The Red Lion is the most popular pub name in the UK according to the British Beer and Pub association. There are 759 Red Lions in 2009, over 100 ahead of the next most common, The Royal Oak. (Although no doubt a good few of these have recently closed as pubs continue to decline and struggle). High Lane is another unremarkable name for a place and is just a linear settlement alongside the A6. So what makes The Red Lion in High Lane worth seeking out?
Around two years ago, Robinsons Brewery invested some half a million pounds in a significant refurbishment of this large, and relatively modern, roadside pub. The space inside is tasteful, interesting and expensively done. It has a “New England” type feel and has a style of it’s own lacking the usual identikit feel of many pub interior overhauls. For various reasons we have never really fancied it though, possibly because of reports of high prices and, on a quick online perusal of the menu, it didn’t seem to offer value for money for what seemed ordinary dishes.
What changed my mind was reading that the place was owned by the same people that operate Damson in Heaton Moor and previously were responsible for the success of Thomas’s & Sam’s Chop Houses in Manchester city centre. Unashamedly British classics made with quality ingredients have been the hallmark of these places, especially the Chop Houses so perhaps it was time for a rethink.
First impressions were good, with the décor and general ambience living up to its reputation. We took a drink at the bar first which we asked to be put on our eventual bill and then made ourselves known to the floor manager behind his lectern ( come to think of it, this is a feature of both the Chop Houses). He took us to our table in one of the many interesting alcoves and rooms. A nice table by the window.
The waitress took our order and was sufficiently knowledgeable about the menu to offer an opinion about which sauce to have with the steak. We ordered a mid range bottle of red from an interesting wine menu and the customary jug of tap water. This latter test was passed easily enough as the jug, two glasses with ice and lemon appeared promptly.
To start from a menu with a number of tempting options, I tried the Salmon Nicoise, slightly different take on salad nicoise with salmon standing in for tuna, nicely balanced and complete with an egg not quite hard boiled , almost perfect. The OH settled on the Goat Cheese Fritters, marinated beetroot, crushed walnuts & Asian pears, this too looked good and I almost felt I had made the wrong choice. For a main course I chose Mr Pilling’s famous Corned Beef Hash, poached egg, dry cured smoked bacon , again a difficult decision from this menu with so many other good things to eat. I decided on the Hash based on the last experience of this dish at Mr Thomas’s Chop House in Manchester. The grill menu won the affections of the OH, and the Onglet Steak was duly ordered complete with a Bearnaise sauce. With all the steaks, sauces are included. The meals came with a dish of excellent mixed vegetables, fresh, excellently cooked and seasoned.( If you are in charge of the kitchen at the Midland in Marple Bridge, this is how vegetables should be cooked!)
We finished the meal with one cheese board comprising three excellent cheeses; Keltic Gold Cornish, soft with a cider washed rind and almost like a French Chaume in taste and texture , Barbers 1833 Cheddar and Helers Blue Cheshire (this last cheese was possibly past its best ). The cheeses were served with biscuits, grapes and celery. The OH tried a liqueur coffee with Drambuie. This finished a great meal which was difficult to find fault with.
The whole experience was a pleasure, great staff who worked as a team, were attentive but not intrusive, made few mistakes and were professional. Steve Pilling, the owner, working the tables on a Saturday night, the floor manager doing the same job too – deftly exhibiting an ability to maintain a balance between being over-familiar and hospitable.
The final bill with the two pre dinner drinks and a bottle of wine at £17.95 was just about £80. This was increased by a suggested 10% service charge but the check assures the customer that the staff receive 100% of all service charges. I would not doubt this if the attitude and attentiveness of the waiting staff is any guide. I would however probably pay for any drinks at the bar separately in future.
If you like Damson or perhaps more especially the Manchester Chop Houses, I expect you will like the Red Lion. This is also a gastropub that has not given up on it’s drinkers with several large areas to the right hand side of the entrance welcoming the drinker.
I regret not having been before and will most certainly go again, soon. Don’t be discouraged by the apparent high prices. If you want a place to eat that uses freshly cooked ingredients, skilfully and thoughtfully put together, a considered wine list, attentive and well trained staff at every level who are operating as a team and whose primary concern is your enjoyment of their restaurant together with surroundings that are well designed, attractive and above all clean then it all costs money and you can expect to pay. But the premium you pay over and above many other places that promise much and deliver less is the real value for money margin.