My Pub: the Swan, Bampton, Devon

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Destination pub: The Swan is set in a beautiful part of the country and has won plenty of tourism awards
Destination pub: The Swan is set in a beautiful part of the country and has won plenty of tourism awards
Located on the boundary of Exmoor National Park, the Swan has been gliding very smoothly under the stewardship of licensee Paul Berry and his wife Donna

Facts 'n' stats

Name: ​The Swan

Address:​ Station Rd, Bampton, Tiverton, Devon, EX16 9NG

Tenure:​ 20-year lease

Licensee:​ Paul Berry

Wet:dry:accom split:​ 46:46:8

Staff:​ 7 full time, 10 part time

Turnover:​ £700,000

The pub

The Swan is based in Bampton in mid- Devon, right on the edge of Exmoor National Park. We’ve had the Swan about eight years now, when we were running another pub in the town we were offered the Swan by a private landlord. We wanted it to be different to what we were currently doing so we set off on an alternative path – and that seems to have worked nicely.

After a year, the credit crunch was biting, so something had to give. We gave up the other pub, came down here and concentrated solely on this one. We would have gone totally out of business otherwise. It made sense to keep this one because it was half the rent of the other one.

Looking back, we are so glad we made the right decision and went through the pain that we went through.

To be fair, we have amazing landlords. They listen to us and they enjoy using the pub and bringing their friends. ­They’re also quite happy when we talk about things like investing in the pub.

Despite being in the countryside, the pub itself doesn’t have a garden, but we have a terrace that is best enjoyed in the daytime where it really gets the sun. It becomes a bit of a sun trap when we get our British summer. We attract a varied mix of locals, tourists and is, without question, a destination pub. People come from all over the south-west.

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The publican

Some 13 years ago, maybe 14, I was single and was browsing a dating site. At the time I lived in Buckinghamshire and [my future wife] Donna lived in Torquay I had just sold my share of a pub I ran with my parents. At the time I had two choices, either run the pub on my own or go and do a bit of travelling.

So, out of curiosity, rather than looking locally, one day I looked further afield on this dating site and came across Donna stating she was a chef in Torquay.

There is nothing better than a chef being able to talk to a chef. She referred to me as being a posh chef because we had won all of these awards, such as Buckinghamshire dining pub of the year, Michelin Bib Gourmand, two rosettes, etc, and she was expecting me to be wearing pristine whites, but little did she know...

Donna, at the time, was working at a pub that would cater for 200 covers, knocking out really good home-made pub grub.

My sous chef at the time told me to go down and meet Donna because I had a weekend off. So off I went and surprised the hell out of her, which brings us to where to we are today. Little did we know then that we were going to end up owning a Top 50 Gastropub alongside the AA Inn of the Year. What a journey that has been.

The trade

The pub itself is roughly an even split between food and drink, with about 7% to 8% on accommodation. We don’t have a type of customer, we have everyone from the five o’clock club, workmen, business people, ladies that lunch and ladies who feel safe coming in here on their own.

We have a good crowd coming at lunchtime, especially the older people.

The nearest main town to us is Tiverton and on the other side of us is Taunton. Exmoor is three miles away, so we’re not exactly surrounded by chimney pots.

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The team

We employ anything from 16 to 20 staff depending on the time of year. We understand there will be a natural wastage through students going on to kitchen. Sophie Kennard was the South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the Year. Not only is it hard work done well, it’s a good reflection on us considering the standard of competition she was up against as some of them had stars.

Front of house is run by Gemma who looks after the team and explains what’s going on with the day-to-day running of the floor. The bar is looked after by John, who is responsible for the bar and cellar operation. We are very lucky to have our own Jane who looks after the rooms and takes a great sense of pride in what she does, followed by someone who works part time.

General daily operations of the pub are run by myself with a bit of help from my mother, and accounting. This leaves me responsible for communications, PR such as social media and bookkeeping.

More often than not, you’ll find me around the opening times, on the bar or on the floor just having a general chitchat with customers.

The drink

We have three real ales, none of which are regular because we like to keep changing all the time - we have built relationships with many south-west breweries over the years.

