“Don’t worry about the table being a bit sticky,” says the waitress, as she shows us toward our places at the Swan and Talbot. “It’s not dirty, it’s just in the middle of being varnished.”
All things considered, this makes for a rather curious re-introduction to this famous old dining pub in the centre of Wetherby. Which would I actually prefer: to get some stale spilled beer on my shirt, or some varnish? Neither is ideal, but at least the beer would wash off.
Call me old-fashioned, but wouldn’t it be better altogether to take the tables out of service while they are resurfaced? But – given that we are hungry and the rest of the pub was fully booked – we decide to go with it and sit there anyway. And thankfully, the wet varnish proves the only tarnish on what was a rather splendid evening out at an inn which has been serving travellers for more than 400 years.
Its curious name comes from those earliest days, when – as the Dog and Swan – it would service the needs of those making the arduous and hazardous journey between London and Edinburgh on the Great North Road. Both animals featured on the crest of the Swann family who lived in nearby Askham Manor. The dog was a talbot hound, a now-extinct small hunting dog, similar to a beagle, and so in due course the pub’s name was changed to The Swan and Talbot.
So many pub names are repeated across the country, it’s great to come across one which is unique. And though the A1 has now shuffled a little further east, this would still make for a fine stopping point on the journey.
From the busy main road outside, you enter a low-ceilinged bar, where four real ale handpumps have pride of place. Three local beers are the regulars here, and I eschew the varied delights of Black Sheep and Rooster’s Yankee to opt for the excellent Golden Best from Timothy Taylor’s.
Essentially the space is divided in two: to the left of the door is the pub’s drinking area with flagged floors and a roaring open fire; to the right is the restaurant with its tartan carpets and half-varnished tables.
The Swan and Talbot serves food every session, the menu replete with some quality selections. It’s a Sunday evening when we call in, when a limited menu offers choices three courses for £16.95, two for £13.95 and one for £9.95. I start with the delicious crispy-coated haggis bon-bons which come with a mayonnaise dip, while my partner warms herself up with a bowl of the creamy tomato and basil soup, served with a couple of chunky wedges of toast.
Mind you, she’s been saving room for the roast beef, which is a good thing as it proves a sizeable choice: lean slices of beef, an oversized Yorkshire pudding, lashings of gravy and then two dishes of crunchy vegetables, carrots, broccoli and some big cauliflower florets bathed in a rich creamy sauce.
In the interests of research I also commandeer some of her veg to accompany my firm-tasting seabass fillets which are draped over a mound of crushed new potatoes.
All are served by the attentive staff, dressed in smart black livery.
After this really hearty dinner, sleep would obviously be an ideal option, and the pub’s owners the Ainsty Group have recently refurbished the four ensuite letting rooms upstairs. And with bed and breakfast deals starting at £65 for a double, it seems like decent value.
The Ainsty Group’s portfolio also includes two other great dining pubs, the Beehive at Thorner and Chequers at Bilston-in-Ainsty, east of York.
Swan and Talbot
Address: North Street, Wetherby, LS22 6NN
Opening Hours: 9am-11pm Mon-Sat and 9am-10pm Sun
Beers: Three regular cask ales – Rooster’s Yankee, Timothy Taylor Golden Best, Black Sheep – plus one guest beer and good choice of craft beers.
Wine: Good choice from £3.95-glass and £14.95-bottle
Food: Quality pub meals served 9am-9pm Mon-Sat and 9am-8pm Sun
Entertainment: Games machine, TV
Disabled: Straightforward access
Events: Areas available for private hire for meetings, parties etc
Accommodation: Four ensuite rooms from £65 B&B for two
Parking: Large area to the rear
Telephone: 01937 582040