The new owner of this grade-2 listed Georgian hotel is the same man behind Llangoed Hall (The Good Food Guide’s 48th best restaurant in the UK).
There's also a new head chef with serious quality on his CV. Jerry Adam is a former sous-chef of both Llangoed Hall and the Michelin-starred Ynyshir.
Before dinner, we window-shopped to our hearts' content in Britain’s town of books. As well as the cornucopia of book shops, including the legendary Richard Booth’s, Hay-on-Wye has an enviable selection of art galleries, vintage fashion boutiques and cookware shops.
We also made time for a sheep’s milk ice cream from Shepherd’s (damson and chocolate with biscotti for me and elderflower sorbet for Mrs G) and a drink at the recently opened Beer Revolution who have an excellent range from brewers such as To Øl, Beavertown and Arbor.
Dinner at the Swan was served in the Garden Room, a grand old space with huge wooden dressers, crystal chandeliers and floor to ceiling windows. If you'd prefer a more informal setting then the restaurant menu is also served in the bar.
Chef Adam’s dinner menu (£40 for 3 courses) takes a number of influences from the cooking at Ynyshir with its Japanese flavours, carbohydrate light dishes and use of pickles and ferments.
A flaky sundried tomato and parmesan wheel was served with a pot of light garlic foam. This was a new one on me but the airy, creamy and garlicky foam was a big success.
A hot, crisp and nutty wheaten roll was served with whipped pork fat and crackling. This was seriously porky, dare I say it almost too porky. In small quantities it was tasty but it was a seriously rich prospect.
A nibble knocked it out of the park – a crisp and yielding lamb rib was topped with salty, savoury anchovy pieces and crunchy breadcrumbs. I could easily have inhaled ten or so.
Onto starters, and Mrs G ordered the lamb sweetbreads – the tender caramelised glands were served with punchy fermented black garlic and pickled and roasted cauliflower.
My starter was a corker. A pair of plump red charred prawns were served with a clever oriental twanged garnish – satay sauce, raw beansprouts, crunchy peanuts, a black squid rice cracker and fragrant background notes of coriander and lime.
Pre-main was excellent too – crisp and beefy braised oxtail pieces were joined by a sour apple puree, mushrooms, crisp toasted rice and a refreshing smoked eel dashi.
Mains were the first courses to really challenge (in a way reminiscent of Ynyshir) – in fact, Mrs G and I ended up swapping dishes as we had contrasting opinions of each other’s plates.
A super tender piece of beef cheek, a delightfully crisp battered oyster and oyster mayonnaise were buried beneath a mound of crispy seaweed (dulce and sea lettuce). Mrs G loved the huge hit of seaweed whilst I felt it overwhelmed.
A lovely piece of local venison was accompanied by toasted seeds, punchy pickled cabbage and a hugely citrusy minneola puree (a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine). I loved it whilst Mrs G thought the citrus and vinegar notes were too much.
Consensus was restored with the savoury course (£6 supplement). Oozy, creamy tunworth cheese sat a top toasted wheaten bread and a good smear of aromatic and sweet quince and chervil jam. Savoury and sweet, this was an excellent bridging course between main and dessert.
Mrs G’s dessert was a stunner. Aromatic passion fruit curd, tangy yoghurt sorbet, coconut shavings and meringue shards combined in a tropically refreshing pudding.
My dessert was nearly an unqualified success – rich, sticky baked treacle tart filling, cleansing apple shavings and crisp puff pastry pieces all hit the mark. But, a pool of wood sorrel juice was a massive hit of freshly mown grass that disrupted the indulgence of the dish.
Overall, we had a very good meal and Jerry Adam is clearly another big talent operating in Wales.
Replete, we retired to our freshly decorated bedroom and had a great night’s sleep.
Breakfast was first rate - warm croissants and jam were followed by the mother of fry-ups. Thick cut bacon, meaty spiced mushrooms, golden yolk poached eggs, Stornoway black pudding and finely ground herbed sausage were all excellent.
We had an excellent stay at The Swan. Staff were warm and friendly across the board and it’s a lovely luxury base for exploring Hay. Also, they’ve currently got an excellent dinner, bed and breakfast package from £165 per room running until the middle of May.
Disclosure – I was invited as a guest of The Swan at Hay. Accommodation and food were complimentary.
Address – The Swan at Hay , Church Street, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5DQ
Web – http://www.swanathay.com/
Telephone - 01497 821 188