Food eh? You push it into one hole and squeeze it out of another. Gravity and peristalsis assist it on its journey until, released from us human tubes, it bobs its way to Sandown for processing – but hopefully not out to sea (that’s a whole other article of shit-shaming aimed at Southern Water).
To be honest, we could probably live on rudimentary paste to keep our organic components functioning. But where would be the joy?
Our last review was of the Duke of York; a satisfactory experience of pub standards in a standard pub. On the surface, the Red Lion Freshwater is another traditional venue, but our dining experience there was delightfully non-standard.
The venue is homely, in a classic way. You’ve been in a pub, and this is basically like any other; so far so wooden chairs and stripped pine tables. What we did not expect was the menu. Yes, there was pie and battered fish but also, looking closer, we saw beetroot-cured salmon pastrami, venison and autumn truffle, cod with mussel veloute. Not your typical pub grub at all. Was this a throwback to the gastro-pub? Or an aspirational chef repositioning a rural tavern as a destination restaurant? We threw ourselves heartily into finding out.
Cat won’t usually choose cattle; no red meat for her unless it’s fillet steak. But she was intrigued by the first of the starters and, with some frankly unnecessary persuasion from the barman (who also turned out to be a chef), decided that she was undoubtedly in the market for a bit of local beefy crumpet.
The dish was incredible; the succulent Isle of Wight meat, stacked on a toasted crumpet, melted on the tongue. The tasty pile was further moistened and flavoured with sweet onion jam; the whole tower squelched onto a dollop of parsley and horseradish emulsion. The beautiful textures were supplemented by both crispy and pickled onion rings. Right off the starter blocks, the meal was turning out to be a zinger.
We’ve had double-cooked souffle before; after all, it’s long been the signature dish at the prestigious Royal Hotel. But, with its own iteration, the Red Lion did something magical. Perhaps it was the purity of the food, the atmospherics, or something more divine, but the effect upon eating was remarkable. Inside the mouth, it felt like time stood still as tastebuds did their work; savouring – relishing. This souffle was ambrosia; whetting the appetite as well as almost wetting eyes with tears of sheer pleasure.
Beef crumpet £8
Mushroom Wellington £17
Duck pie £18
Sticky toffee pudding £7.50
To mitigate for her beef crumpet, Cat went full-on plant-based for her main course: the sublime mushroom wellington. This slightly salty rendition of the tenderloin version, eschewed the steak and was stuffed almost exclusively with finely-chopped mushrooms, red wine-braised onions and chestnuts, to create a surprisingly meaty and delicious alternative to this luxury loaf. The stoneware plate looked like an autumnal woodland scene, with a scattering of wild mushrooms, plus globs of sweet mushroom ketchup, around the wellington log. Greens came in the form of the tenderstem broccoli. Like the beefy crumpet, this was a brilliantly executed dish; earthy and hearty.
Similarly, the duck pie was creatively-wrought. The brace of breasts were superbly cooked to the perfect pink; the pastry the acme of shortcrust, and the blackberries a fruity match for the gamey flesh.
Could the Red Lion score a hat trick with each of us with our third course? Sticky toffee pudding was surprisingly traditional; no elaborate deviations – and none were required.
The cheese board blew the socks off one which we had been served only the day before. Here our plank was laden with slices of crisp green apple, brittle hexagonal crackers in various browny hues, plus a hunk of spongy olive cake. The three cheeses conformed to the tried and tested formula of one hard (tangy Lancashire bomber), perfectly musty and ripe Isle of Wight Cheese Company blue, and a soft creamy white. There was easily enough to share but, by now, we were pretty replete.
The Red Lion was a revelation. Each dish surpassed our expectations of this quiet pub at the tail-end of service on a chilly November evening. We loved the care and attention to detail in the food, and the charming and informative service. We have eaten out a lot, yet this meal at the Red Lion rekindled within us the joy of food.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Imaginative menu
- Wonderful flavours
- Sublime takes on classic dishes