R is for … Russia
FOR this week's review we visited the Swan Lake Russian restaurant in the heart of the Forest of Dean. It is a family-run place which opened in Brierley, close to Cinderford, about a year ago, having previously been located in Newport.
The chef, Irena, is a Russian who moved to the UK a few years ago. Front of house is taken care of by her son and her husband, Gordon. In spite of the fact that it is housed in such a traditional English pub the decor and furnishings are as authentically Russian as anything you will get this side of the Baltic. Russian dolls adorn the window ledges and imported artwork hangs on the walls – even the cutlery was individually hand painted in St Petersburg and then shipped to the UK.
So what of the food then? Well to start I had a traditional borsch – a kind of beetroot soup. This tasted nothing like what I was expecting - rather than it being a sweet, watery broth it was full-bodied in flavour. It also came with a generous dollop of sour cream, which mixed together to create a flavour that is completely different to anything else I have eaten on this culinary journey.
Wills had the solyanka - this was almost a meal in itself. Huge chunks of bacon, ham and smoked sausage were added to a thin vegetable gravy to create a stew like dish bursting with flavour. Apparently solyanka was originally created as a way of using up leftovers and this makes for a hearty, rustic dish worthy of any menu.
For my main course I tried the vegetarian option which was a new addition to the menu. It consisted of potato and aubergine baked in a cream and bechamel sauce with cheese on top. I was expecting something akin to a vegetable moussaka but again, through the use of sour cream, the flavour was tart which made the dish uniquely Russian.
Wills had the beef Stroganoff. Tender strips of beef were cooked in a sour cream sauce laced with cognac. This was served with mash potato and topped with sliced gherkins and stewed cabbage. Again, this was a triumph in combining sour and savoury flavours to create something delicious.
Stuffed from my first two courses, I didn't have room for dessert but Wills managed to try one of Swan Lake's beautiful pancakes. These were to die for, stuffed with bananas and soft fruit, and topped with a caramel sauce. This was a superb end to the meal.
Swan Lake really is a hidden forest gem – not only is Irena's cooking delicious, the welcome you get from the family team is second to none. It really is every bit as magical as its name suggests.
Raines and Chris, of Denmark Road in Gloucester, are attempting to eat food from a nation starting with every letter of the alphabet.
To read more about their culinary journey, visit http://eatingthealphabet.wordpress.com/