IT may have been owned and managed by the Defty family for over 35 years. It may bill itself as the oldest established fish and chip restaurant in Southport. But the The Swan is more. It is a fixed point in time.
Its genesis can be found in a period of history when Southport was still a real fairground attraction; when a staycation was neither a word nor a matter of choice; when, by day, buckets and spades were as common as muck. Less so the girls: by night, in 25 Guinea Persianelle coats, larging it over a jockey and a Dubonnet in the cocktail lounge of the Scarisbrick Hotel.
Margarine is a nostalgia too far and needs
to be consigned to the same dark 1970s vault
as Love Thy Neighbour and Winner Takes All
The Swan is woven as tightly into that tapestry of golden Southport summers as the crescendo of excitement which would build over the 21 train stops it took to get there, exploding and spilling onto the station platform on the hour, every hour, for all eternity.
Fixed points in time can be good. Find the Swan down an alley off Lord Street. Enter, take a seat, close your eyes and listen hard.
There it is, the rhythmic rattle and clatter of the seaside special making its way through places with names like Hall Road and Freshfield and past the Waterloo Rugby Club. The British Rail locomotive dutifully taking the strain of thousands in carriages whose seats would hold at least four in a row, in frayed, sun-faded moquette.
See it through the eyes of the restless child, bluebells and ox-eye daisies gently boxing the tips of her ears as she perilously leans out of the window; the gentler air of Lancashire blowing away the soot and the stains of the concrete precincts of the Pool like young, fresh breath on a dandelion clo....
The 10-year old is yanked back in as a speeding locomotive thunders south.
Sorry Mum. I won't do it again.
The Swan has achieved almost legendary status as a chippy and restaurant and nobody has a bad word to say about it. Even Tripadvisor, that bastion of unbiased, agenda-free comment, bestowed upon it an award of excellence after favourable reviews reached tipping point.
Hardwearing maroon vinyl banquettes, framed in mock yew, are scattered through a warren of small and large rooms. It's a style popular both in regency times and in the late 1970s. Complete the picture with white woodchip and Formica tables with reserved signs, and work units where vinegar bottles cluster like Daleks.
Laminated menus are presented in “Mistral”, an elegant calligraphy font from the 1980s. They inform the young, the old, the shop workers, the shoppers, that Heinz Sponge Pudding with custard can be yours for £2.95.
But what is this? The Swan has only gone and got a 21st century website.
“Large and small coach parties are especially welcome and always leave the restaurant more than satisfied,” it boasts.
Furthermore: “The Swan has been featured on television several times and has been spoken about as far as America and Australia.”
So has Fred West. But is it any good?
Sunday gone was a time to find out. It was the first day of the light since last autumn. Young H and I found ourselves in an open top MX5 tearing around the Hightown Bends. A Nation of Millions blared from the stereo, completing the mid life crisis.
The last visit to The Swan had been eight years ago when H was two and his brother five. I challenge any parent to honestly say they have fully savoured their food in a restaurant when hobbled by children of these ages. The haddock, and the adults, were battered that time and there was no hurry to return.
Today is a different kettle of fish. Cheap chicken nuggets from the kids menu have long been eschewed for the hunger of full price choices (can you see why I only take one of them?).
Thus, for the lad, home-made steak pie, chips, and gravy, part of a meal deal with a round of bread and a can of fizz for £7.
“Would you like mushy peas with that?” he is asked. He wouldn't, which is a terrible shame, because they are proper soaked marrowfats; green sludge with attitude and flavour, just like the ones I refused to touch when I was his age.
“But he might be better off with a small portion of chips,” I venture. H quickly shakes his head and the lady waiter smiles and winks at him indulgently.
The pie comes with indecent haste, perhaps two minutes later, along with another deal (£7.25) cod, chips, marrowfat mush and the rest.
The pastry, a soft, generous slab of shortcrust, just peeks out from a floodplain of thick, dark gravy. Beneath it, lots and lots of moist and tender steak in another good gravy. With kidney it would be even better.
The fish is not the biggest in the sea (for that I could have paid the extra quid for “large haddock” ) and H definitely has more chips, I frown. But such things are probably for the best.
And best it is. Jagged golden batter is merely a light duster coat over the spanking fresh white flesh of cod. This is the finest chippy fish I've had on these local forays, even better than the place on Parkgate, which wins for views. The Swan's chips are text book too, not an eye in sight and, to its great credit, no bad grease in any of it.
Grease in fish and chips has to be the right grease. And that right grease is butter, as in the stuff you spread on bread: turning into liquid on a fat slice of Orange Warburtons folding over a crunchy pillow of searing batter and steaming hot fish.
Unfortunately, The Swan is a butter free zone. Today's proffered white doorsteps have been given a scant lick of margarine. Margarine is a nostalgia too far and needs to be consigned to the same dark 1970s vault as Love Thy Neighbour and Winner Takes All.
“Do you want some home-made fruit crumble next?” I ask him. He slowly shakes his head in a way that suggests he's thinking of calling Child Line.
With little else to keep us there, we pay the bill and I am suddenly emboldened.
“He had more more chips than me,” I tell the lady waiter.
“Yes,” she chides, and I am 10 again. “He got extra because he didn't want his peas.”
As for the Swan, I can't promise I won't stick my neck out again.
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the restaurant or a PR company, and critics dine unannounced.
The Swan Fish and Chip Restaurant and Takeaway,
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against other cafes etc. Following on from this the scores represent:
1-5: Straight in the dog bowl
6-9: Get the chippy
10-11: In an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out
16-17: Very good to exceptional
18-20: As good as it gets
Angie Sammons on twitter @twangeee