A night out in Brough

To my discredit, I didn’t know all that much about Brough, except that it has a castle, an ice cream parlour and a regular Farmers’ Market. We have driven past and through Market Brough, admiring the solid, well-proportioned buildings, but we had never really stopped for any length of time.

But Brough, which is around five miles north of Kirkby Stephen and eight miles from Appleby, is a fascinating place to visit.

Brough was traditionally divided into two – Church Brough has a market square with a maypole and is close to the castle and St Michael’s Church. Market Brough’s history as a staging post for travellers, especially in the 18th and 19th Centuries, is evident from its long, wide street and numerous old hostelry buildings – at one point the village is said to have had more than ten inns to cater for passing stagecoaches. In fact, its roots date back more than 2,000 years, as it is built on the site of the Roman fort and settlement called Verterae.

The A66 splits the two parts of the village and is a relic of this ancient era, following the Roman road between Scotch Corner and Penrith. Today it bypasses Brough, leaving the village’s streets quieter than they have been for centuries.

But this is not a history lesson, this is about food.

After a short but animated discussion about who was going to drive on Saturday night (nobody put their hand up apart from Gracie, and she’s 12), we booked BD Taxis and made our way to Swanson House in Market Brough.

As we made our booking, we had been asked if we minded looking at the menu and ringing back with our choices, an eminently sensible approach for a small restaurant.

Swanson House is part of an 18th Century coaching inn and was formerly a Post Office, run by the current owners, Philip and Pat.

Swanson House restaurant Brough

Swanson House restaurant in Brough

Philip showed us to our table, which was dressed with crisp white linen. “Very nice,” commented my Mother-in-Law, and she’s fussy about things like that. She was even more complimentary about her starter, which was home-made bruschetta topped with melted Keverigg cheese and pan-fried chestnut mushrooms.

Daughter and I had opted for Bessy Beck trout pâté wrapped in smoked salmon. I was happily spreading this on crisp walnut toast, when husband informed me that we were sharing starters and swapped our plates unceremoniously. I hadn’t really fancied the mini shepherd’s pie that he had ordered, as it sounded a touch heavy for a starter, but I’m glad he insisted as it was exceptional, and it was rather nice of him to have shared.

Mother-in-Law chose the rabbit, bacon and Black Sheep Ale stew for her main course and pronounced it delicious, a genuine accolade because she hadn’t eaten rabbit for more than 50 years.

Gracie’s lemon and crab cakes arrived with wilted spinach and caper sauce served in a crab shell and topped with a poached egg – I’m not too sure how it all tasted because the crab cakes disappeared before I had a chance to try them.

And so on to the game and redcurrant pies for which Swanson House is justifiably renowned – the rich casseroled game filling was balanced by the sharpness of the redcurrants and somehow the pastry managed to be simultaneously light and dense, melting in the mouth, but keeping its texture.

I was the lone plum and almond tart among three sticky upside-down chocolate pear gingerbreads. All conversation halted and was replaced by barely audible exclamations of pleasure as we lapsed into the sort of comfortable, masticating silence that one of my friends used to describe as being like tea-time in a day centre.

Pat brought out a plate of home-made truffles and fudge to finish the meal, which cost £22 per person for three courses.

The upshot? If you like local food, prepared simply but with talent and flair, Waitby School heartily recommends eating at Swanson House.

We’ll be back.

 

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