When I think of Kent, Connecticut, images of rolling hills, prep schools and antique shops dotted across quaint villages all come to mind. Less often associated with the area are design-led restaurants with Noma-level cuisine and service – but that’s exactly what I found at Swyft on a recent trip to Litchfield County, two hours north of New York City.
The restaurant opened at the end of last year in an 18th-century house and combines original immense stone fireplaces and post-and-beam construction with simple furnishings, lighting and greenery courtesy of an all-star team with design credits that include work at Claridge’s, The Carlyle and Calvin Klein Home.
The kitchen is helmed by chef Joel Viehland, a local celebrity who has cooked at Noma and Gramercy Tavern, as well as at the award-winning Community Table in nearby Washington. What I loved about Swyft from the outset was the casual atmosphere; a dove-grey exterior set the stage for a meal that was low-key and delicious. We all – with ages ranging from 15 to 75 years – fell for what the chef calls his “elevated average Joe” menu, with offerings such as agrodolce-topped burgers with beef-tallow fries and blistered, sourdough margherita pizzas with mozzarella and burrata (the cheese is made in the kitchens).
Swyft – named for the family that originally built the house – is an enticing place for a laid-back lunch regardless of the season, but it was particularly cosy on a recent cold spring day. Standout dishes included a proper Cubano sandwich with slow-cooked pork shoulder and Gruyère, and Caldo Verde – a Portuguese potato and kale soup with Linguiça sausage. Grain salads with zingy za’atar dressing, an elegant take on the old-school BLT and a simple-yet-spicy Cacio e Pepe pasta rounded out the menu.
But it was those fantastic sourdough pizzas that were our clear favourites, made using a 30-year-old starter, and a Pavesi wood-fired oven from Naples. The Rhode Island – a white version with clams and pancetta – and the Rosso with stracciatella, garlic and oregano were both crispy perfection. And the oven might be imported, but the fresh produce is local and discernible – many of the toppings used come from nearby Rock Cobble Farm.
Later this summer, Viehland will open Ore Hill next door. This fine dining restaurant will offer tasting menus that he hopes will push boundaries in terms of ingredients and flavour combinations, without adding pretention. I, for one, can’t wait to return to Swyft for the La Pienza pizza with wild boar sausage, porcini and roasted peppers, never mind whatever multicourse masterpiece Viehland cooks up at his next venture.