THE RED LION: A GEM IN EAST CHISENBURY
Quite often people ask DH how we find out about new restaurants. It’s not easy, well actually for me, it is very easy, but for HP it involves plentiful research and much time in front of a shimmering computer screen staring at his "soon openeing" spreadsheets when most sane people would be indulging in a quick one off the wrist to some good old fashioned porn.
It is nearly always HP who sends the mail with links to a soon to open place, of which I have never heard, with the words “booked for X date” so on the occasion of one of our all too rare joint trips out of town, I was feeling pretty smug to have come up with a promising place that had apparently slipped under HP’s radar.
To be fair, it had slipped under mine too and the only reason we were heading for lunch at The Red Lion in East Chisenbury was because of a friendly tip off from everyone’s favourite TV burly food personality, Jay Rayner. I wont give the game away about Jay’s review, but let’s just say that his word was good enough for us to endure a seven hour round trip to deepest, darkest Wiltshire in search of a decent lunch.
I can imagine that soon, quite a few people will have heard of The Red Lion. In part because of the provenance of its husband & wife team of Guy and Brittany Manning who have both worked at numerous high end restaurants including Per Se, Chez Bruce and Martin Berasategui, but mainly, I hope, because the food served at The Red Lion is bloody good, served in lovely surroundings at very reasonable prices, which is just as well because it is also a bloody long way from anywhere else.
After an hour’s train journey our cab pulled up outside what is basically just a neighbourhood pub, inside there is a fire, some blackboards with specials and a couple of well kept real ales. Judging by the manners of some of the other people at the bar, it needs a bit of a clientele transplant, but Brittany deftly moved us and our beer well away from the elderly tweed hordes and gave us time to look at the menu.
It’s pleasingly short and, as is ever our want and because we had four hours plus to kill before our return train, we decided to finesse our meal with an additional course between starters and main attractions.
To begin, HP ordered what was arguably the star dish of the day, a warm crab & tomato tart with a fennel salad. The tart was as good as I have tried in as long as I can remember. Crisp, short pastry with a soft yielding filling that was suitably accompanied by the sharpness of the dressing on the crisp fennel.
My own starter was unlikely to compete, but did its best. A porkie take on the traditional veal tonnato, which came with an ample portion of good dead pig but only made me look at HP’s dish more lovingly than was proper.
The little addition, the intercourse, if you will, was a well-executed carnaroli rice risotto of wild garlic and snails with the perfect chalky crunch only slightly spoiled by a lack of seasoning on the snails reducing them to blobs of hot texture.
If we had been playing menu Top Trumps, HP would again have come out as champeen. My special of monkfish scampi was a tad parsimonious for £14 even though, despite my loathing of fat chips, I polished off all of the excellent triple cooked variety that came with the fish, which had been coated in panko but lacked the necessary crunch.
Mealwhile, HP was cooing dreamily over as perfect a plate of Spring goodness as you are likely to see, a lightly steamed delicate piece of sea bream with both razor and surf clams in a gentle beurre blanc. The fish may have been as HP put it “30 seconds past its peak” but this is the sort of dish that makes you want to throw other fish dishes back into the water and what little HP deigned to share again made me wish our choices had been reversed.
Brittany’s training as a pastry chef showed in the offering of a “Cocoa Pound cake with confit fennel” and my own fluffy banana sponge with marinated pineapple, which came with candied macadamia nuts so moreish that we demanded and received another bowl of them to finish off our meal with the fresh mint tea, coffee and digestives we sipped in the attractive garden while we waited for our cab.
Given our enthusiastic ordering policy and the time we had to kill, we wracked up an impressive bill of £120, which added to our train fairs and cab, brings it to about £80 a head. But, as we sat in the garden enjoying the last drops of our snifters, we did not regret a penny, nor indeed for once, having a friend called Jay Rayner whose advice was bang on the money.