Tucked away in the sleepy hamlet of Blackbrook, just outside of Newcastle-under-Lyme, is one of Staffordshire’s most impressive culinary experiences offering a mouthwatering selection of skillfully cooked and beautifully presented dishes that deserve to secure a spot in the Michelin guide.
The Swan With Two Necks – part of the esteemed Parogon Group – celebrated its 15th anniversary in Autumn last year, and recently unveiled a brand new menu to begin 2023 with a fresh palate.
Each of the Parogon restaurants, of which there are now nine, all excelling in something different with Trentham’s Willow offering Mediterranean style options, while The Block House, just three minutes up the road from The Swan With Two Necks, specialising in steaks and grill plates.
By comparison, The Swan With Two Necks deals in indulgence, but in a way that is relaxed and informal – understated luxury, if you will. It offers sophisticated dishes at a reasonably affordable price point, in a thoughtfully curated environment that is both stylish and modern.
Stepping into the building, we were shown to a light and airy table by the fireplace, leather seating and blue accents blending country pub and upmarket restaurant expertly.
To settle ourselves in Jake and I – celebrating our seven year anniversary – ordered a round of drinks: the usual Guinness for Jake, and a spiced mango margarita for myself. Priced between £8.50 and £11, the cocktail menu comprises 10 unique cocktails prepared by the bar’s team of mixologists, including some original tipples and twists on a classic, like the popcorn old fashioned or posh pina colada.
My margarita was well balanced, smokey and fruity in equal measure, and has already made its way onto my list of best margarita cocktails in the UK – and trust me, I’ve had my fair share.
To start, Jake and I simply couldn’t decide on what to order, so opted for the sharer for two, which offers little amuse bouche portions of five different dishes, costing £20.All of the other starters are priced between £7 and £10, so this felt like a fantastic value for money offer, perfect for those who want to try a little bit of everything.
The board consisted of:
- Smoked salmon with horseradish cream, caviar and puff pastry
- Confit belly pork with honey glaze, black pudding jam, pork crackling and apple
- Goats cheese bon bons and rocket pesto mayonnaise
- Grilled rump steak and chestnut mushroom skewers with treacle glaze and crispy onions
- Heritage tomato, avocado puree and basil tartlet
Jake’s favourite bite-sized starter was the smoked salmon, complimenting the kick of the horseradish with the saltiness of the sweet caviar, while mine had to be the goat’s cheese bon bons, which melted in the mouth – a match made in heaven with the pesto mayo.
The grilled rump steak skewers were phenomenal, with a sweet and sticky glaze that was incredibly moreish, but it was the belly pork that I simply couldn’t get enough of, unexpectedly delighted by the black pudding jam, too.
The tomato tartlet was a refreshing addition, too, offering a bit of a palette cleanse between some of the more flavour-forward picks, but each one offered something exciting in terms of both flavour and texture, making me excited for my main to arrive.After much deliberation, going back and forth between steak, pie or fish, with some consideration for the thai red curry, too, Jake went for the steak, ale and chestnut mushroom pie. The shortcrust pastry dish was served in a triangular slab, served up with thick cut chips, roasted carrots and parsnips and a rich ale gravy.
Priced at £17, the portion size was immense. The Swan With Two Necks is not a venue to do things by half, and you really do get what you pay for. Jake even took a moment to admire his almost two-inch thick pie slice before tucking in, taking a photo to parade it in the group chat.
He’d been impressed by the amount of filling in the pie and the butteriness of the shortcrust. He’s typically not one for mushrooms nor parsnips, but his plate was cleared with zero complaints, the beef cooked to a tender consistency, the roasted vegetables glazed and soft, while the hefty chips came in handy for mopping up any remaining gravy.
Meanwhile, I ordered the slow roasted belly pork – also priced at £17 – making one small adjustment in swapping the celeriac and rosemary mash for the brown butter variety on the sides menu, since I’d have ordered it anyway.
The cut of pork that arrived on my plate on the bed of brown butter mash was the size of both my clenched fists, served with a large confit carrot, pickled apples, puffed crackling and a rich, sweet cider sauce. A huge fan of a honey glazed carrot, I ordered an additional side portion for the table, which I went on to eat entirely myself.
We also shared the £5 garlic focaccia with cheese, which Jake said was the ‘best cheesy garlic bread ever’ – and like me and my margaritas, he’s indulged in a few in his 27 years, so I do consider him to be quite the expert on this one. Focaccia is my all-time favourite bread, though, so it certainly elevated the dish.It’s the pork belly I simply haven’t stopped thinking about for days, though. Part of me wishes I hadn’t eaten it all so I could have brought a takeaway box home to enjoy the following day, too, but the other part of me knows that if you’d have put a second plate of it before me, I’d have devoured that there and then, too.
The meat – a beautiful locally-sourced cut – practically fell apart, succulent and juicy, with barely any fat, the edges sticky with the apple cider glaze. Equally as sumptuous was the creamy mash, which offered a wonderfully nutty flavour, while the pickled apples cut through the other flavours wish a fresh and tangy taste. It’s the prime choice for anyone with a sweet tooth – it’s like eating dessert for dinner, feeling just as naughty, too.
To end the evening, Jake and I shared the Biscoff and white chocolate cookie dough, which comes in at £7.50. Served in a hot skillet, the dessert is easily suitable for two, served with salted caramel ice cream and a Biscoff crumb. Chocolatey and rich, it was the ultimate winter warming pudding for a February evening.
Throughout the night, Jake and I couldn’t help but rave about every mouthful, from the starters urging each other to ‘try this one’ or ‘taste that one there’, going on to offer each other bites from the main plates that were too unbelievably good not to share.
From the moment we sat down, we needn’t have lifted a finger, with menus handed out and water poured. We were certainly well looked after throughout the evening, with drinks topped up and meals checked on respectfully, too.
I can say with confidence that this was easily in the top three dining experiences Jake and I have enjoyed in the last seven years – of which there have been dozens – and we can’t wait to return.
Our total bill, including starters, mains, desserts, sides and drinks, totted up to around £100, which for a special occasion I thought was incredibly modest for the quality. I’d have been happy to pay more, having paid a similar amount for far less superior evenings out.
If you are looking for the perfect place to celebrate your special occasion, or are due a much-needed night off, then I implore you to let The Swan With Two Necks do the honours. Their passion to delight shines through in the fresh, locally sourced ingredients that have been expertly prepared, skilfully cooked and beautifully presented, and we are sure to be making a quick to return to this Staffordshire gem.