The Black Swan, Henley-in-Arden

Chocolate box perfect and brimming with kerb appeal, Henley-in-Arden is not short of food haunts. The high street looks nothing like your current average UK high street, so unsurprisingly, investment is incoming.

The Black Swan, once a cosy pub with a massive car park, has been given an extensive makeover. The result is a large rear extension housing a beautiful dining room, plus a garden area carved out of what was once parking. There’s still parking out back but on a less invasive scale. The cosy pub out front remains and was packed with character and punters when we visited. The dining room’s easy, relaxed and cool with a French bistro vibe overlooking a patio with colourful parasols.

Our waiter was utterly charming, smiley and knowledgeable. We didn’t need much persuading to dive into a carafe of rose – the perfect amount for two at lunch or as our waiter suggested, perfect if your preferences differ enabling you to indulge in one of each flavour. We didn’t but it’s a good point.

We expected the menu to be comforting pub classics and there’s certainly an element of that, but it’s much more inventive than pub grub. For instance, a starter of perfectly oozing burrata with sweet tomatoes and a punchy lovage and basil pesto was served with a shot of essence of tomato to be sipped alongside the food – it was intense and enhanced the dish. Simple but effective.
Then there was beetroot done three ways – candied, roasted and worked into a sweet gel served alongside cubes of deep fried goat’s cheese in breadcrumbs, guacamole and balsamic cream. It sounds a bit confused when written down like that, but tasted brilliant and looked pretty.

Our main courses were a bit more ‘pubby’ in terms of size as well theme, but still delicious such as tender, rich short rib of beef with dauphinoise potatoes, greens and a tasty gravy and a flavour packed fishcake topped with a soft poached egg and a lovely buttery sauce with welcome tartness from capers. Desserts are not our thing, but a pistachio souffle winked vigorously. The waiter gave us a tip and suggested switching the accompanying chocolate ice cream with the honeycomb variety and it was superb.

So enjoyable was lunch, we left Henley feeling envious of the locals. For context, we have a tired pub at the end of our road which is nothing like the Black Swan so we’ve caught ourselves day-dreaming of a similar overhaul. There’s no sign of it so far, but we live in hope.

THE BLACK SWAN, 23 High Street, Henley-in-Arden, B95 5AA. Tel: 01564 660866