“ Address: 1 Titnore Lane / Worthing, BN12 6PB / Tel: 01903 506346 „
The Swallow Returns is a pub located in Ferring, a small village near the better known seaside town of Worthing in West Sussex. The Swallow Returns is yet another pub belonging to the Vintage Inns chain, this being the third of such establishments I've visited in the last year (the others being The Oystercatcher in Climping and The Bosham Inn in Chidham). Food and drink at any Vintage Inn pub tends to be pretty much the all the same, as they all seem to work off the same menu. However, where they differ is the buildings in which they are located. Each one is pretty unique and they all have something special about them to recommend them.
As I've written before, I'm not really a massive fan of chain restaurants as the menus tend to be rather on the large side, the food mass produced and often lacking innovation. However, it was my father's 72nd birthday, and he got to choose the venue on this occasion. He had previously made two other visits to The Swallow Returns, and rather enjoyed their steaks, so off we went to partake of their hospitality in early September this year. There were six of us in the party, my parents, my brother and his wife and my partner and I.
~~~ DÉCOR & AMBIENCE ~~~
The Swallow Returns looks rather stunning from the outside. It's located in a huge flint built barn with stunning hillside views to the back of it. Although it's just off a busy dual carriageway (the A259 road running between Worthing and Littlehampton), once you turn off into the driveway of The Swallow Returns you wouldn't know it was right beside a main road. The car park is spacious with plenty of well thought out parking spaces and landscaped verges. As you leave the car park you approach the entrance to the pub itself and you are greeted by a huge expanse of floor to roof glazed windows with massive shutters to each side. The entrance path is surrounded by plenty of outside seating areas. There is a decked area with plenty of wooden tables and chairs, as well as an undercover seating area if the weather proves inclement. It's all delightfully landscaped, well tended and immaculate looking. First impressions definitely impress here.
Like most Vintage Inns, the emphasis is on eating rather than drinking, and most visitors to The Swallow Returns are there to dine rather than just drink. There is a small area just to the front of the bar where you can drink, but the majority of the floor space in The Swallow Returns is laid up for dining. It obviously works for them, as despite it being a Wednesday night, I'd say that the tables in the dining areas were at least 80% full, and there were a good handful of drinkers in the bar area too.
The décor of The Swallow Returns was very much in keeping with a barn conversion. The entrance is wide and spacious with a huge wooden clad bar area directly to one side. The bar looks most tempting with plenty of clever spotlighting shining off the bottles and optics, and emphasising the golden hue of the wooden clad bar. To either side of the bar there are ground floor dining areas with varying sized tables dotted about. There is also a first floor dining area - a small mistral's gallery if you like - where you can enjoy a quieter meal away from all the hubbub of the bar.
The initial impression of The Swallows Return is space - this is a rather large and cavernous barn conversion. However, despite the light filled entrance-way and high domed ceiling criss crossed with wooden beams, the whole pub is rather dark inside. In my opinion the lights are turned down just a little bit too low in there. Personally I would prefer if they made more use of the high ceilings and tall windows, and made the place a lot lighter. The dimness of some of the dining areas, especially in the mistral's gallery bit, made the place a bit too sombre and dark. Perhaps it appears more cosy in the winter when the fires are lit, but I couldn't help thinking it was far too dark in there considering summer is not quite yet gone. Like the other Vintage Inns I've dined in, The Swallow Returns is full of nooks, crannies and hidden alcoves, ideal for a romantic tryst or a quiet meal for two. There are plenty of larger tables for family or group dining, and The Swallow Returns definitely tries to cater for everyone - drinkers, eaters, couples and groups.
~~~ THE MENU ~~~
The Swallow's Return offers a rather extensive lunch / dinner menu, as well as a special children's menu. It's worth noting that there are always plenty of special offers to be had in a Vintage Inn as well - set price luncheon menus, early bird offers, steak night deals and so on. The menu leans towards typical pub grub - pies, burgers, steaks and so on. There is always masses of choice so you can take your fussy five year old as well as Granny and everyone will find something they like.
In their attempt to cater for everyone, starters tend to include perennial favourites like soup of the day, prawn cocktail or pâté, but there are more innovative choices on offer like scallops, calamari or tiger prawns. Those dining in a group (or wanting a lighter snack) might be tempted by their "Sharers" - platters of Frito Misto (deep fried seafood), a Tasting Platter (cheese, pate and bread) or Mezze (Turkish/Greek themed titbits). Starter prices range from £3.00 up to £6.00 with the "Sharers" starting at £9.95.
For your main course, the menu offers at least 30 different choices as well as daily blackboard specials. As you'd expect on a pub grub menu, there are plenty of pies, burgers and steaks on offer, as well as old favourites like gammon, egg and chips, scampi and chips or fish and chips. The cost of main courses range from a very reasonable £7.25 up to £16.45 - and this includes either vegetables, salad and /or potatoes.
