Red Lion, Freshwater
Christmas comes but once a year, although the same cannot be said for Christmas dinners. Anyone who has a job, a family or friends will probably find themselves pulling a cracker with their colleagues and/or loved ones at more than one seasonal roast-fest. And so it was that Matt and Cat joined their fellow salt-miners for the first of several scheduled Christmas dinners.
After a pleasant walk around the beautiful West Wight, the group arrived at the Red Lion where they were met by Cat, who had the misfortune to be too crippled to manage the morning's gentle meander, the poor thing having twisted her ankle the previous day in an embarrassing tumble in Lidl's car park (oh the shame!).
Most likely, the first thing any visitor to the Red Lion will notice is its picturesque setting. With the nearby historic All Saints Church and the winding road leading to the Causeway it could almost be a scene contrived by an artist of pastoral whimsy, an image worthy of a chocolate box (ok, fudge box as it's the Isle of Wight).
The second thing that you will notice, on entering the bar, is the list of rules pinned to the door - boozer beware! No children under ten are allowed in the bar although they are welcome to sit in the expansive garden. Also, there is a penalty for mobile phone usage; a shiny quid will have to be forfeited to the benefit of the RNLI for anyone who dares to break this golden rule: and yes, friends, this rule is rigorously enforced.
Once inside the homely interior, with its flagstone floor and exposed brickwork, you will undoubtedly encounter mine host. This exceptionally jolly fellow greeted Cat as she arrived in advance of the main party; genially chatting with her until her colleagues turned up.
Because the lunches had been pre-ordered and with the distraction provided by the welcome of the charming landlord, followed by the clattering arrival of her colleagues, Cat neglected to carry out one of the tasks of the restaurant reviewer. As regular readers will have noticed, most reviews on this site give typical extracts from a venue's menu. The trouble that Matt and Cat go to to remember this level of detail usually involves covert photography and a mental memory exercise worthy of the scouts. Alas, on this day, Cat took no notice whatsoever of the other dishes that were available. Perhaps her head was turned by the landlord's attentions. However, had she tried, she may have had no success, as the bill of fare changes so regularly that there was not even a printed menu to peruse. All of the grub is writ large on blackboards.
Seating themselves at the rustic wooden tables, Matt, Cat and associates did not have to wait long before their lunches were delivered. This is a notable thing in itself. Many pubs and even restaurants falter when faced with the undoubted challenge of producing a large number of Christmas dinners at once. The Red Lion was flawless. Unlike last year's leaden service at both the Buddle and Joe's, Newport, the Red Lion scored very highly for speed, courtesy and accuracy of service.
Matt - traditional son of a gun that he is - had the turkey. It was hot, plentiful and tasty. He declared it to be good, with a decent selection of light and dark meat. Having expected something pretty generic, he was very pleasantly surprised, particularly with the smooth bread sauce and accompanying vegetables.
Cat, too, did not have high hopes for her vegetarian nut roast but, wow, she was proved Very Wrong. Previous miserable experiences elsewhere have led her to compare nut roast unfavourably to a pile of dried bird seed, with no flavour other than the salty sputum coughed up whilst trying to choke down the arid lumps. Thankfully the nut roast at the Red Lion was superb. By cleverly adding apricots and currants to the mix, the roast was guaranteed to remain very moist and slightly sweet. It was most flavoursome, containing a good amount of garlic and topped with a disc of goats cheese with, on the side, mushrooms in a creamy sauce to help it all go down smoothly.
The turkey was served with roast potatoes and the nut roast with new. There were plenty of seasonal vegetables to go round; broccoli, sprouts and swede so puréed that it was almost liquid. The friendly staff several times passed by and offered more of any of these extras to those who wanted it.
The walkers had built up an appetite. After doing justice to the decent first course they were pleased to see the warming fruit crumble. Cat - who had only expended the energy needed to drive to the venue - still managed to force down the delicious pudding. She was particularly taken with the creaminess of the vanilla ice-cream, which can sometimes be almost dry and gritty. Not at the Red Lion.
To rectify some minor confusion at the ordering stage, jugs of cream and custard were brought out for those who had mistakenly ordered unaccompanied crumble. A typically accommodating touch.
So, pretty good all round then. This is a really old-fashioned, unreformed and unrefurbished pub, that nonetheless manages to excel in both food and atmosphere. A warm welcome, excellent food, prompt and attentive service for a crowd of Christmas revellers. How can this be anything other than 'We Love'?
19 comments (newest first)
Suggest an update on the Red Lion at Freshwater is overdue following the experience of my party on Thursday,
Soggy crispy whitebait was the least of it.
I’m not sure where ‘Mum of Two’ read these ‘ominous’ warnings. For as long as I can remember The Red Lion has had a ‘no children under 10′ policy. Why book a table then get upset and post negative comments when they make it quite clear what the deal is. There are a myriad of places to eat with children on the island. What about the Highdown Inn which is nearby (with play equipment)? The Horse and Groom at Ningwood, The New Inn at Shalfleet and Farringford* also come to mind to name a few. I suggest you peruse Matt and Cat’s excellent website to unearth fantastic places to eat which are more suited to your needs.
