Much ado about everything: The Swan at London’s recreated Globe Theatre is proving to be a fantastic venue for wonderful sandwiches and food in general, under the guiding hand of Richard Edney, Pret’s former development chef. Nellie Nichols went in search of some Shakespeare and sandwiches.
I start most mornings with a ridiculously early walk with the dogs down along the river Thames. Even at that time of the day there’s something interesting happening on the river. Rowing crews in training, herons pottering about in the mud, and the general river traffic going about its business.
Further up stream the day is starting with more of a hue and cry. Bankside is the new hip river strip on London’s Southbank. If you walk along near the river from London Bridge to the new Millennium Bridge you’ll pass the familiar faces of Caffe Nero, EAT, Starbucks and Pizza Express, and, one of the most impressive new designs of this year, the newly opened Amano store in the Bluefin Building.
But now and again, amongst all the norm, one stumbles across a real maverick and nothing fits the bill more than The Swan at The Globe Theatre.
Embarrassingly, despite living here most of my life, I’ve never visited The Globe – I’ve also never seen the Crown Jewels or The Tower of London. The journey to Stratford upon Avon is a viable excuse for not seeing Shakespeare but down the river is on my doorstep.
When I get inside this magnificent open air theatre I fill up with guilt. Built fifteen years ago half a mile from the original theatre, this impressive building houses not only the theatre, the Globe exhibition, its own outdoor piazza, a café, a bar and a restaurant and event facilities but also ‘Under the Globe’, a subterranean conference facility with its very own Narnia-style giant tree (weird).
The catering has now been taken on by the successful team of Diccon Wright and Peter Cornwall, owners of The Swan Brasserie at West Malling, but the running of this venture lies firmly in the capable and very innovative hands of the
General Manger, my ex-Pret development chef Richard Edney. Okay, I have to admit I am intrigued and I did come all this way to find out exactly what was meaty enough to get him to pack his creative bags lock stock and barrel and leave Pret after nearly nine years. Sitting in the Bar this is plain to see. Designed by Brinkworth (Conran restaurants), I’m wondering if my handbag is big enough to accidentally pop some of these beautiful dove lights (bare light bulbs with real white feathers attached) or very surreal Polly Hope pictures hanging everywhere.
My latte is sitting on a stark beautiful bare wooden table made from wood reclaimed from the ‘87 hurricanes (did more of it get used in such a fantastic way?) The long trestle table is flanked on both sides by bleached wooden toadstool seats. The lampshades are made from elephant grey felt. 1,500 people come here twice a day to see Shakespeare performed and they don’t care if it’s raining. They’re so fanatical they even watched a sold out performance last week of The Merchant of Venice that was performed through the night. Rich then provided them with breakfast on his Piazza of smoked salmon and eggs or sausage, bacon and egg frittata, a breakfast box with a mug of tea for £5.00. What more could you ask for to eat watching the sun rising over the river. And what of the other menus? This is so not for the faint hearted. We’re talking five kitchens on five floors. A well oiled culinary machine of efficiency and attention to detail. Every single ingredient worth noting is being cooked from absolute scratch – the Char-grilled chicken, slow poached salmon and crispy bacon; there is an outstanding beetroot cured salmon and salt beef that is cooked for six hours.
Fresh herbs are in abundance – the fresher the better, there are no restrictions here. Can you imagine what sort of sandwiches are made here to take in with you to see a performance, or just sit in this wonderful Elizabethan room with leaded windows looking at St.Paul’s? I am spoilt for choice really but Balmoral Beetroot Cured Salmon (£3.10) with pickled cucumber, grain mustard, fresh dill and mixed leaves is my favourite. Well, until I try the Kashmiri Chicken (£3.00) and I am completely bewitched by the spices this chicken has marinated in overnight: garam masala, cumin, ginger, roasted coriander seeds, mustard oil and fresh chilli – married up with yoghurt, fresh mint and coriander, thick slices of tomato and a handful of spinach. This is masterful in the world of sandwiches, and Pret should never have let him go.
The Swan Deli (£3.00) is made with the slow cooked salt beef, shredded with mustard mayo to make your eyes water and comes with tomatoes, leaves and cucumber. Soon it will be made on their own homemade caraway bread and hand wrapped in paper. Rich has a vision of a mountain of homemade hand wrapped sandwiches in a giant wooden bowl sitting on the trestle table for theatre goers to choose from before going into their performance.
Then there are the fabulous and generous salads – a Mixed Meze, Sesame Chicken Avocado, Poached Salmon with Wild Rice and the most delicious Tabouleh made with handfuls of fresh mint, coriander, grated orange and lemon zest, juicy raisins and apricots, all outstanding value at £3.95. There are homemade desserts, cakes and juices, and great coffee.
The Bar is open from 10 in the morning to 1am, offering not just sandwiches but Portland crab salad, a pint of prawns, delicious terrines and endless specials. The Brasserie has more in store: Goats Cheese Wellington, Fresh Seared Tuna and Asparagus Tarts. Kieran Steinborn, Head Chef, works closely with Rich and their combined energy sparks ideas endlessly from them both – Bento boxes for the theatre are currently under construction.
You know I never think anything is perfect but what is in need of fixing here is relatively minor. The strawberry trifle isn’t (at least not in my book) made without custard or alcohol and I would like to see far better marketing illustrating the length and breadth of what’s on offer and where it’s available within this vast building. And there’s no point going to all the effort of making recipes yourselves so deliciously if you hide that valuable information under a bushel.
So you can keep Stratford upon Avon because this is the place for me. I can’t wait to pop by for a dose of culture; a bit of Midsummer Night’s Dream, a glass of Pimms and one of those delicious Kashmiri sandwiches. Or a little Macbeth with a glass of champagne and the Balmoral Beetroot Cured Salmon. Soon. Very soon.