Food review, The Red Lion, Kirtling: 'So well cooked and delicious'

Mixed starters on a white plate

Korean mixed starter, from the Red Lion in Kirtling - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

New Year, new lockdown – and with the instructions from on high to stay local, this one means even more restricted options for getting out to grab a takeaway. Thank goodness one of the local pubs has managed to keep its kitchen open, offering meals. Better still, my girlfriend has spotted that The Red Lion in Kirtling has a Korean night coming up. That should be something a little bit different to lift the spirits. 

The Red Lion is a lovely village pub - the kind of place you’d want to sit outside on a sunny afternoon with a refreshing pint in your hand. Instead I’m hurrying inside at the appointed moment to collect our meal. It’s well organised, with timed collection slots to make sure there are no other customers inside and sanitizer by the door. I've brought a large insulated shopping bag and it’s whisked off into the kitchen, for the food to be packed directly inside – but in fact there’s so much an additional carrier emerges, with the things that don’t need to be kept warm on the short trip home. 

It’s as I’m unpacking the starters that it strikes me: it’s very clever doing Korean food because not only is it different enough to be appealingly intriguing, but also it’s not a cuisine many people will be wildly familiar with, so it’s hard to judge how authentic it is. Also, there’s no local Korean restaurant offering a regular takeaway service it can be compared against.   

The catch is that while I know we have mixed starters (and I plate them up as well as I can for the picture) I don’t really have much of a clue what anything is. There’s a pot of piquant radish salad and another one of Kimchi, which is a cured or fermented vegetable (usually a cabbage) and both are delicious. There are crackers and a generous portion of a sweet chilli dipping sauce, though those clearly were bought in (doesn’t matter: they’re well chosen and good). 

I don’t actually know what the rest of it is, though... I think the dark, sesame-encrusted orb is a tuna ball. There’s some kind of patty, a couple of nicely piquant mushrooms (I figured those ones out) and something like a celeriac, coated in a nicely unctuous sauce. It is all pretty tasty, especially the could-be-celeriac. I just can’t help thinking I’d enjoy it a bit more if I knew what I was eating.

food on a plate

Japchae: Korean vegetable stir fry. Very tasty - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

We do know what we’re eating for the mains, though. In the hope of storing up babysitting credits for when going out to restaurants is possible, I've invited Nathan our tame vegetarian to join us. Really, it's just cunning ploy to give me more dishes to write about – and his Japchae, or vegetarian stir fry, could be the pick of the bunch. A good combination of noodles and veg in a tasty sauce that’s not quite like a standard Chinese chow mein. “I would definitely have that again,” is his verdict. 

Fish on a plate

Saeng Sun Jun - Korean cod fillets. Generous and well cooked - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

Mind you, in portion terms there’s no doubt that my pescatarian partner has hit the jackpot. Ali has the Saeng Sun Jun – cod fillets – which are lightly battered and coated in a deliciously sticky, almost sweet-and-sour sauce. The coating has lost a little crispness as it sat in its container, but the fish itself is flaky and tasty, without having gone greasy the way takeaway fried fish sometimes can. “It’s so well cooked and it’s delicious,” says Ali – which is more than she says about the side dishes.  

Food in a bowl

Asian coleslaw - crisp, piquant and tasty - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

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Now, these are divisive. None of us think much of the Korean-spiced spinach, but we’re all agreed that the spiced cucumber and the Asian coleslaw are excellent. I really like the Korean fried rice – thickly sticky, with veg stirred through it (though it benefits from a splash of soy sauce). The other two don’t like it at all. Out of curiosity, I ordered the chili cheese fries, which taste great but ultimately they've surrendered their crispness to the sweaty polystyrene takeaway container, which puts my more discerning dinner companions off them. All the more for me, then... 

Chips on a plate

Chili cheese fries - doesn't matter how authentically Korean they are, they're tasty - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

My main course is the beef bulgogi – which is essentially strips of beef in a sticky sauce. Visually, it’s decidedly underwhelming, especially as one or two bits look slightly blackened. So it’s best eaten with your eyes shut, as it’s delicious: tender meat and a delicious coating, which doesn’t taste at all burnt. As the only carnivore at the table, I can’t get a second opinion... but I don’t need one. It’s a really fine-tasting dish.  

Beef on a plate

Beef bulgogi - not the most visually appealing dish but absolutely delicious - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

Pudding isn’t on the menu, but we do benefit from the curious inclusion of three Choco-Pie biscuits (think: budget Wagon Wheel). I’m not sure if they’re a traditional Korean snack or not, but I tuck into mine happily enough. The others politely save theirs – not that they needed them. There was so much food with the starter and main that everyone is full.  

Cucumber in a bowl

Spicy pickled cucumber - a nice side dish - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

Local pubs are having a tough time at the moment and I think it’s important to support them – especially when they’re brave enough to try something different like the Red Lion at Kirtling’s Korean night. It was a meal of hits and misses, with a few side dishes letting the side down, but the overall experience was great. We got generous portions of different and tasty main dishes – and it was great value. The whole spread was just £15 a head.  

I can’t help thinking that this is a menu I’d like to eat again, but not after carrying it home in an insulated bag. I’m fairly sure that most of our minor niggles would never occur when the food is carried straight from kitchen to table, keeping the crispness and lifting it to another level. Plus we could ask what the starters were... Never mind sitting outside the Red Lion on a sunny day: here’s hoping we can soon be sitting inside to enjoy the food, exactly as it’s meant to be.  

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We pay for our meals and restaurants do not know they’re being reviewed.  

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