As Mark Twain nearly said, ‘There are pies, damned pies and hedonistics.’ On Sunday I was invited by Jo and Stuart at The Swine That Dines, to call and sample their Sunday Pie Day menu, and I was subjected to one of the most self-indulgent afternoons I have ever had placing it firmly in the third of those categories.
When I was a lad, we usually had a traditional Sunday lunch of roast, two veg and Yorkshire pudding but it would be taken at about four in the afternoon as we started the day with the full English so were still feeling the effects until well after the normal lunchtime. I mention this as I chose to call at that same hour for my meal on North Street which was a great decision. I now just begin the Day of Rest with a bacon butty but it has the same effect. Being the first Sunday in November it was getting dark when I began my meal and was pitch black by the time I had finished. This ambiance was perfect for the comfort food with which I was served and, as I was seated by the window, it gave my photographs a certain atmosphere.
Before I begin I would like to say that I find it difficult to be objective about The Swine That Dines as the only thing I value in life is integrity and Jo and Stuart possess this in abundance. The way they source their food, prepare it and serve it is exemplary and the love is evident in the taste. I have said it before about this place but I can’t think of a better way of putting it, it is not ‘Look at me! Aren’t I clever?’ food, just perfectly cooked and intelligently combined dishes, not so much ‘fine dining’ as ’swine dining’, so much better, food for the heart rather than the head.
The menu is divided into four sections; Starters, Pies, Sides and Desserts with a choice of two courses (starter, pie and a side) for £17.50 with the full three courses coming in at £22.50. The normal practice is to have a side each and share so that you get a selection but, what with me being Billy Nomates I was not able to do that. As it happens that might just have been for the best because there could have been an ugly scene had anybody tried to deprive me of the veg I ordered, but more of that later.
I had had a sneaky peek at the menu on-line before my visit, but knowing this place I was aware that it could change at any time depending on the ingredients which were in season and available on the day. I had decided to go traditional, but with a twist, so for a starter I ordered Boudin Noir, Apple and Radicchio. I love black pudding for several reasons but the main two are that it utilises a part of the animal which would otherwise be wasted, and it tastes great. Every country has its own take on the dish with the English version containing pieces of fat, which makes it perfect for frying. It also reminds me of Sunday lunch-time pints at my old local where there would be small cubes put on the bar to assist with soaking up the ale. They normally lasted about two minutes, as did the slices of bread and dripping which accompanied them. Who said that we don’t have a healthy diet! Any road up, this French version with a Spanish influence was as far removed from that on the bar of the White Horse as cod roe is from Beluga Caviar in that it is alright in its own way but nothing like the epitome of the dish. It was served hot and melted in the mouth coating it with flavour and unctuousness, it was the perfect antidote to a chilly, dusky November evening. The accompanying apple puree, sorry, that makes it sound like baby food, was again comforting being on the sweet side but with enough of an acidic hit to cut through the boudin without destroying the effect. It was a slight tiff rather than a full on battle. The radicchio and its dressing added a touch of freshness and another texture.
Time for the pie, well not really. There are six options in this section of the menu, five conventional pies and a Yorkshire Pork, Shallot and Lardo Sausage Roll which is what I chose. The lattice shortcrust pastry was packed with the dense, meaty filling, beautifully seasoned and perfectly cooked. It was accompanied by the richest most flavourful gravy I have had since childhood. My mother made amazing gravy which always got more favourable comments than the rest of the meal combined which used to annoy her no end. This was right up there with her version. The pastry crumbled when cut and again was spot on. I have to say that for two reasons, firstly, Jo is the pastry chef and I don’t want to incur her wrath, and secondly, because it is true. I am a pastry fan and, if pushed, would say that shortcrust is my favourite, this was as good as any I have had. Meat, shortcrust and rich gravy is a combination made in heaven, which is where I was when eating it. It is testament to the skill of the chefs that they don’t just make a load of pie crusts and fill them with different ingredients, the pastries are also different meaning that along with shortcrust, there are versions with puff pastry, hot water crusts and a suet pudding. Something for everybody.
Back to those vegetables I mentioned which comprised the side dish. Because I guessed, correctly for once, that the sausage roll would be dense with filling, I eschewed the choice of Aligot (a very cheesy mash) and opted for Beets, Sour Cream and Gherkins. There was a third option of Farm Greens and Horseradish, which I would have had if I had ordered the Beef Pie. The beets were of the golden variety and wonderfully sweet whilst retaining their characteristic earthy taste which sums up autumn like nothing else. They were firm without being hard and the sour cream added a creaminess – obvs – contrasted by the sharpness of the shards of gherkin.
Finally came dessert. I had to go old school again with the Cherry Jam Roll Poly with Amaretto Custard and Boozy Cherries. What can I say, I am running out of superlatives here. The pastry was suet based and beautifully cooked. The amaretto in the custard blended perfectly with the vanilla in the sauce which was thick enough to cling to the pudding but not set, and the cherries added their sharp fruity, and boozy, flavour to compliment the ones cooked within the pastry roll. Please beware if you ever order this dish from here, there might be the odd rogue stone still lurking in a cherry as happened in my case. I put it at the side of my plate – she loves me – and waited for the second to manifest itself – she loves me not. It never materialised so all I have to do now is find the lady to whom it applies.
During the course of the meal I began chatting with the couple at the next table, look, if I am dining alone I am not going to let anyone else have a nice romantic meal for two. It transpired that it was Bryn and Vicky Whiteley of Whiteley’s Farm, Houghside Road, Pudsey from whom Jo and Stuart source their vegetables. If the beets are anything to go by they have made a wise choice. Jo told me that because their menus are seasonal they began by ordering veg boxes from Whiteley’s and creating the meals around what arrived. The market garden has been on the site since the early 1900s and there is a farm shop so when you are next in the area you might want to pop in and stock up.
I realise that I have been fulsome in my praise for my experience at The Swine That Dines on Sunday, almost to the point of sycophancy but I love this place. Once again I will state that I was a guest but I can honestly say that had I picked up the bill myself I would not have changed a word. Remember what I said about integrity. It is not just the food which makes a dining experience good, bad or indifferent but the atmosphere and ambience. Jo’s warm welcome to everyone who came through the door added to the experience and was like dining at a friend’s, which I would like to think is what it was. Normally this restaurant is a ‘bring your own booze’ establishment but they have a temporary licence for the Sunday Pie Day so there is a limited choice of bottles available.
Being taught good manners by my parents from an early age I would like to end by saying to Jo and Stuart, ’Thank you very much for having me. It was a great pleasure.’