No apologies for another post about The Red Lion in High Lane. Not least because it’s marketing proved an exception to the rule that one of the dangers of adding your name to a list inevitably leads to a deluge of unrequited marketing emails. Here was a welcome one for a change, when the OH added her email address to the Red Lion’s list, she signed up to something that paid a real dividend, everyone’s a winner! No such luck in my inbox, lately it had received an invitation from Phil Bentley, managing director of British Gas exhorting me to have an “honest conversation” with him about “a better deal for our customers”. Not convinced about your sincerity, Phil. How about you start by keeping your prices in line with the actual wholesale cost of gas. Jessops the photoshop want to sell me a calendar on this their Christmas countdown day 9, Amazon are becoming almost incestuous in their levels of daily contact and the RHS may be about to receive an injunction from me demanding they cease their stalking. Finally, if you are listening, Total Investor Today, I am not interested and never will be – please go away.
The email in question invited us to try the new winter menu at the Red Lion, offering 6 courses from their new Winter Menu for £25, and entertainment from a talented singer, Lucy Hope, apparently a self-confessed Francophile with a talent for singing Edith Piaf and many others. On a Friday night too! We duly signed up and presented ourselves along with perhaps 30 to 40 other diners at 7pm last Friday evening. I could see that the only problem would be pacing ourselves to get the best of the evening.
We began our 6 course menu with A taster of the Red Lion’s own Brown Onion soup with a mature cheddar cheese crouton. This was served in a large coffee cup and the the sweet intense soup was well complemented by the strong cheese crouton, the base of which had become suitably moist with the soup. The second stop on the road involved Fresh Whitby crab cakes,served with tomato and avocado salsa and finished with coriander pesto. Small dainty cakes , full of flavour and the sweetness of the crab well balanced by the acidities of the pesto and salsa. The glutton in me looked over at the adjacent table wondering if the couple on it would like some help finishing their portions.
Remembering our last visit to the Red Lion’s sister restaurant, Damson, we decided to drink wine by the glass. We enjoyed a glass of white with the first 2 or so courses, OH went for a 2010 Urmeneta Chardonnay and I drank a more acidic Chenin Blanc from Paarl River, South Africa. The meat courses were supplemented by a 2009 Bodegas Artesa Rioja for him and a Cotes du Ventoux, Les Haut de Mont (appropriately! ) Grenache/Syrah for her. All four wines were very enjoyable and represented quality at a reasonable price.
If there was room for improvement , it would have been in the speed of service. The staff were, as before, professional and attentive, but the logistical challenge of the kitchen trying to deliver the same courses to the diners eating the taster menu simultaneously created delays that were noticeable, certainly during the first part of the meal. As we ate two or three courses, began to sample second glasses of wine and Lucy Hope began to sing, the gaps became less important.
The pace of service was quickening at this point and we were next presented with a Poached fillet of cod, creamy mash, seasonal greens & salmon gravlax sauce. Around two thirds the size of a normal portion, this was a great dish. All the components were cooked to perfection, the mash as creamy as the menu promised, the greens, a mixture of peas, beans and leaves, at the right level of “bite” and the fish just right. On to the course most likely to test my foodie pretensions: Slow cooked Middle White pork belly, sage & onion mash, savoy cabbage and roasting juices. I am the original Jack Sprat and run scared of what I know to be the tastiest part of any cut of meat: the fat. I love the idea of pork belly but often find something else to eat on a menu. This was a first for me then. The OH, a confirmed and committed carnivore, announced that this piece of belly pork was “the best she had ever had” so I had chosen to make my debut well. The meat was moist, intensely flavoured and with a crispy skin that spoke of a long acquaintance with a slow careful oven. The cabbage was right, the roasting juices plentiful and concentrated. Only the mash was a little off key with, for me, too much sage.
By now we are starting to feel we have eaten our dinner, but as Frank Carson frequently said , “And there’s more…” The more was a Breast of Goosnargh duck, fondant potato,seasonal greens and finished with a port wine & orange sauce. No let up still from the kitchen as this dish too hit the spot and few plates were being returned with anything more than a trace of food left on them. Finally we reach the home straight of what has been a great meal. a Lemon cheesecake with a red wine poached fig. This proved to be what we would all want, a good end. The cheesecake light and silky with the right level of lemon and the accompanying fig an interesting change of texture and taste.
All in all, an excellent dinner and great value for money. I would not hesitate to recommend or reorder any dish we had. If we had enjoyed the full portions at the full menu prices, the meal would have made a serious hole in around £70 per head. But this low price was clever too as 30 to 40 “salespeople” for the winter menu were sent out into the night to, no doubt, wax lyrical about their experience to others. If you haven’t yet been to The Red Lion, plan your visit soon.