In and beyond the kitchen, they have a philosophy which they state on the website as 'trying to do everything the best we can... if we can make it in house, we do... if we can produce it, we do... we forage for stuff... we seek out and form relationships with the best and most local businesses and suppliers'. Look beyond the beer garden and you can see practically what this means, there's hens for eggs, a couple of West Berkshire piggies (see below) and cultivation of the land. And of course, anybody can talk about being the best and all that stuff but at the Red Lion, we continually saw evidence throughout our stay that showed they are serious about it putting these ideas into practice, something immediately evident in how perfectly polished the silverware is at the table. It may be a pub, but we have no doubt their standards would make Thomas Keller proud.
But what's also endearing about the Red Lion is that it's also proper old country pub in a village that still acts as a hub for the community, where friends meet, guest ales are served, Sunday papers are on the side to read if you wish and dogs are welcome. Put another way, it's a place you want to be, so much so that we decided half way through lunch to stay for the night in the newly renovated guest accommodation, Troutbeck which is absolutely lovely (great beds!) and sits on the bank of the River Avon, albeit at the point where the River Avon is more like a stream than a river.
Moving on to the food, as has already been suggested, it's a menu with a lot of Wiltshire character and to start, the Tagliarini of Wiltshire truffle seems a must. We think it was after the first bite of this we properly fell in love with the Red Lion: exquisite pasta with a generous shave of Wiltshire truffle, in a pub. The other starter was Pressed terrine of Wiltshire partridge & pheasant with parsnip quince and prunes which is a riot of contrasting colour on the plate and impressively packed with sizeable chunks of game birds.
Being a Sunday lunch, there's a couple of roast options on the menu and a slow cooked lamb shoulder with roasties, mint sauce and gravy seems just the ticket for me on a Winter's day sitting next to the pub's wood burner. It comes as no surprise by this stage that it's a fabulous piece of lamb, generously delivered leaving you more than satisfied. A blanquette of pig's cheeks with January King cabbage, root vegetables, chervil & mustard showcases perfectly turned vegetables, separately cooked to perfection again highlighting the attention to detail here, reinforcing the idea that this is a kitchen that never takes short cuts.
Almost too full for dessert, we share a Bramley apple crumble though for our taste, the sour elements needed a little more sugar to balance them. By dinner time, still full from lunch despite a countryside walk, a warm crab tart and the cheese plate (Westcombe Mature, Bosworth leaf, Helford Blue & Wigmore) suffice. Both give us exactly what we want. And we must mention the FOH team who were all really great, really friendly, and who further impress upon you what a nice place the Red Lion is.
The Red Lion then is one of those places that you're really happy you stopped to discover. On our South West trip, telling folks along the way that our last stop was there, the feedback from top chefs was always the same, 'I've heard great things about them' but no one we met on our trip had yet been there. We're pleased to confirm those good things heard by everyone are true, we love it there and are already planning a return visit.