Lobster, fillet steak and 'the best chips ever' on menu at revamped pub

Ashley Robertson and James Barber at The Red Lion in East Bergholt

Ashley Robertson (left) and James Barber at The Red Lion in East Bergholt - Credit: The Red Lion

A south Suffolk pub is hoping to put this part of the county on the foodie map when it re-opens on April 12. 

The Red Lion at East Bergholt had opened for the first time in three years in September 2020 following a series of improvements and renovations by new owner Jonathan Peachey, but hadn’t been able to fully set out its stall due to Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns. 

James Barber, originally brought in as head chef, but now taking the reigns as general manager, with Ashley Robertson overseeing the kitchen, says the whole team is “buzzing” to show what the Lion has to offer, initially in the lovely lawned garden with its sail covering, before indoor dining is allowed in May. 

The lawns at The Red Lion, East Bergholt

The Red Lion at East Bergholt has a large garden and a sail is being put in place for covered out door dining from April 12 - Credit: Aphra

“We originally opened in the first week of September,” says James, “and just missed the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Then there were the restrictions of masks and a spell of takeaways. The decision was made on Christmas Eve to close until we could open properly, and everyone’s itching to get going. Our owner spent two-and-a-half years and a lot of money doing the pub up to a very high spec and the décor is beautiful. I know he can’t wait to be able to show the place off properly. The staff really do walk in feeling very proud to work here.” 

A dining area at The Red Lion in East Bergholt

It took the owner of The Red Lion in East Bergholt nearly three years to refurbish the pub - Credit: Aphra

Although he admits to loathing the word ‘gastropub’ James is keen to stress the Lion is so much more than just a village watering hole, with almost everything (bar the Suffolk Meadow ice cream) made from scratch on site, and with he and Ashley sourcing the very best ingredients from suppliers all over the region. 

“It’s all about treating the finest raw produce with respect to make wonderful but not complicated plates of food. We’re using The Jolly Meat Company for our meat, and West Mersea Fresh Fish, for example. They have their own boats and have been bringing us excellent rod and line caught bass and dover soles, which we’re serving up with new potatoes and garlic butter. We’re working with Anglia Produce in Lawford for produce, and Cleveleys for dry goods. And we’re hoping to go foraging in the local area too for wild garlic to go on our pizzas.” 

Chefs at The Red Lion East Bergholt preparing pizzas

The Red lion at East Bergholt serves speciality, home made pizzas - Credit: Aphra

In addition to pizzas, James says the opening menu will include artisan, carefully-thought-out sandwiches with gourmet toppings and fillings, a raft of interesting a la carte dishes, and what he thinks are some of the best chips in the area. 

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“They are such a big thing for us,” he laughs. “We don’t triple cook them, we bake them like a jacket potato, let them cool, then peel the skin while slightly warm to give fluffy edges. Then we fry them off. That recipe developed from not having enough pan space and thinking we need to do something different. And they are phenomenal. We asked Anglia Produce to find the right potato for us and they nailed it. They come out beautifully golden on the outside and creamy and fluffy in the middle. We use the same technique for our roast potatoes.” 

A bowl of thick cut chips with mayonnaise at The Red Lion, East Bergholt

James Barber, general manager of The Red Lion at East Bergholt says the pub has some of the best chips around - Credit: The Red Lion

These mighty potato bites make a perfect accompaniment to the pub’s classic lobster Thermidor and Red Poll fillet steak – both so popular last year they can’t be taken off the menu. Then there’s beef carpaccio, slow-cooked Gressingham duck legs, mussels cooked in cream, wine, parsley, garlic and shallots, wild scallops with garlic and parsley breadcrumbs, and crab tian with pink grapefruit and guacamole. 

Lunches boast quiche of the day. And on Sundays there’s a full roast, either chicken, or beef cooked slowly overnight, with all the trimmings, including giant Yorkshire puddings. 

An enamel bowl of cooked mussels at The Red Lion, East Bergholt

The Red Lion sells a lot of mussels - Credit: The Red Lion

“We’ve put a lot of focus on puddings as well, and I’m proud we have a good selection of gluten-free desserts and other items on the main menu. We’ve got Bakewell pudding, chocolate brownie, apple and walnut cake with clotted cream. And we even make clotted cream fudge and chocolate truffles. Those can go with tea or coffee at the end of a meal, or some people who can’t fit in dessert might want to order them as something sweet to finish on.” 

The Red Lion is family-friendly, and smaller portions of dishes are available in addition to the Lion Cub menu featuring one of James’ signature puddings that’s followed him throughout his career – a chocolate mousse mouse, complete with almond ears, raisin eyes, a chocolate drop nose, and strawberry lace tail. 

A plate of beef carpaccio at The Red Lion in East Bergholt

The Red Lion's beef carpaccio - Credit: The Red Lion

Bookings are recommended, and the pub will be open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Sunday following its relaunch on April 12. “Parking is free, and we’re only a short walk from Flatford, so you can pop in for a bite to eat, then go for a walk,” adds James. 

“We can’t wait to start welcoming people back. Having a full restaurant with lots of happy customers is the ultimate goal. We’re not looking for awards. If we get them, thankyou very much, but it would mean so much more to me to just have customers back in the door, eating, smiling and enjoying themselves.” 

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