I don’t know why, but it makes me really uncomfortable being unduly negative about anything. I suppose no one likes criticism and I don’t like to sound like a moaning misery but equally, no one is perfect all the time and restaurants are no exception. I don’t go out of my way to blow smoke up restauranteurs’ chimneys, but thus far in my blogging journey, I’ve only posted positive reviews and experiences. And while I still want that to be largely the case, I have had a few duds too. The feedback I’ve had from some readers, is that I should share those experiences too and express my views fully, to give a more rounded opinion. So here’s my most recent (less than I’d expected) experience, and it may be a little unpalatable for some…
The Swan, West Malling
The Swan in West Malling is, I think it’s fair to say, hugely popular. It’s renowned for it’s modern cooking and, being situated in a wealthy area, it clearly does very well. Rumours were it was featured in the Michelin guide too. So when we popped in for an anniversary lunch two weeks ago, I was really excited. And then hugely underwhelmed very quickly after.
Starting with the positives, the dining room is beautiful. With warm lighting, wood tones and a touch of art deco, it made for a warm, inviting but chic dining room. And the menu read fantastically. We both chose the sticky pork belly for starters, which was nice. Thats about as effusive as I can get. The meat was tender and sticky, as you would expect, but the accompanying salad was mediocre at best. For fine dining, it didn’t feel very fine. The salad looked like something I would make for lunch and I didn’t feel much effort had gone into presenting the dish either. It was just a bit messy. Onto mains and after taking the waiter’s recommendation, I went for the lamb rump and Paul for the rib eye steak. £22 for just the steak is not cheap, so I think that it should be mouth wateringly good. I will say this; it was okay. (Again my superlative vocabulary is not exactly being challenged.) The cut was nice and it was cooked well and but there was nothing exceptional about it, or the additional sides Paul ordered to go with it. So then, to my lamb. And when it was placed in front of me, my first thought was that is was undercooked and the whole plate looked greasy, and seemingly I was right about both. But what upset me most was that for all the flavours on the plate – lamb included – it was really tasteless. In fact the strongest flavour came from the “charred broccoli” which just tasted burnt to me. Lamb is surely one of the most flavoursome meats, but this rump what fatty and to be honest, fairly inedible. And – as predicted – the couscous was really greasy. The whole thing was so unpleasant I actually sent it back which, honestly, I hardly ever do. To be fair to The Swan, they were very gracious and asked if they could bring me something else, which I was grateful for. But I declined, as by that point the flabby lamb had really put me off. When the bill arrived they had removed the lamb but it was still a hefty £75 for two starters, a steak and two glasses of wine.
Now, feeling bad as I do about writing this, the reality is that mine is just one review, one bad meal. Every single person I’ve told about this experience has been really surprised and waxed lyrical about how wonderful their experience was. So sure as sure can be, it was just an off-day. But it did happen. And what it shows is that bad days happen to everyone. Even those at the top of their game. But at The Swan’s prices, I suppose the point is, is it okay to have an “off” day?