The Red Lion, Blewbury
With new owners & a recent refurb, The Red Lion in lovely Blewbury has quite the local rep - but what's the Muddy verdict?
MUDDY EATS: THE RED LION, BLEWBURY, SOUTH OXFORDSHIRE
Ah yes, let’s start this review of The Red Lion Pub and Kitchen with the location, because the sleepy village of Blewbury is as pretty as a 17th century picture, all thatched cottages, Queen Anne houses, cute windy lanes and the type of old English charm that had literary locals Kenneth Graham and, more recently, Dick Francis, nobbling it as their local. The concrete towers of Didcot feel way more than 6 miles away from this South Oxfordshire idyll. You’re 20 minutes from the Ridgeway if you fancy a yomp across its ancient paths, or you can parachute in for food and, should you so wish, zzz down in one of the three basic bedrooms for the night afterwards.
Phil and Arden Wild took over this down-at-heel red brick and thatch pub a year or so ago, and have given it a spruce that will please locals and not offend trendies. The raw materials are gorgeous to start with, and the bar retains a large inglenook fireplace, beams and nooks and crannies. There’s personality here, with a map of Blewbury and surrounds blown up on one wall, bookcase wallpaper in various nooks.
To the right of the bar is a more ‘done up’ dining room that feels a bit more shiny and starchy in its design and was less my style (I’m not big on high-backed chairs, sue me!).
On a week day the vibe, bar side, is relaxed, friendly and sedate though no doubt the temperature cranks up on a weekend night, and no doubt spills out into the large orchard garden.
The word ‘gastropub’ has gone out of fashion, implying a certain design aesthetic and pretentious hoiking up of prices instead of a pub with excellent food. I’m claiming the word back for The Red Lion – it’s a warm, local pub that’s all about the gastro offering, and it really delivers. Chef/owner Phil Wild has a CV that takes in The Bear in Woodstock, Stonehouse Court in Gloucester, The Great House at Sonning and The Swan Hotel, Streatley, but he’s thrown his heart and soul into the food here. It’s mostly an English/French blend I’d say, with classics like steamed Steak, Kidney and Ox Cheek Pudding combined with some flashes across La Manche such as garlic roasted frog legs or confit duck with cassoulet.
I ate off the Express Lunch menu which is almost startlingly good value at 2 courses for £14.95 or 3 courses for £18.95, kicking off the fun with goats cheese and onion bruchetta, beetroot and chili jam. Absolutley spot on – the cheese was divine.
I moved onto breast of chicken wild mushrooms and chorizo – light enough for a lunch but the chorizo gave it luxuriousness and the wild mushrooms a depth of flavour.
I ended hour and a half later with a mixture of desserts, because I couldn’t just choose one. Gluten free chocolate brownie, vanilla seed creme brulee and sticky toffee pudding. Well, a girl has to eat.
Service was solicitous, and informed, and more restauranty than pubby to be sure, so double check with your date if you’re after this level of care. I’m an expert at drinking wine (I’m not sure anyone is more qualified if it’s on volume) but I’m becoming a bit bored by my default of shiraz/sauv blanc so it was great to have a waiter who could knowledgably recommend a great red – the house option of Le Sanglier, a Pays d’Oc for £15.95. Yes, for the bottle!
For sure. Children can choose from the half price half size portion on all dishes on any menus which I think is brilliant, or eat from the separate children’s menu The bar area is a dead cert with its informality and for young children there’s a reassuring stack of high chairs. Summer is the season for relaxed eating for those with young children and if the sun decides to come out before August you’ll probably want to stake out the garden. Climbing, swinging and playing areas have just been installed, plus there’s space to stretch, run and probably pick a few sneaky apples. I’d probably think twice before letting my children loose in the more rarified surroundings of the ‘restauranty’ bit.
OUT & ABOUT
If you’re planning to come to The Red Lion for lunch you have some options for fun around and about. Aside from the sleepy charms of Blewbury itself or The Ridgeway for walking up a pre-meal appetite, you have two lovely National Trust properties to choose from – Basildon Park about 15 minutes down the road one way, or Buscot Park in Faringdon a slighlty longer 25 minutes the other. There’s not much to keep you in Didcot, though if you’re going to Cornerstone Arts Centre with the kids in the day or in the evening you can use The Red Lion to top or tail your theatre viewing.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Foodies without pretension. Relaxed meals with friends. Anyone who likes the laid-back vibe of a gentle country pub.
Not for: Those who like their space. Both the bar and the dining area are fairly bijou – not great for pushing prams to placate babies. Design mavens might feel the interior in the formal dining area is a bit underwheming.
The damage: Excellent value – aside from the Express lunch menu at £15 for 2 courses or £19 for 3 courses, a la carte starters go from £5-9, mains £13-17, desserts around £6-8. Wines start at £15.95 per bottle going up to £38 (champagne is £50).
The Red Lion Pub and Kitchen, Chapel Lane, Blewbury, Didcot, OX11 9PQ. Tel: 01235 850403.