STEPHEN DAVY-OSBORNE dines out (twice) with his mother at one of Wood Street’s landmarks

20 AT The Kings must be one of the most photographed buildings in town. Whenever someone wants to show the town in a good light, or has drawn up one of those awful “10 reasons why Swindon isn’t as bad as you think…” listicles, an artistic photograph of this Wood Street pub, restaurant and bar’s magnificent façade is sure to be in there.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed of – the building is simply unlike anything else in Swindon – rather sadly.

Despite its very grand appearance, it’s not somewhere I have ever been to eat before. If anything it’s probably down to how grand I thought it was that it’s not somewhere I would think to go for a quick bite, or feel was suitable for an un-planned after work dinner.

But these preconceptions have only seen me miss out on a great venue right on my doorstep which caters to all tastes.

Formerly known as the King’s Arms back in the day, it has undergone a number of faithful restorations in recent years to become a real destination restaurant in Old Town. Aged wooden floorboards and mosaic flooring contrast with the modern glass doors that welcome you in. And on the freezing cold, snowy evening that my mother and I trudged in, it couldn’t have been to a more welcome sight.

As an out of towner, I do always try to find somewhere nice to take her for dinner when she comes to visit, and I hoped 20 At The Kings would prove to be just the ticket.

As we were in Christmas party season, we were told we couldn’t eat in the restaurant and so were instead seated in the bar, which was no bad thing. It wasn’t exactly rowdy, and the Kings is full of comfy corners to kick back and relax in so we barely noticed any of the other people there enjoying a drink after work.

Choosing from their grill menu, where a set menu will seriously look after the pennies for you, we were left to choose from a whole host of delicious-sounding starters. From pan seared scallops (£8) to a marinated lamb kofta (£7) we both decided instead to opt for the grill’s set menu of three courses for £16.95.

This gave us the choice of four starters in the shape of homemade soup (£6), prawn and avocado cocktail (£8), baked egg with leeks (£6) and chicken liver parfait (£7). Sadly they were all out of eggs, so I went for my second choice of the soup, while Mother (who has been preaching the benefits of avocados since they were last hip in the 1970s) rather smugly went for the prawn and avocado cocktail, and poked fun at me when I looked longingly at it upon arrival, remembering all the years I had turned my nose up at the now very fashionable alligator pears.

My tomato soup was really quite something though, and came with generous servings of bread on the side.

For mains, the set menu offers a grilled fish of the day (£14), a roasted butternut squash and chilli risotto (£13), a slow roasted beef casserole (£14), pork tenderloin (£17) and a classic 6oz beef burger £13). It soon becomes apparent – looking at these prices – just how good value the set menu is!

After learning that on this particular day the fish of the day was hake, Mother ordered that, while I was tempted by the pork with its promise of creamy mash, Madeira, prunes and spring greens. As someone who isn’t keen on seafood, I left her to it to enjoy the fish, which she clearly did. The pork was also really quite special – thick, tender cuts of meat nestled on a mountain of delicious, creamy mash. Just what was needed on a cold winter’s night.

Despite now having consumed way more than £16.95 worth of food (my pork alone was more than the set price) we turned our attentions to the dessert menu (while feeling guilty that too many meals at this price would be sure to put them out of business!).

The set menu includes chocolate profiteroles, passion fruit panna cotta, sticky toffee pudding and a selection of ice creams, while other offerings include pears poached in red wine, crème brulee and a cheeseboard (all £6, bar the cheese which is £8). I almost said to hell with the set menu as the poached pears sounded magnificent, and my arm can always be twisted by a cheeseboard) but my love of a bargain triumphed and I ordered the sticky toffee – as I was in the mood for some real, warm, comfort food. I was a bit put out that my request for the banana ice cream that accompanies it be replaced with cream was ignored, but it didn’t turn out to be as offensive as I had expected, so it in no way ruined my dessert, while Mother proudly made her way through three entire scoops of chocolate ice cream.

One of the things I am most envious of when people come to stay is the hotel breakfasts they get treated to, so less than 12 hours after I had walked out of the glass doors of the King’s, I was back again to join mother for breakfast.

I toyed between ordering a vegetarian breakfast (vegetarian sausage, egg, tomato, mushroom, beans, hash brown, toast – £6.50) but seeing the inclusion of black pudding on the full English I went for that (£7.95).

Despite my plate arriving without that much-hoped for black gold (and without any explanation either – the morning operation is far less slick, and significantly less friendly, than the evening team) — the breakfast was right on point, so top marks for the kitchen. The sausage was of great quality – so often a mistake by kitchens trying to cut corners by serving up an inferior sausage – and the bacon was cooked just right, while the egg remained suitably runny. A generous serving of toast and butter rounded off this great start to the day well.

I sort of feel a bit cheated that I haven’t sampled 20 At The Kings’ menu sooner, but I will definitely be returning – if only to get my black pudding!

20 At The Kings

20 Wood Street, Swindon SN1 4AB20 

Tel: 01793 522156

Parking: Yes

Disabled access: Yes

Our ratings:

Food: 8/10

Choice: 8/10

Decor: 8/10

Customer service: 7/10

TripAdvisor rating: 3.5