To round things off, the Desserts range in price from c£4.00 up to c£6.00 and include a good selection of old favourites like apple pie or fruit crumble or cheesecake as well as ice-creams and suchlike. Obviously I'm not going to list the whole menu here - that can be viewed in pdf format at http://www.vintageinn.co.uk/theswallowsr​eturnferring/ pdf/theswallowsreturnferrin​g-food_menu_LN11.pdf
~~~ OUR MEAL ~~~
Like at a lot of other Vintage Inns, Wednesday nights at The Swallow Returns is "Steak Night". The Steak Night offer consists of two main courses and a bottle of red or white wine for £29.95 per couple. Menu choices are limited to either Rump Steak, Sirloin Steak, a Mixed Grill or Chargrilled Chicken (NB: there is no vegetarian choice with this offer). Wine choices are simply a red Zinfandel or a white Chardonnay. You can, of course, have a starter if you want to...but they're not included in the price.
Being a family of cheapskates, we plunged straight in with ordering our main courses, being too mean to fork out for starters on this occasion...if you'll pardon the pun. Four of us chose the Sirloin Steak and the remaining two went for the Mixed Grill.
The Sirloin Steak is described as "9oz Sirloin Steak served with beer battered onion rings, plum tomato, iceberg wedge with Caesar dressing and steak cut chips". All the steak eaters ordered them cooked Medium Rare, and they arrived cooked as requested. However, when the steaks arrived two of the plates were missing some of the items described. Mine was missing the onion rings, and my sister-in-law received the iceberg wedge but without the Caesar dressing. She was more observant that I was as she asked for some Caesar dressing to be brought straight away. I'd almost polished off the contents of my plate before my partner noticed I'd missed out on any onion rings, by which time it was rather too late to mention it to the waitress. Lucky for me, my mother didn't want hers and threw them over to me (not literally..). My sirloin steak was tasty enough, but seemed on the smaller side of the alleged 9oz, and looked rather paltry in comparison to the one my father received. I must say that the chips were rather nice, chunky and crisp and rather artfully arranged like a mini Jenga tower :o)
The two Mixed Grill eaters ended up with a larger plateful of food than the rest of us. The Mixed Grill is described as including "a lamb cutlet, rump steak, sweetcure bacon, sausage, white and black pudding, egg, roast mushroom, tomato, steak cut chips and garden peas (phew!)", and you certainly do get a lot on your plate. If you are on the Steak Night menu, then this is certainly the best value meal on offer by far. Everyone enjoyed their main courses except my mother who said there was rather too much fat and gristle on her sirloin than she liked.
Once the table had been cleaned, our waitress plonked a small chalk blackboard on the table with the dessert selection on offer that night. Dessert is not included in the Steak Night menu, but that didn't stop us wanting more. Sadly one of my favourites, Eton Mess, was off the table that evening as it had all been used up. Luckily there was still a more an adequate selection left with which to tempt us. We ordered a Banoffee Cheesecake, Profiteroles, a Treacle Tart and a Berries and Cream Tart (all priced around the c£4 to c£5 mark). The Banoffee Cheesecake was rather lacking in banana flavour, consisting mostly of biscuit base and squirty cream rather than actual cheesecake. The Treacle Tart came served with clotted cream and was pronounced excellent. The Berries and Cream tart was nice but rather tiny of portion. I would have had the Eton Mess, but plumped reluctantly for the Profiteroles instead. I was rather dubious about them, as I'd tried the same dish at The Oystercatcher last year and been rather disappointed. I hoped there wouldn't be a repeat of the last year's dessert... but I should have learned my lesson. Yet again the Profiteroles were not as I expected i.e. small balls of choux pastry filled with whipped cream and drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. The Vintage Inns version is to serve two large choux buns not filled with anything except fresh air. Instead, they cover the choux pasty in squirty cream and then drizzle a thin squib of chocolate sauce over the top...and it's not even nice chocolate sauce - it tastes like that the sort of chocolate sauce you squeezed out of a bottle onto ice-cream when you were a kid :o( Yet again they were extremely heavy on choux pastry and very light on chocolate sauce - not one of their best dishes. I only ate one of the choux buns, and passed the second one onto the grateful recipients of the smaller desserts.
The birthday boy isn't a great lover of desserts, but loves his coffee. He was, however, rather disappointed to learn that their espresso machine was out of action that night and rather abruptly declined their offer of a filter coffee instead by stating filter coffee "was crap". Bless him - he does need to reacquire some of the tact and diplomacy he used to have!
