One of Jo’s gripes is how rarely I walk into any restaurant – whether posh or greasy-spoon - just randomly. Everything is researched excessively beforehand. The reason, of course, is that according to the actuarial mortality tables of the Office of National Statistics, I only have 26,419 lunches and dinners remaining to me and I can’t risk a duff one.
So, the Red Lion at East Chisenbury was not a random drop in. It couldn’t be. Location-wise it is off the beaten track of the track that’s off the beaten track and I can’t believe that anybody would be dropping in here just randomly. Or, if they are, they ought to give serious though to suing their satnav manufacturer.
Research duly done, I knew already that it was owned and run by a couple (Gut and Brittany) who had worked at some seriously classy places in New York (Per Se, Allen & Dellancey…). On a clear day those with a fine eye for detail would be able to tell Manhattan from the less populated Eastern end of the Chisenbury conglomeration, so I was interested in whether and how the cooking had translated also.
Fantastically is the answer. And in just the right kind of way.
They are not trying to cook Keller-esque in a thatched Wiltshire pub. The food matches the setting. We had a cep tart, wild board ragu, shared a rib of beef and then fished off with cocoa pound cake and some ice creams and sorbets. All the kind of food to which the description “honest” readily attached itself. The words “really, really good” then went on to attach themselves. And suddenly the relevance and value of all that technique and experience came through.
My cep tart, for instance, appeared more like a slice of quiche. Definitely not the kind of gussied-up doll-house delicacy you’d see on a plate in Per Se. But look at the homemade slightly ruff-puff-pastry that enclosed it. The layering of it, the buttery-ness. There was the finesse of the pappardelle in that dish of rich boar ragu; there was a world-class rhubarb sorbet lurking among the excellent puds. None of this level of technique announced itself on the menu but it definitely came through in the cooking.
The wine list was decent, not over-long or over-priced. And the front of house team struck the right balance – they come across as a “pub team” who know at the same time they are custodians of something special. This plus the food, and the way the pub has been done up enough but not overdone means that the whole place still hangs on to its sense of character.
The ambience doesn’t quite translate into the rooms. Ours was of a very high standard and felt “designed”. It has a nice view over the bubbling Avon immediately behind the property at a point in its meanderings where it has outgrown “stream” and is well on its way to “proper river”. The bungalow which houses the five rooms is built-for-purpose, so the decision to “design” the rooms rather than try to create some faux “olde worlds” ambiance is probably the right one but it does make for a bit of a disconnect. And with rooms ranging from £150 to £200 (including, to be fair, a very good breakfast) I felt I was paying £20-£30 more than the odds.
On the other hand it offers Stongehenge, Avebury, Devizes, Salisbury, Marlborough and Castle Combe etc, all either on the doorstep or within an easy drive so, if that doesn’t make it pretty much perfect for a weekend break, then nothing is!
Worth building a trip around.