thick, smoky dried fruits on tasting.
A palate cleansing bowl of coconut panna cotta with pineapple granita, blackberry gel and mint cress built up expectations to the main show-stopper dessert of apple soufflé with vanilla ice cream and liquid caramel, which gave the impression overall of a warm toffee apple.
You don't see a lot of soufflés these days - there's nothing sadder than a sagging top and flabbing interior (on all accounts) arriving at the table. For the kitchen here to put it on the menu shows not only a grounding in traditional, 'real' cooking techniques, but a real confidence too.
This little stunner was light as a candyfloss cloud and sweet, very sweet, but cut with the sharpness of tart apple.
As ever, there was room for tea and petit fours. The tea (Novus) arriving with gorgeous salted vanilla crème dark chocolates and in a quirky teal-coloured Japanese tea pot. Loved it.
We disappeared back to our room, guided only by the Norfolk stars and our trusty aforementioned torch, feeling nicely full, and collapsed onto our bed, a pair of well-fed cats. OK, I may have had a cheeky midnight snack on the biscuits from the hospitality tray, but if you put food in my room I will find it and I will eat it!
Breakfast was served at (for us) an alarmingly early 8.30am to 9.30am. Not being 'morning people' (unlike the other overnighters who appeared bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready for hiking and beach walks) we rolled in bleary and coffee-deprived - not looking forward to testing out the temperamental Volvo on the way home. And so a hearty breakfast was totally appreciated.
Who can resist a freshly-baked croissant (not me), homemade warm bread with preserves, and a full English of frazzled back bacon, juicy sausage, soft tomatoes and melting baked mushrooms?
A complete pleasure from start to finish. And the ideal, I'd say, gourmet getaway.
For enquiries call 01692 581099 or email
Dine and stay packages are available.
New rooms should also be opening at sister pub The Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross later this year.