The Red Lion, Stodmarsh
You may have seen it given a favourable review by restaurant critic Marina O'Loughlin in this weekend's Sunday Times, well here at Muddy we have our finger on the (pudding) pulse too. We've also just been down there ourselves, napkins tucked in and pens poised. Read on to find out if we were equally impressed...
I think that we have just stumbled upon a hidden gem of a pub which encapsulates everything that we are about at Muddy – we love to champion local businesses which are cool and quirky, showcase the best of Kent as well as being verrrrry easy on the eye. So, without further ado, let us introduce you to The Red Lion in Stodmarsh which has been a familiar staple in Kent for many many years. In February 2018, the baton was handed over to Mark, Angie, Justin and Morgan who have been working hard to restore this wonderful pub to its former glory, and boy oh boy, have they done it.
The Red Lion is nestled within the very pretty village of Stodmarsh and has been serving the villagers there for the past 500 years. Located six miles outside the city of Canterbury, the pub is a strong contender if you are looking for somewhere to stay to explore the local area, as well as a destination point for good food that has been sourced locally – and sometimes literally in the fields around you. It’s also positioned along Route 1 of the National Cycle Network’s star route, taking people from Dover to the Shetland Islands to the northeast of Scotland, for the hardy amongst you.
Funnily enough, the team previously worked together in Ibiza and created, Beach Babylon, Santa Eulalia’s best-kept secret Ibiza beach restaurant. Now they are ensconced in Kent and providing the same laid-back, eclectic and hugely welcoming vibe that was synonymous with Beach Babylon but replacing the beach parasols for rustic and rural charm.
You have interior designer and restaurateur, Angie Vestey to thank for the interior decoration, which will leave you wishing you had the budget to redecorate your house immediately and then constantly taking close-ups of mirrors and lamps as a reminder to look for similar when you return home – or is that just me?
This is the kind of place that on a cold winter’s evening, you could quite happily turn off your mobile (you might have already lost signal anyhow) and get and well truly immersed in The Red Lion’s steady stream of homemade goods coming your way, to a backdrop of candles and roaring fire, and kick-starting it all with their home-infused spirits which are encased in bottles and dotted around the place.
During the day, don’t be surprised to find chickens strutting past en-route from their pen outside as well as Monty, the fluffy white and ginger cat, who lives at the pub too and together, they seemingly all live together in happy harmony.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Head Chef, John Young and Morgan Lewis are in charge here and they are hugely passionate/borderline obsessive about food and pride themselves on making every item from scratch, where possible, which contributes to the homely nature of the pub. Their wish was to create a menu which represents the landscape around you, which is why many of the food is foraged locally with one dish alone containing 17 types of mushrooms, plus you will always find new and fresh dishes, as the menus reflect the changing seasons.
If you do need talking through any of the food items which ironically sound far too exotic for Kent, then Mark Winstone is your man. Mark runs The Red Lion and seems to crack that precarious front of house role by magically appearing when you are in need of food advice/another swig of wine/entertaining chat/local knowledge on where to go but helpfully lies low when your heads are in the trough.
Before we started the foraging of our own plates, my husband spotted Kentucky fried Grey squirrel with onion puree as a snack, which felt like a dish too unusual to ignore. Lo and behold, the squirrel was very tasty (words I never thought that I would type) and was cleverly served in a KFC-esque paper bowl. But let’s stress, that this is by no means a gimmicky pub which hopefully the following dishes will demonstrate.
Cream of sweetcorn soup, with barbecued corn and a poached Burford Brown egg was my starter and the Soused chalk stream trout, with fortified blackthorn shoots and fermented blackberries for my husband. The trout was ‘melt in the mouth’ delicious apparently and my soup was gorgeously light in texture but rich in flavour, leaving me panting for the next course. Well not quite panting but you get the picture.
This was followed by beetroot gnocchi (made with ricotta cheese rather than potato so again, not too heavy) served with stracchiatella, honey and cider-cured Mangalitza collar and acorn with my husband going for the Barbecued haunch of Stour Valley Fellow Deer, fermented cherries and rose petals, dark chocolate sauce, cobnut and brown butter sponge, which is their spin on a Black Forest gateaux done the savoury way. You should be getting the picture by now that this really is no ordinary pub, with our side order of Wild salad and Wood Ants proving this point. Who would have thought that they are such a delicacy and naturally tasted of balsamic vinegar…? Bold moves, which all deliver.
