It had been a while since we had ventured to the Red Lion at Alnmouth for a bite to eat.
It’s one of the hazards of this job – there are so many establishments to review that we rarely get the chance to revisit our favourites. But, as our last Red Lion meal was about five years ago, we thought it about time we returned.
In that period, a lot has changed in both the pub and the village, yet it all remains comfortably familiar and reliable. Alnmouth has seen a sea-change in its gastronomic offering – and the Red Lion itself has stepped up to the plate.
The pub is so consistently good. The interior hasn’t changed much – it’s the definition of cosy, traditional and warm. A roaring fire helps the atmosphere in the winter months when most venues are handed back to the locals to enjoy.
The wooden floorboards and panelling, low-beamed ceilings, comfortable seating, stools and subtle lighting all add up to a rare atmosphere only found in archetypal British hostelries.
It’s not a big, modern, purpose-built gastro-pub, but a modest, unpretentious and old-fashioned inn that oozes charm. It’s welcoming, tolerant, family-friendly, dog-friendly yet serves a damn good pint – what more could you ask?
At the front of the building is a restaurant that helps ease the pressure on the bar area at busy eating times.
That’s inside – all very familiar. Outside is a different story, the beer garden has come on in leaps and bounds.
Picnic benches spread from the very back terrace onto the lawn and there is a new seating area, with comfortable garden furniture. Alongside that, an extra bar has been built, with ale pumps and a till that feeds into the main system. All they need now is some fine weather!
Unfortunately, the heavens were depositing when we arrived so the only option was inside the pub. And, with a function on in the restaurant, we were lucky to grab a table, but had to wait for Saturday evening food service to kick in at 4.30pm.
The menu at the Red Lion is compact. There was only a choice of five starters, eight main courses and three steaks on the specials boards. But, as I’ve said before, a limited choice usually means the quality of the food and attention to detail is higher and it is freshly cooked. It also declares that the chefs are very accommodating with food allergies and intolerances.
I liked the sound of the soup of the day, carrot and curried tomato (£4.50), to start, while Mrs L took a shine to chicken liver pâté, with plum chutney and toast (£6.25).
As we had to order at the bar, we also chose main courses: Pan-fried sea bass fillets, with homemade chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce (£15.50) for me and pork burger with bacon and Cheddar cheese, homemade chips and coleslaw (£12) across the table.
We also added a side order of onion rings for £3.
The starters were splendid – my favourite part of the meal, when you are at you hungriest!
The soup was interesting and unusual, dominated by the curried tomato taste and not giving the carrot much of a chance. It came with a wedge of lovely, warm artisan bread, and butter in a small dish (not a foil pack in sight, hurrah!).
The very smooth pâté and fruity plum chutney were equally creative served on a slate and in recycled, preserve jars, complete with lids. The flavours were strong and the portions generous. It went down very well opposite and the tiny taster I was generously afforded confirmed the verdict.
Without further ado, our main meals were before us. After the explosion of the soup, the subtlety of sea bass.My posh fish and chips was just what the doctor ordered on this grim day weatherwise. The fish was slightly overdone to my liking but the crispy skin and delicious, chunky chips combined to perfection.
The pork burger hit the spot nicely as well – quite a stack of burger, lettuce, bacon and cheese. And a nod to the onion rings – they were huge, the biggest we’d ever seen and a meal in themselves.
We only just had room for a shared dessert – lemon cheesecake, which was in another jar and upside down. A tart red berry compote was a scrumptious addition.
ALE AND HEARTY AT THE RED LION
The Red Lion prides itself on its rotated selection of real ales and its annual beer festival is building a fine reputation. Mark the dates on your calendar for this year – Friday, October 6, to Sunday, Octover 8. On our visit, Credence Blonde, produced in Amble, was my ale of choice – and a fine pint it was too.
The new bar (pictured above) in the beer garden at the back of the pub will be great addition, especially on fine summer days when it gets packed and service in the past could be slow.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Goats’ cheese & Med veg......£6.25
Sweet pickle herring......£6.25
Pear, blue cheese, walnut salad......£6.25
Mushroom & pea risotto......£9
Seared lambs liver & bacon......£9
Local steak and ale pie......£11.25
Turnbull’s N’land pork sausages with mash & black pudding......£11.25
Slow-cooked chicken breast......£14.50
Roast rump of lamb......£18
8oz Northumbrian fillet steak......£30
10oz Northumbrian rib-eye steak......£23.50
8oz Northumbrian sirloin steak......£19
Desserts (all £5)
Sticky toffee pudding; warm chocolate brownie; lemon cheesecake; wild berry fool and rhubarb compote.
Selection of cheeses......£8
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8½
Vegetarian choice......one/two dishes
Use of local food......9
Access for the disabled......7
Verdict: One of my favourite eating/watering holes locally. Relaxed, but top-quality pub cuisine.
Contact: 01665 830584 or visit http://www.redlionalnmouth.com