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[Swettenham, Cheshire] Swettenham Arms

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On and off, we’ve been coming to the Swettenham Arms since the early 1970s – although not often in recent years. And, truth be told, on today’s lunch experience, visits may become rarer. Which is a shame as it’s a lovely country pub, next to the Quinta Arboretum (free entry for RHS members). It’s set out with a drinking area directly as you enter with a large more restauranty space, set out to one side.

Starters were the best course. And, I’m afraid, I use the word “best” with some caution. Scallops were well cooked, but had been left for a while so were no longer piping hot. There was a decent enough puree of ginger and carrot but no evidence of the curried sabayon. Local rabbit had been potted in a little Kilner jar and was some of the best bunny I’ve had in a while, the butter topping heavily spiced with whole peppercorns. Alongside, some thin slices of ciabatta and a scattering of really nice lightly pickled vegetables – baby carrots and turnips.

A duck main course had read well on the menu but was considerably disappointing. The breast was nicely rare but had no sign of crispy skin. The “confit” leg may have been made by someone who has no concept of what confit should mean. Here it had been cooked, possibly deep fried, until black, crisp and pretty much inedible. A sweet potato and celeriac gratin was nice. The dish’s accompanying sauce wasn’t. It was overly sweet and under flavoured of, erm, any discernable flavour.

A leek and potato roulade enclosed a filling of plum tomatoes and cheddar. It was OK, but needed “oomph” from more cheese. A basil hollandaise was a good sauce to accompany it.

We both went with the same dessert – rice pudding. It’s probably churlish to comment about the temperature of a dish described as being served “warm”, but this was barely above room temperature. Decent enough pud, though, in that way that rice pud can remind you that, sometimes, not everything you had for school dinners was completely vile. It came with some poached plums which were an excellent addition.

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