Our customers, probably like many other pubs right now, are currently on the gin bandwagon.

We stock anything between 35 and 40 gins, but we emphasise the two local ones that we have, Wicked Wolf and North Moor Gin. Outsiders love to try something local because it’s something different for them and often they can be off with a bottle to take back home.

We have a good wine list consisting of more than 30 bottles and there’s not one on there we haven’t tried. Plus, I like to go out to local wine merchants and have a bit of a play with the specials list for wine. We have a wine of the month.

We’ve got a nice rosé on at the moment, with it being a bit warmer weather, and we will put deeper, richer red wines on in the winter.

We do offer a few cocktails, but due to the nature of the beast, when there is one person on the bar, sometimes it can be very difficult to make good-quality ones for us. I have researched what are considered to be better cocktails and not too time-consuming for the bar staff to make.

Swan My Pub

What's on the menu?

  • Three tempura tiger prawns with garlic mayo - £3.75
  • Goats’ cheese arancini, tomato fondue, garlic dressing - £5.95
  • Fillet Brixham cod, brown shrimp butter, leeks, artichoke purée, artichoke crisp, sea herbs (gluten-free) - £17.95
  • Free range confit leg of duck, orange and cardamom sauce, pak-choi, carrot purée, heritage carrots (gluten-free) - £14.95
  • 28-day dry-aged fillet steak, onion purée, wild garlic butter, prawn (can be gluten-free on request) - £23.50
  • Tonka bean pannacotta, local strawberries, our own strawberry ice cream - £6.50
  • Cheese (Devon blue, Miss Wenna, Mary Quickes three-year vintage cheddar) and biscuits - £7.95
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The food

Our food offer is the right mixture of dishes, we have everything from classic pub dishes to more elaborate dishes.

Probably a top-selling dish at lunchtime has to be our steak and kidney pudding followed closely by fish and chips.

We have many people who come in, especially for the pudding, which has been the same recipe for the past 20 years. I doubt it will ever change, whereas our other food is evolving all the time. It is one of the main reasons people come to us. It’s also one of the reasons why the Swan has picked up so many awards over the past few years. Some of these awards include gold for the South West Tourism and Trencherman’s Pub of the Year twice.

We have two rosettes, which gives us some idea of the consistency that we continue to strive for every day. We’ve got a good range of vegetarian and vegan food that we use a specials board for on a daily basis.

The events

We like to lay on a few events throughout the year just for fun and to break up the daily routine.

We host a couple of quizzes a year and always one at Christmas, which we call The Big Christmas Quiz. It’s always a good one and can generally raise a couple of thousand pounds either for a local charity or someone like Action Against Hunger.

This year, I’m thinking about fundraising for the local food bank, because despite getting food, there are still costs involved for them. It will more than likely be one based in Tiverton, which is connected to our neighbours, St Michael & All Angels Church in Bampton.

We also team up with one of the local gin distilleries for a gin night. We pair food with different gins. Donna and I particularly enjoy these because the gins pair really well with Thai food and, if I do say so myself, Donna is very clever with the spices. These events can normally sell out within 24 to 48 hours.

We always do a special menu on Christmas Eve, called Simply Not Christmas. It is a surprise menu on the night, that takes us away from the bore of all the Christmas parties. This generally sells out very quickly.

We have also previously hosted a breakfast with a local vineyard three miles away where the owner came down and chatted with guests about his sparkling wine. It went down very well and we plan to do one with a local brewery next.

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The future

We are in the process now of opening up a small restaurant in the town called Spelt. It’s in the old bakery, so we thought it was appropriate to give it a more modern name that still related to the fact there was once a bakery there. The whole restaurant is going to be based around sharing small plates.

I think a few people assume we are mad opening up something else in the town, but we are seriously having to turn away an awful lot of business sometimes in the week and especially at weekends, so it makes sense to have something else because we can’t expand at the Swan.

As for the Swan, at some point later in the year, we will have the toilets upgraded and we will probably look at revamping the rooms again too.

It is important to stay on top of them and try and take them into the five-star category. One of the things that is exciting about having two places to eat is that we’ll be able to offer a two-night package to guests so they can dine in either place.

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