Restaurant review: Red Lion, Long Compton
17:04 13 February 2017
Not bad value, warm, bright and comfy. Oh, and the food isn’t bad either. This is a pub that won’t scare anyone
On being food:
I’m in the balmy warmth of a post-monsoon teatime, pushing through dense vegetation on a beaten track through an Indian jungle, where a Malabar Thrush – the Whistling Schoolboy – is bidding a melodious farewell to another day. Soon, our steep incline will push out onto an open plateau, from where we will look down on a canopy of trees and watch a satsuma sun sink into the cover of evening.
“So,” I breathlessly ask, as I make to keep up with our guide, “which animals live in this jungle?”
“Snakes,” he says. “Leopards. Bears…”
“Oh,” I say, as I push aside strange spiky branches. “I’m assuming they keep well away from paths humans use?”
“No,” he says, hiking on ahead. “They use the same paths.”
Suddenly, the thickness of branches and leaves gives way to rocky grass, and we’re standing giddily level with the glory of a disappearing orb of fire, suffusing the sky with a swansong of orange. As it dips beneath a strange dark line, as if snuggling into bedclothes, the world falls silent.
I watch a bit. But really I’m busy wondering why the world has fallen silent. What’s it planning?
“So,” I tug at the guide, before he gets too immersed in all this wonderfulness, “how can you tell these animals aren’t, you know, hungry?”
“They have enough food in this environment,” he says.
While I think about this, the sun clears off and we begin to make our way downwards again.
“Look!” our guide points into the dusk, as we pass a viciously scratched tree. “Bear-claw marks. He was sharpening them, or marking territory.”
“What if a bear has cubs?” I persist, while avoiding looking at the tree.
“Then it will attack.”
“What time of year do they have cubs?”
“About now,” he says. “Mind that scorpion.”
On cooking food:
I’ve got special dinner guests coming so I’m doing what anyone would do in the circumstances: cooking something I’ve never made before, from a recipe randomly found on the internet. It’s bound to work because I’ve bought an expensive tagine dish. The investment is huge - in terms of time alone: I’m going to have to spend the next 30 years trying to hide it from Ian.
When I finally test-taste it, the result lies somewhere along that spectral border between abject failure and raw-eyed terror. There’s an unidentifiably unpleasant tang that doesn’t measurably tally with the ingredients list; and it’s apricot-y in a way only previously surpassed by apricots.
I ring Greg, Ellie’s boyfriend, in blind panic. On the plus side, he’s the best cook I know; on the minus side, he’s a fierce critic of my tendency to pick recipes without the gift of forethought. And of my fad diets.
“It’s a disaster,” I say. “They’re coming in four hours. What do I DO?”
“Why don’t you just eat sensibly 24/7 and then you wouldn’t need fad diets?” he says, unhelpfully. “What are you giving up now?”
“Grains and dairy. But what about my tagine?” I wail.
“You waver between the diet of a medieval peasant and an 18th century French King,” he remonstrates angrily.
On eating (food):
We go to the Red Lion at Long Compton, partly because quite a few readers have commended it. A jolly nice country inn it is, too, with many attractive paintings showing the better side of sheep. The pleasant music, unusually, is so quiet you have to strain to hear it in a way that makes you feel at least 10 years older than you actually are.
But if you want middle class – an outmoded expression, but not one I’m using pejoratively; I really like it – then it’s the kind of pub you could imagine David Cameron leaving a child in. In fact, it’s full of well-behaved children – some, slightly oddly, in stocking feet – and older people saying things like, “I remember farthings!” and “How is your extension?”
Cocoa, the pub’s 12-year-old brown lab, wanders past, greeting old friends; impeccably behaved. And the staff are delightful, too: friendly, helpful, welcoming.
The food, despite the elevated descriptions, is excellently down to earth, on the whole: Cumberland sausages and mash; fish and chips served on the Red Lion Times, to make you feel northern; Todenham Manor (good choice) pork cutlet with apple and red cabbage. (Actually, all with a choice of chips, mash or new potatoes.)
Between us, we have a spicy tomato soup (very flavoursome); smoked salmon simply served with lemon and capers; a chargrilled tuna steak with olive tapenade from the specials board (which doesn’t knock me out but is perfectly decent); the venison burger with bacon, stilton and cranberry sauce; and a sticky toffee pudding (slightly disappointing) and a small but perfectly-formed blackberry and vanilla crème brulée.
Do you know what? I’m not going to remember the food for ever, but we have such a nice evening. Not bad value; warm; bright; comfy.
I’d say the Red Lion is a pub you can go to without fear of disappointment. Or any fear of being eaten.
Value for money: 7.5
The Red Lion, Long Compton, nr Shipston-on-Stour CV36 5JS, 01608 684221; www.redlion-longcompton.co.uk
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