The Red Lion roars
The new owners at this 18th century Chilterns pub are already offering foodie heaven in spades. Yum, yum, and YUM.
Close to Watlington in the South Oxfordshire Chilterns, Britwell Salome is a teeny tiny village of a couple of hundred people. Very pretty along the backroads and surrounded by largely farmland with its own grand red brick Manor House, Britwell Salome’s biggest draw is nevertheless still The Red Lion, having garnered quite the reputation, first as the Michelin-starred The Goose, then as the Michelin Bib Gourmand The Red Lion under Andrew Hill and Eilidh Ferguson. In March this year it was taken over by Olivier and Stephanie Bouet who previously ran the much-loved restaurant The Sweet Olive in Aston Tirrold, so the continued flow of foodie visitors to the village seems assured.
I wrote one of my first food reviews about The Red Lion five years ago (FIVE YEARS!!!) and though the traditional interiors have been tickled, painted and pared back slightly with the new owners, the grown-up restauranty vibe remains. That’s not to say it’s not relaxed and jovial – it is, definitely – only that the food is the star, so if you’re eating in the main dining area, I’d be inclined to book for a romantic dinner (which I did with Mr Muddy), a meal out with parents, a special occasion with friends, that kind of thing.
Having said that, there’s also a front and side bar area (above) that would suit more of a relaxed drop in with tapas, caesar salads, tempura prawns and calamari and pub classics like fish and chips and burgers – a more girlfriendy/family space.
Let me tell you, you’re going to enjoy eating here. Olivier and Stephanie only took hold of the keys 6 weeks ago, but I was hearing such great things that I legged it down quickly to see for myself. I ate in the evening on the à la carte list (the specials board alone came to 14 dishes) so you can fine dine here with no problem, and with a largely international front of house, it all feels pleasingly European (catch that vibe while you can).
We started with a homemade bread with a pesto dip (below) that was gloriously fragrant with basil and was hoovered up faster than manners should have allowed. Then it was a crispy duck salad, spring onions, cucumber and ginger soy vinaigrette for entrée, which was delicious, though if I was to superpicky I could have done with more power on the vinaigrette.
The main course was faultless – chargrilled sirloin steak, peppercorn sauce, grilled mushroom & tomato, and triple cooked chips with the meat velvety and cooked to perfection.
Dessert was amazing too, a oozy chocolatey number with the cappuccino ice-cream the big star.
Yes, if they’re well-behaved but I’m sure they’d be the first to admit that they’re friendly to rather than focused on children. If you do have hungry kids in tow, there’s either a small attractive courtyard out the back, or head for the more relaxed front bar area (above).
OUT & ABOUT
There’s no absence of countryside around these parts, and there’s a walk 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, as I do, 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 for a yompish 3 miler.
Opposite the pub there’s a fantastic Farm Shop (butcher, local cheeses etc) with produce that pinches the wallet but tastes like heaven. Also worth knowing within a few miles either way are the Cress fields of Ewelme (kids love em!), Christmas Common for the best Chilterns walks, and kayak and boat hire near The Waterside Café in Benson.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Local foodies – it’s great food in a relaxed atmosphere. Romantics, large groups, special occasions are all perfect here.
Not for: The small courtyard might not be enough outdoor space for some.
The Damage: Very reasonable. Starters £6-8.50, mains £12-16.50, sirloin steak £22.50 (the most expensive on the menu) pudding £5-6.50.
The Red Lion, Britwell Salome, Watlington, OX49 5LG. Tel: 01491 613140. redlionbritwellsalome.co.uk