Matt and Cat respond: Thanks for your kind comment, JanFran. *Farringford restaurant (in the old house itself) is no longer open but ‘Justin Brown at Farringford‘ is a new Michelin-aspirational eatery in the garden restaurant. We’ll be writing a review in due course.
My husband booked a table here for Easter Sunday 2012. Then I started reading the ominous warnings about children. When I rang to check if it was OK, the man who answered the phone really couldn’t have been ruder. Maybe he was trying to build some rapport, but to be honest gags about “gagging the children” as we’re “flexible at easter” really aren’t all that funny. My children are well behaved and know how to eat and I don’t appreciate the assumptions that were made. Moreover, I was told that my “table’s double booked so you’ll have be out by 1.30pm. Is that ok?". Errrr, no. While I appreciate that all eateries do this, being told it in such stark terms over the phone really isn’t a sign of great customer service. We cancelled and are planning to go somewhere we’ll be welcome.
£11.50 for fish and chips!? Ye gods, is the fish 2 foot long? Looks like the management are having a laugh.
My second visit in about 5 years - the pub has a good reputation for good food.
Firstly an amusing entrance for my friend flabbergasted by the mobile ban - I liked it, secondly a warm welcome by the gentleman ( I gather the landlord) and offer of a table as we looked for a spare table in a full dining room.
The menu - a little annoyingly is menu is only viewable at the bar on the chalkboard - nothing wrong with old school but I would have though a table of 6 may find it hard. A printed menu on a4 paper daily would be easy and appreciated.
THe menu itself had some good staple choices - my friend opted for a starter of crispy duck salad, myself fish n chips.
Another gripe was my friends request of hot chocolate denied- only tea or coffee available. The tea was served nicely on a tray - but I don’t like tea !
THe food came out in good time - my friends salad was reported tasty - but for £7.50 thought was a little sparse with just some shreds of crispy duck on lollo lettuce & sesame dressing.
My fish n chips ( £11.50 ) looked good and tasted good - nice crispy chip[s with mushy peas.
My request for tartare sauce was unfortunately disappointing - a gentleman on the next table was enjoying fish goujons with what looked like home-made tartare sauce.
Mine was straight out a chefs larder 5litre plastic jar - Big minus points !
The food was ok not as good as it should be - just some attention to detail would make the not inexpensive menu - value for money -
unfortunately I think the pub with a good reputation has rested on its laurels and is now decidedly average.
Myself, wife and daughter have been on the Westside for 18 months and were pleased to find the Red Lion. On first inspection we were happy as it reminded us of our local pub The George & Dragon we’d left in Ilfracombe North Devon. First few visits food was good, not brilliant but good. Then things started to take a turn for the worse, all care seems to have gone. Last time we went for an evening meal my wife order a fish dish and I a chicken dish. Both came absolutely swimming in sauce it was nearly overflowing the plate. And was a bit surprised to find both sauces were the same, veg was well and truly done to death it had lost its colour. Whilst out for a walk with my daughter earlier this week we decided to pop in for a drink and opted to give the food another go. I ordered a cheesburger and chips my daughter went for sausage beans and chips. The sausages were so overdone they’d split their entire length and they took a lot of cutting through, chips were quite good. My burger had been taken to the same crematorium and was so dry it was difficult to swallow and also they had no relish, chips were quite good. £23 for a pint of cider and glass of coke and these terrible excuses for food was a bit extreme. Shan’t go back for food ever.
I had a very pleasant evening at the Red Lion tonight; we hadn’t booked so had to sit in the garden as there was no space in the bar, but it was pleasant and sunny. The food was served reasonably quickly and was absolutely delicious! I had the Lamb Shank and the meat practically fell off the bone and the accompanying vegetables were cooked to perfection. Worth every penny.
Went here for a lunch on a sunny Saturday recently and must say we were quite disappointed. We arrived at 1.40 and the staff audibly moaned that everyone always arrives as soon as the kitchen is closing at 2pm. One person ordered fresh plaice which was tiny, hardly any fish on its bones!! On the side was a very small portion of veg and it cost roughly £15, extortionate!The rest of us went for baguettes..basically a bread roll with nice fillings..until my friend chocked on the wish bone in her chicken baguette..I guess at least its fresh? Oh, the ’service’, all served (plonked grumpily) on the table by a surly chap with a bloody great ass crack. He didn’t come back or ask if we wanted any sauces so we went to fetch these ourselves. Overall, ok food, very overpriced for what you get and the the service definitely needs improvement. Lovely location though with a good garden. I’d say more suited to a quick lunch after a long walk than a quality pub dining experience.
Well it just goes to show that sometimes a restaurant has a bad night. We unfortunately were there on that bad night. The food was not good and neither was the service. We were a large party and four of us had our second or third choice from the menu because they had run out. At 8pm on a Saturday night? Steak was awful. I won’t go on but suffice to say we will not be returning. I know this restaurant has loads of plaudits and maybe, usually, it is ok but ……….. A very expensive mistake
Its lovely here, the survice is great.
the food is much better in real life than the pictures.