~~~ DRINKS ~~~
As well as a full range of the usual lagers and bitters, The Swallow Returns also caters for the real ale lover with choices of beers from breweries such as Timothy Taylor, Harveys, Shepherd Neame and various guest ales. My Dad enjoyed a pint of Sharp's Doom bitter upon his arrival and my brother and partner had pints of Carling Black Label. Most of the wines are sold by either the bottle, small glass or large glass, and there's a good range from all around the world. As there were six of us on the Steak Night menu the price included three bottles of wine. We chose two bottles of red Italian Jakes' Point Zinfandel and one bottle of white Italian Catarratto Chardonnay. As I was the designated driver I stuck to a rather unexciting glass of sparkling mineral water.
~~~ THE SERVICE ~~~
We were greeted and served by a friendly barman as soon as we arrived and served with drinks. We then approached the manager's desk and asked about our table. I'd booked a table for six online at the Vintage Inns website about ten days beforehand so I wanted to check all was in order before the rest of the party arrived. However, despite my email confirmation from Vintage Inns, there did not appear to be any record of my reservation on the manager's seating plan. Yet again I seemed to have been let down by online reservation systems, having had a similar problem at Zizzi earlier in the year. However, the manager at The Swallow Returns handled the situation a lot more tactfully than Zizzis ever knew how to. Rather than pointing out the failings of Head Office computerised reservation systems as the manager of Zizzis did, the manager at The Swallow Returns quickly swept the problem aside, ensuring us that it wasn't a problem and a table would be found for us. He then proceeded to show us two possible tables that we could eat at and let us choose which one we wanted before he had it re-laid. Once the rest of the party arrived, we had a very quick drink in the bar area, and when the manager approached us to inform us our table was ready we followed him through to the restaurant. He then gave us some menus and introduced us to our waitress for the evening. One really couldn't fault his demeanour and attitude. Full marks to The Swallow Returns and nul points to Zizzi.
Our waitress for the evening (Dawn) was friendly and very efficient. She quickly took our food order and was swift to check whether we needed any further drinks, sauces etc. There was a delay of about 30 minutes between ordering our food and its delivery, but as we had plenty to chat about (and the birthday boy had presents to open), this only increased our anticipation rather than inconvenienced us. The pub was at least 80% full of diners so a delay of 30 minutes was to be expected. Once we'd eaten our plates were swiftly cleared away and the dessert selection offered. When we were ready to leave the bill was presented and paid all with the minimum of delay.
~~~ WILL I BE MIGRATING BACK THERE ANY TIME AT ALL? ~~~
I think that The Swallows Return is a rather nice pub with a very welcoming ambience. The barn conversion has been nicely done and it's very comfortable place to spend a few hours.
Like most Vintage Inns the food is tasty enough, but it's never going to win any culinary awards. However, you get what you expect in chain restaurant - fair prices and plenty of choice. I do think that Vintage Inn's Steak Night offer is very good value even though the portions are standard rather than huge. Dinner for six came to a reasonable £120, working out at £22 per person once we'd added a tip to the bill.
All in all the service was very good, with the manager being particularly tactful at dealing with our apparent non-reservation. It can't have been easy finding a table for six on such a busy night and at such short notice, but he was not at all flustered or troubled by our unexpected arrival.
The Swallow Returns receives a four star rating from me. To be honest the food and drink at The Swallow Returns is mostly adequate rather than impressive...BUT the staff really make this place work, tuning it into somewhere a lot more welcoming than most pubs I know. They obviously work really hard at giving their clients a good time and it shows. They all seemed happy in their jobs, and that makes such a difference in attitude and atmosphere. Full marks to the manager for heading up such a happy team.
Recommended, yes...and in answer to my review title - I think I will definitely return one day.
~~~ FURTHER DETAILS ~~~
The pub is very easy to find as it's just off the A259 - the dual carriageway which runs between Littlehampton and Worthing. As already mentioned, The Swallow Returns is part of the Vintage Inn chain, which is a UK wide collection of traditional country pubs / restaurants. The Vintage Inn chain is owned and run by Mitchells and Butlers Plc, a massive catering company who operate around 2,000 outlets throughout the UK (mostly pubs or pub restaurants). Their portfolio of different brands includes Harvester Inns, Toby Carveries, Crown Carveries, Innkeeper's Lodge, Browns, All Bar One, O'Neills, Ember Inns and so on.
The Swallow Returns
1 Titnore Lane
Ferring, Near Worthing
Website: http://www.vintageinn.co.uk/theswallowsr​eturnferring or Vintage Inn's own website at http://www.vintageinn.co.uk
* Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 12pm to 11pm and Sundays 12pm to 10:30pm
* The toilets were large and roomy as well as being clean and tidy when visited. However they are on the first floor up a flight of stairs, so not suitable for the disabled or infirm
* All major credit cards are accepted
* The dress code is very relaxed and informal
* The Swallow Returns has ample free parking and a large outdoor seating area (some parts of the outside seating area are covered, so ideal for the British climate)