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The Red Lion, Bitterne
Yes, it has some fancy twists – an evocative-sounding Brie and Broccoli Wellington for instance – and there’s the impression that the regular diners expect something more than just the usual pub grub fare. But if I had to sum up the food at The Red Lion I would have to say it was comforting – yes, delightfully, heart-warmingly, stomach-filling, comforting.
And in an age when it seems every pub thinks it can go gastro and reduce its portions while raising its prices, thank goodness for the Red Lions of this world I say.
A hit with regulars – you had better be prepared to book a table for weekend evenings and the legendary Sunday roast (£6.95) – the Red Lion not surprisingly attracts diners from a wide area.
The secret? A good but not over-ambitious menu, imaginative specials, fresh ingredients locally sourced, and all cooked to order.
Our visit was of a Saturday lunch time. The bar area had a healthy clientele and the restaurant area, with its giant posters of New York and spacious feel, not over full but still obviously attracting a decent lunchtime crowd.
There is a lunch menu – light bites, jacket potatoes and sandwiches – but diners can also choose from the regular a la carte menu, and so we did.
The choice was impressive. Starters included crispy coated mushrooms, tempura king prawns and deep fried whitebait, the last being a favourite of mine so that was a no-brainer. The fish arrived lightly battered with a crisp salad and went down a treat. Mrs M, who had joined me for lunch, chose the mushrooms – delicious – and the youngest Miss M (who had insisted on being present when I said where we were going) went for a portion of garlic bread that, if I’m honest, could have fed us all.
For mains the choice was all the more difficult. Favourites included smothered chicken, lamb shank (sorely tempted), calves’ liver and bacon, leek and mushroom bake, curry of the day or from the grill steaks, burgers, and chicken in various guises. A variety of salads were available for those who must.
I chose the calves’ liver which came on a bed of mash and with a decent-sized serving of vegetables. The portion was substantial and, to be honest, we could have forgone the starters had we known. I like my liver pink with a crust, and that was how it was delivered. Fantastic.
Mrs M chose the haddock from the specials menu (she had actually picked from the pensioners’ special board by accident but they were too polite to mention – and it was a bargain at two courses for OAPs for £5.50). Her daughter went for the lasagne with – a mountain of – curly fries. She was defeated by it of course. Both described their meals as wonderful.
There was little room for puds even though the choice was tempting, but I did manage coffee.
Our meals without drinks came to well under £15 each, which for the size and quality of the dishes was extremely good value for money.
Owner Chris explained as we said our goodbyes that some elements of the menu would change come the spring to reflect the season. I have no doubts that any new additions will be just as comforting as the winter warmers we had just so heartily enjoyed.
The Red Lion, Bitterne Road, Bitterne, Southampton.
Tel: 023 8044 9136.
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