Good food. Friendly service. Great location… if a little too popular! Mine host perhaps tries a little too hard (bordering on creepy, I’m afraid). But maybe he’s just old fashioned. As is everything about the establishment. In a good way, mainly.
We take our boat from Lymington across to Yarmouth, and walk alongside the river to the Red Lion for lunch, at least a couple of times during the summer. We usually have friends, (and dogs), with us and have always enjoyed a lovely meal and friendly welcome.
Ate at The Red Lion for the first time last night with friends. Good service, and the crab and avocado starter was very tasty, though a fairly small portion for £6.95 I thought, and the crabmeat wasn’t entirely free of gristly bits. My sea bass fillet with citrus butter was nicely cooked but rather plain. I was expecting a bit more seasoning and a bit more citrus flavour. Nice veg, though, and utterly delicious dauphinoise potatoes. Ian really enjoyed the belly pork - a very generous portion with crackling.
I’m surprised M&C didn’t comment on the saucy pictures on the walls in the toilets. Did no-one in your party notice?! There’s one in the ladies and apparently quite a collection in the gents. Bears with honey sounds innocuous subject matter, doesn’t it? But no. Go on, take a look next time!
Given the fairly small interior, and with the bar very central, I do kind of get why the pub says no under-10s except in the garden area (are they allowed in the toilets, I wonder!). It didn’t feel to me like a great space for families.
We also noted the “no mobiles” rule and my friends confirmed that they incurred the £1 fine for a ringing mobile last time they ate here. Still, it goes to a good cause, and it hadn’t put them off going back!
I think overall I like the Red Lion, despite the restrictions imposed by the landlord.
Never have myself and my family felt more un-welcome at any pub on the Island,
the food was promptly delivered however I felt the standard of food was poor and
very overpriced. Recommended so many times however we left very dispointed and definately
won’t be returning.
I visited with my mother for Sunday lunch (17 08 08) and we were off to a good start as the pub, being very busy, suggested being a pretty popular place to be.
Reserved signs on a number of tables made seating very difficult but a very friendly patron advised us she was leaving with her husband, so we were able to be seated in the bar area quite quickly.
The menu was interesting and inviting but we settled for the Sunday roast (beef with trimmings). Unfortunately, we had to wait around 40 mins for the food to arrive, which was a little disappointing and the roast potatoes were rock hard on one side requiring a chiseling effect rather than cutting, but overall the meat was tender (there was lots of it) and the acompanying vegetables were cooked beautifully.
The staff were friendly and the place atmospheric so all-in-all not a bad experience and I would return but deffinatley book and be prepared to wait.
Having heard about your delicious fish cakes (which were, incidentally, badly overpriced) my wife and I decided to sample the Red Lion some two weeks ago. During our meal, another customer (also eating) became ill and a paramedic and then an ambulance were called to deal with her.
The first thing that should have happened was that the incident should have been isolated. The landlord was at a complete loss but should have taken appropriate action to move those people eating nearby to another part of his premises. Not only would this have ensured that his customers could continue to enjoy their meals but it would also have served to give a little dignity to the lady who was unwell. As it was, we were all subjected to a scene from Casualty with the sick lady in full view, paramedics et al whilst attempting to enjoy a restful evening out. It was not a pleasant situation or occasion but one which could, with a little thought and forward planning, have been avoided.
Sorry but we were dissapointed yesterday.
We thought we’d try the Red Lion for lunch after reading these positive comments.
A beautiful setting and a very nice looking pub, inside and out and I’m sure the food was good, BUT, the prices!!
As we were only after a quick light lunch we both selected Jacket Potatoes (despite the £6+ price tag) from the blackboard menu, only to be told that they had sold out, sorry had a bit of a rush on them! at 12:55 on a Monday lunchtime that must have been one hell of a rush. The only thing on the menu under £6 was soup at £4.50!! even the starters were over £6!! So we left hungry and had a bag of chips in Yarmouth. As I said a nice pub and ‘probably’ good food but the most expensive pub menu I have ever come across!!! At these prices I would rather eat at Burrs.
We were fortunate enough to have two week-long breaks in Yarmouth last year and had lunch at the Red Lion twice. On both occasions the food and service were first rate, and I have to agree with Paul’s comment on the bias towards dogs!
We return to Yarmouth again in June 08 and are looking forward to another gentle ramble up the Yar and pit-stop at the Red Lion.
Over the years my wife and I have found the Red Lion consistently the best pub on the island for excellent straightforward food and some dishes less often found on Island menus such as herring roes and kedgeree. The landlord is, as you report, extraordinarily charming and the staff very friendly.
Whilst children and mobiles are not welcome indoors the pub is very dog friendly, a perfect combination I would say.
Most of the year and especially at the weekends you would be well advised to book and note that the kitchen closes pretty promptly at 2.00 pm at lunchtime. be later and risk disappointment.
There is a very pleasant and easy circular walk to Yarmouth up one side and down the other side of the Yar starting right outside the pub.