Review: José Pizarro at the Swan Inn, Claygate
Spanish chef José Pizarro serves up a feast of tasty tapas at this neighbourhood pub with boutique bedrooms.
Tucked away in a pretty corner of Surrey on the edge of Claygate village and overlooking a grassy green, you’ll find The Swan Inn. It’s a two-minute drive (or 10-minutes on foot) to the centre of Claygate village – where you’ll find a lovely high street jam packed with independent shops, boutiques and cafés – and Claygate Station. In the other direction, Esher is a six-minute drive.
José Pizarro, the celebrity chef from Extremadura, took over The Swan Inn two years ago, bringing his Spanish small plates but keeping a firm hold on the village pub vibe. This is still a place for locals. Before Pizarro came along, The Swan Inn was a gastropub run by Bibendum chef Claude Bosi. Oh, if only those kitchen walls could talk.
From the outside it looks like your quintessential English pub, and certainly when you venture inside there’s little to change that impression. But look closer and you’ll spot the Spanish touches like the legs of Ibérico ham hanging above the bar.
The pub has been stylishly turned out – it is simple and unfussy with bare timber flooring, leather upholstery, and paintwork in pale green and a classy blue. There’s greenery too, and some of Pizarro’s cookbooks are displayed on the fireplace mantles.
Outside, there’s a large courtyard, partially covered, complete with a fire pit – and there are also some tables and seating at the front of the pub with a view out over the Hare Lane Green.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Originally from a tiny farming village in the Extremadura region of Spain, José has an impressive CV. He worked in Madrid under the Michelin-starred Julio Reoyo before moving to London in 1998 where he’s graced the kitchens of some of the best Spanish restaurants including Gaudi, Eyre Brothers and Brindisa in which he was a part owner.
His focus is simple and authentic Spanish food. And that’s exactly what you get at The Swan Inn. Classic tapas, done exceptionally well. It’s made from the finest ingredients that have been imported from Spain, as well as locally sourced produce.
The menu is almost entirely tapas, but there are also some big dishes that includes paella and a cuttlefish and red shrimp seafood noodle dish (both for two) and traditional fish and chips (battered in the Spanish Estrella Damm beer, natch). And on Sundays there’s a roast dinner.
It was recommended that we order three or four tapas dishes each to share. Sounds simple, right? But there’s so much here to tempt that it’s really quite a challenge to narrow it down. The croquetas change daily, and news of their excellence had reached us before we sat down. So these were a must – we chose the black ink croquetas. It’s no exaggeration to say they were outstanding. Perfectly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with a combination of subtle flavours.
The wild mushroom Spanish omelette with rosemary honey was another wow-moment. Sublime. And without doubt the best omelette I’ve ever eaten. We also ordered a salad of beetroot, cauliflower, parsnip, and Brussel sprout and goats cheese – an interesting combination that worked so well together. Then there was grilled octopus with burnt onion and gordal olives – beautifully presented and cooked to perfection – and finally pickled white anchovies with garlic and parsley, so gorgeously sweet, delicate and soft. Last to arrive were the Padrón peppers and a lovely way to round off the tapas, washed down with a bottle of dry Spanish wine.
For puds, we decided to share a cheese board and a rice pudding, and since sherry is a big deal here, we each ordered a glass recommended by our waiter. Lovely.
The boutique rooms are in the converted barn next door to the pub. They’re not huge rooms, with double beds rather than king size beds, but there are luxury touches like soft linens, fluffy towels and gorgeous-smelling toiletries. It’s worth staying over for the breakfasts alone – think a full English with Spanish influences, avocado and poached eggs on sourdough, and a bacon and egg sourdough sandwich.
OUT & ABOUT
You’re not far from Sandown Park Racecourse if you fancy a flutter on the ponies, and the beautiful National Trust property, Claremont Landscape Garden is also nearby.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: If you’re a fan of Spanish food, you’ll love The Swan Inn. José Pizarro is the king of tapas and the food is phenomenal! Great for couples, friends, private parties (there’s a private dining room) and families.
Not for: Sharing not your thing? Maybe give this a miss… it’s all about the tapas.
The damage: Tapas dishes range from £4 to £14.50 per plate. Pudding are around £6-£7.
José Pizarro The Swan Inn, 2 Hare Lane, Claygate, KT10 9BS. Tel: 01372 462582