The Red Lion Pub, Britwell Salome
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PLEASE NOTE: THIS PUB HAS NOW CHANGED HANDS SO THIS REVIEW IS FOR HISTORICAL REFERENCE ONLY
One of the things I’ve always loved to do is walk. Mr Muddy and I have enjoyed quite a few biggies over the years – 5 day treks around Abel Tasman, Macchu Picchu, Milford Sound. Tough, exhilarating trips with basic accommodation (a pig sty in Peru!), military-weight backpacks and miserable peanut rationing.
Since we moved to the countryside and started our breeding programme, it’s more about finding a decent walk that all the children can get around without moaning or demanding piggy backs, with a hearty pub lunch around the corner as incentive. Finding a good walk/pub combo is something I often get asked about on the blog too, so yesterday I went out for what I hope will be the first of many such experiments on Muddy Stilettos.
Less than a year after opening (it was formerly the Michelin-awarded The Goose but had been derelict since that restaurant closed in 2010), The Red Lion in Britwell Salome has just been given a Michelin Bib Gourmand – which means it’s been recognised by Michelin for the standard and good value of its food. Fast work from the owners, Andrew Hill and Eilidh Ferguson, but then they do have form as the previous owners of the highly regarded Half Moon in Cuxham.
If you don’t know it, Britwell Salome sits close to Watlington, and a few miles from Ewelme and Benson in South East Oxfordshire.
It’s a quiet village – very pretty along the backroads – surrounded by largely farmland with its own grand red brick Manor House.
There’s a walk that you can start from straight outside the pub, that takes you on an initial detour to a small simple 13th century church with a 1400 year old yew tree if you care about such things. Then it’s a hairy 100 yards on the main country road, before turning up past farmland and onto the Ridgeway, skirting fields and hopping over a couple of fences (not ideal for buggies, particularly as it gets more muddy in the next few months).
Our short-cut walk (about 3 miles we reckoned) took us an hour and a quarter, marching fairly purposefully, with lovely views of the manor house and the contours of the Chilterns – I guess you’d add on another 30 minutes for youngish kids. Apart from one extended stretch on a mild incline, it was an easy amble – a good family option and with so much open farmland (and no livestock to protect) it would be ideal for dog-walkers too. For hardier ramblers, or perhaps those without children, there’s a longer option, 5 miles, that takes in a local wood too.
It’s true to say I’ve been on prettier walks in the Chilterns – I find it hard to get madly excited about farmland – but it was still very enjoyable and refreshing (and what a stonking day to do it on!) and the views from the top of the Ridgeway – you can just about make the hills in the background behind me, below – are vast and impressive.
We came down next to the Red Lion Farm Shop and had a quick nose inside (butcher, local produce, cheeses, gorgeous looking, pricy smoked salmon at £8.95 for 200g, though I bet it’s absolutely amazing)
Then it was across the road to the Red Lion for lunch. The pub is an attractive flint and brick building on the main road (though not at all noisy), smallish traditional rooms painted in deep warm reds with lots of wooden furniture.
Yesterday for lunch it was not quite full, but still pretty busy for a Wednesday and by all accounts evenings and weekends are often booked up well in advance.
Is the Bib Gourmand justified? Yes, definitely. The food was fantastic and also offered some surprises – my starter was melted brezain, fennel salad, cornichons and mustard (£8.50), a kind of raclette dish with a dressing that really lifted it well above average.
For mains, my very foodie friend tried pig’s cheek in breadcrumbs with puffball mushroom – two firsts for me and, bless her, she’s a sharer so she let me try them too. Meanwhile, I felt like something light for my mains so I went for the haddock and mussell chowder. I loved the presentation, all those vibrant yellows offsetting the dill.
Finally, I forced down the dessert – no need to thank me, I’m a martyr to the cause – a cream, jelly, blackberry and pistachio crumble that stayed the right side of sweet.
You may getting the impression that the food is quite ‘grown up’ and that’s exactly right. The atmosphere is sedate, the service just right – not casual or overfamiliar, not too fussy either. And though there’s a fish and chips that will assuage little tummies, it’s not really the place to take fussy eaters or under 5s. Kids who can stay still in their seats and be relied upon not to strop when you refuse to buy them their second Fanta are the kids who will enjoy The Red Lion.
I spoke to Eilidh, owner not only of the pub with her partner/chef Andrew, but also the most impressive natural curly hair I’ve seen on anybody ever – look below, see?! – and she told me that on weekends it’s a more casual atmosphere, still foodie, but more about Sunday roasts and weekend walkers, with 5 different entrees and mains to choose from, including beef and pork which are always on the menu. I’d be interested in trying a weekend roast, I bet it would be fantastic.
Anyway, time ticked by as we troughed away, and at 2.45pm I realised I had to tank it back to pick up the kids, so I took some quick pics and kazam! – we were away back across the border into Bucks – after an afternoon of fresh air, exercise and great food. That’s what I call a good day at the office!
The Muddy verdict:
Good for: foodies, adults, families with kids 5+, birthday treats for your parents, walkers
Not for: Relaxed, lazy afternoons hanging out, very young families, those who like outside space.
££: Reasonable. Entrees from £6, mains between £13.50 – £16.50.
The Red Lion, Britwell Salome, Watlington, Oxfordshire OX49 5LG. Tel: 01491 613140. www.theredlionbritwellsalome.co.uk