Nicola Warren finds more than just the usual pub fayre at the Red Lion in Chelmondiston
- Credit: Su Anderson
On a cold, dark and drizzly evening, me and my husband Phil set off from our home in Ipswich for dinner at the Red Lion in Chelmondiston.
We don’t often make a visit to the Shotley peninsular, but I’d heard that the 15-minute trip out of town to the pub would be well worth it.
I’d never been to the Red Lion before and it had been many years since Phil last visited.
Mandy Bower and her partner Douglas Wright have bought the pub and done a lot of work on the building – as we stepped in from the cold, I was surprised to find just how bright, warm and welcoming this village pub was.
Mandy, who takes care of the front of house while Douglas oversees the food, gave us a warm welcome and kindly took our coats before showing us around.
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There are now three dining areas, one of which can be enclosed for private dining. You can also sit near the entrance, opposite the wood-burning stove, to enjoy pre-dinner drinks.
Mandy eagerly talked us through her and Douglas’ background – the pair also run the Bib Gourmand-winning George and Dragon in Kelvedon.
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The Bib symbols indicate the Michelin Guide inspectors’ favourite establishments, offering good food at moderate prices.
Mandy’s family also ran the Essex Rose Tearoom, in Dedham, for 35 years.
Good food and hospitality are clearly in the couple’s blood.
When Mandy left us to look through the menus, despite the choice, we both knew what we wanted to start our meals with straight away.
I just had to go for the home smoked salmon. The team at the George and Dragon smoke the fish, with supplies being brought up to the Red Lion on a regular basis.
Phil couldn’t resist the baked camembert with red onion jam and toasted baguette.
Other options on the menu that evening included pigeon breast baked in pastry with stuffing, pearly barley, thyme and pancetta and shredded Chinese style duck leg salad.
The menus change regularly, sometimes twice a day.
After enjoying a drink, me a shandy and Phil a glass of wine from the selection from Berkmann Wine Cellars, Mandy showed us to our table in the dining area by the striking stained glass dragon.
The stained glass window was made locally as were the wooden dining tables and bar.
Soon, the starters arrived. I really enjoyed the thin, mouth-sized pieces of lightly smoked salmon, which came with a salad and cucumber relish.
The bread of the night was sundried tomato and rosemary, made by Douglas’ son George. It’s a real family affair here.
I couldn’t resist trying a mouthful of the baked camembert with the red onion jam and toasted baguette slices.
The sweet red onions went really nicely with the cheese, and there was just the right amount of each.
We soon realised why Doug’s fayre has attracted the Bib Gourmand at the George and Dragon.
And while we were enjoying our starters, I heard a fellow diner exclaim that they were enjoying the best steak ever.
This led Phil to think he may regret his choice – the special of stuffed partridge, with fondant potato, savoy cabbage and cranberry gravy.
But that wasn’t the case – he was impressed with the generous portion of stuffed meat wrapped in pancetta.
When my mixed fish grill was laid before me, the aroma was mouth-watering and I began to tuck in even before the accompaniments arrived.
But when they did, my eyes widened. A dish of golden chunky chips were mine to try as well as a dressed salad.
After taking a bite of a chip, I urged Phil to try one, as they may have been the best I’ve ever tasted.
Golden, crispy and perfectly salted on the outside, and light and fluffy inside.
But don’t get me wrong, the star of the show here was definitely the fish.
On eating the scallop, I was reminded of biting into a marshmallow. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, as was the skate, bream and king prawns.
I had also been tempted by the beer battered cod fillet, chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce on the specials menu, and Phil very nearly chose the slow roasted stuffed pork belly served with mashed potato and roasted vegetables from the main menu.
There were lots of other main meals to choose from, such as rib eye steak, garlic and peppercorn butter, sauté potatoes and rocket salad and butternut squash, wild mushroom and Roquefort tart with walnuts and rocket.
We were both fairly full after two courses, but took a look at the dessert menu, which included sticky toffee pudding, prune and Armagnac tart and passion fruit crème brulee.
We couldn’t resist sharing the butterscotch cheesecake with chocolate sauce.
I’ve never tasted anything like it before, in fact everything I’d had that night was a unique and pleasurable experience.
It was also nice to know that ingredients were sourced locally wherever possible – for example, meat comes from Hollingsworth butchers down the road.
The Red Lion offers much more than your average village pub – in my eyes, it’s an unrivalled dining experience! – and we’ll certainly be back.