In September 2017 a massive fire ripped through the Ingham Swan, a destination that had already built up a national reputation as an award-winning, foodie pub. It was a heartbreaking event that actually followed just one day after the head chef, Alex Clare, had scooped the Norfolk Chef of the Year Award.
It was however just a temporary setback, for within a couple of years the Swan had completed a comprehensive rebuild and sympathetic renovation, reopening in the spring of last year.
There was a very good reason that the Swan had achieved such a high level of recognition. The owner, Norfolk-born chef-patron Daniel Smith, is a restaurateur of the highest level and brought a track record of 22 years of experience to bear on this delightful and historic thatched village pub.
Having worked with Michel Roux Jr at the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London, he moved back to Norfolk to work with another renowned chef, Galton Blackiston, at Morston Hall, earning his first Michelin Star before opening The Ingham Swan in 2010.
The Swan is located in a pretty and peaceful location about twenty miles outside Norwich and within easy striking distance of the coast – walkable for the more energetic visitor. The village of Ingham, if you can call it that, seems to consist of little more than the property itself and the neighbouring church, looking out over a broad expanse of open Norfolk countryside.
Following such a devastating fire it would not be surprising to find a slick modern interior. Fortunately the ancient wooden beams survived and along with the inglenook fireplaces, bare walls and a clever restoration, the effect is very much in keeping with the historic building.
It is a cosy and welcoming place with little more to the public area than a bar and two modestly-sized dining areas. Beneath the beamed ceilings sit wooden tables with comfy blue dining chairs on parquet flooring. The lighting is low and atmospheric whilst the flint, stone and brick walls are left exposed and unadorned. In short there is nothing, other than the delightful ambience, to distract you from what, after all, is the main event here: the exceptional dining on offer.
In keeping with the size of the restaurant the length of the a la carte menu is modest and accompanies the Menu du Jour – a 2 or 3 course choice from three each of starters, mains and desserts/cheese.
With plenty of French ingredients, like Comte cheese, Morteau sausage and Girolle mushrooms plus words like puree, julienne, confit and tartare liberally scattered through the menu, the Gallic influence on the menu is clear. This is blended with plenty of local inspiration and Norfolk ingredients like scallops, fish, crab and fresh vegetables.
Our entire meal was not only perfectly prepared and delicious but beautifully presented. We started with an intensely flavoured foraged mushroom velour accompanied by pickled wild mushrooms, shallot puree and red vein sorrel and a nicely crispy Cromer crab cake with salmon tartare and confit egg yolk.
For main course you could try chef Alex’s signature beef fillet with dauphinoise potato, confit swede and crispy pancetta with red wine jus, however, sticking to a fishy theme we selected a perfectly cooked pan roast halibut with cocotte potatoes and julienne of leeks with a brown shrimp beurre blanc plus roast longshore cod, with sautéed potatoes and samphire.
To finish, we tried a honeycomb parfait with raspberry curd, dehydrated raspberry and sorbet. We also picked creme brûlée, unusually flavoured with tonka bean, an unusual addition that imparts a beautifully aroma – a delicate cross between vanilla, cherry, almond, and something spicy. Apparently it is an ingredient banned in the USA due to its potentially toxic constituent of coumarin. Fortunately we lived to tell the tale.
The rooms too are newly renovated. The three newest are in an annex a few yards down the road whilst ours was one of the four in a converted stable adjacent to the main building. It was modern, stylish and whilst modestly sized, was very nicely fitted and furnished with with no compromises on quality. The mattress, linen and bedding were excellent and extremely comfortable.
The rooms lent a calm atmosphere with exposed brick, wooden beams, traditional doors and muted colours reflecting the decor in the main building.
There were nice touches like Nespresso machine and kettle on a tray with tea and biscuits whilst the stone-tiled bathroom had a large walk-in shower.
A very good breakfast is served from a sort menu with toast and cereals, a full English and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, although a vegetarian style breakfast was happily prepared for us on request.
This is a remote, and little visited part of the country and a perfect place for a weekend – or longer. A short drive we checked out the fascinating Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve at Hickling Broad home to thousands of migrating birds. A few miles down the coast hundreds of Grey Seals arrive every winter to give birth to their pups – we easily got up (fairly) close and personal after a short stroll along the beach from Horsey Gap.
Anther iconic, and no doubt instagram friendly, local sight was the pretty red and white striped Lighthouse at nearby Happisburgh, pronounced ‘hazebro’ in local dialect. Built in 1790, it is the oldest working light in East Anglia. About 85ft tall and the energetic can climb 100 steps up to the lantern to be rewarded with a fabulous view.
There is plenty more of course and with just a short break we managed to enjoy much of the quiet countryside, beaches pretty villages and historic houses of the region as well as the splendid city of Norwich, just 20 miles away.
There can be few better spots to act as a local base than the The Ingham Swan – a place to contentedly sleep off your dinner and wake refreshed the next morning ready to explore the local delights.
For more information visit www.theinghamswan.co.uk