Review: The Red Lion at Blewbury
"Phil’s use of less common cuts of meat is inventive and suggests a deep knowledge of field-to-fork ingredient sourcing."
Apparently Kenneth Grahame was a regular at Blewbury’s Red Lion, and he could’ve easily taken his inspiration for The Wind in the Willows from the surrounding countryside, but that was then and this is now – the building may have entertained guests for three centuries, but its current incarnation only reached its first birthday this month, under chef-proprietor Phil Wild and his wife Arden.
Phil has certainly done the rounds in all the right places, beginning his cooking career at the Carlton Elite Hotel in Zurich and moving on to stints at the The Bear in Woodstock, Stonehouse Court in Gloucester and The Great House at Sonning before taking up residency in Blewbury. His attitude to sourcing also makes all the right noises, with the necessary commitment to local grocers, butchers and suppliers needed to create a proper Modern British menu.
So, he trained well and buys well, but can Phil cook well? On glancing at the menu, the first thing to catch my eye is the pricing – whilst a worrying number of dining pubs seem to be inflating their prices to appear more upmarket than their cooking would otherwise suggest, Phil is keeping it keen, with starters hovering around the £7 mark and mains never reaching higher than £16.
These price points are made all the more remarkable when you see what comes out the kitchen. I started with potted duck and foie gras, brimming with savoury punch and the undertone of dark liquorice, balanced out by a sharp orange and quince chutney. For £6.95, this is remarkable stuff – I’d have paid close to double that. Frog’s legs and capers offer similarly impressive bang your buck, with a hit of garlic and salt that makes it tempting to order three platefuls and just forget about a main.
That said, if you do make it onto the main course, you won’t be disappointed. Phil’s use of less common cuts of meat is inventive and suggests a deep knowledge of field-to-fork ingredient sourcing. Ox and pig cheeks, kidneys and pig’s ears all make an appearance, and a simple steak bavette with peppercorn sauce is livened up with sweetbreads, bringing a gorgeous textural contrast to a pub classic. That rich duck makes another appearance, this time confited atop a moreish cassoulet, and if you feel like something lighter go for the pearly, delicate brill fillet, which arrives accompanied by a warming mussel and saffron broth and the mineral bite of creamed kale.
The final course continues in a similar vein, with an exemplary crème brulée for a fiver and a sticky tarte tatin for two pounds more. Often this style of gastropub aims high on price and delivers quite an average experience, but in this case Phil is letting his cooking speak for itself. Only one year into the game, it’s clear to me that this version of the Red Lion is on course to be a firm local favourite – and it won’t hurt your wallet to give it a try.