Quince and blackberry souffle was my pudding finale and the ultimate way to round off a spectacular feast of Autumnal flavours with my husband going bananas for the cheese platter. Served with crackers and the weird but very wonderful lacto-fermented garden peas, he chose the Blue Monday (Alex James from Blur’s own concoction), a brie with fresh truffles and you won’t be surprised to hear that they have in-house-smoked cheeses, of which he went for the Taleggio. Cheese lovers are really spoilt for choice here.
We also need to talk about the Sunday roasts here which we were lucky enough to sample the next day and before we get to that part, you should know about the dedicated charcuterie menu which is yep you guessed it, prepared and cured in-house and a rather fab way to kick-start your Sunday feast with a sharing platter for the table. We feasted on little morsels of pigeon breast, ‘nduja, and rillette of pork served alongside kohl rabi remoulade and pickles.
When it comes to roasts, I am traditionally a little bit sceptical about pub offerings as it always tends to be a weaker version of a homecooked meal, but I am prepared to eat my words and can wholeheartedly recommend its Belly of Old Spot pork, crackling, apple and bay sauce or the Topside of Sussex Steer beef, horseradish but you could also go for Sheppy Isle Mallard, rowan berries and salsify and Slow cooked, rolled shoulder of Romney Marsh lamb and mint jelly. And I forbid you to leave without trying its Cauliflower Cheese which is executed to perfection.
Home-infused spirits aside (33 in total at last count), the wine list is very reasonable with the top-priced bottles of wine costing around £30 and they are currently looking to expand their repertoire within this area.
BED & BREAKFAST
There is no nicer feeling (well ok – maybe winning the lottery could potentially rival it) than knowing that all you need to do at the end of a very good meal when dining out, is just tiptoe up to your bedroom and sink into bed. There are two bedrooms (with another one in the pipeline) at The Red Lion to do just that, each with a very individual stamp as one is painted green and the other blue (believe me, it works) which are very cosy and welcoming. There are no flat TVs here – this is about good quality bed linen and snuggling down to get a very good sleep which will be hard not to achieve after the afore-mentioned scoffing and quaffing. Our room had the additional luxury of a gigantic rolltop bath as well as walk-in power shower, so go for the blue room if baths float your boat.
Breakfast is a feast here and there is potential talk of launching a breakfast menu on Saturdays so watch this space. Breakfast is served at the very leisurely hour between 8.30am and 10am, and my husband opted for The Red Lion Fry Up where the eggs had been produced by Fanny the chicken that morning, the Cumberland sausages and bacon had been cured (and the bacon smoked) along with homemade baked beans and black pudding, as well as mushrooms which had been foraged locally. The bread has also been homemade, and almost takes on a croissant texture and taste so one can only imagine the amount of butter that has gone into this beauty. I went for the Eggs Benedict and this did not disappoint, but Northern John’s Porridge was also winking at me had I considered a healthier option, until I realized that Northern John’s magic ingredient was a healthy dose of whisky.
If I was going to find a chink in the Red Lion’s armour, I would say that it maybe loses half a point here or quite possibly, it is just my fusspot children. For the Sunday lunch menu, they could have mini portions of our roasts as a main dish but sadly school roast dinners have not done too much of a PR drive on them, and there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre for other choices. On the flip side though, I overheard two young teenagers going nuts for the Red Lion Confectionary pudding containing Wood Ants truffle, Rose marshmallow and almond brittle and filming their food to share with their friends so it has the WOW factor for those who have a more mature palate, and on non-Sundays, there is more choice for kids.
OUT & ABOUT
The additional beauty of this place is the proximity of Stodmarsh Nature Reserve which is bang on your doorstep and owned by Natural England. A few minutes’ walk from the pub, and you are within a square mile of internationally-important reed beds, fens, ditches, wet grassland and open water, which provide an ideal habitat for breeding and wintering birds, invertebrates and rare plants. It also provides the perfect habitat to work off your feed from the night before or to work up an appetite – we popped on our walking boots and did a 5km circular walk which felt hugely rewarding particularly when greeted by a glass of Red Lion Stodmarsh Snapper (made with its homemade horseradish infused gin of course) upon returning to the pub, and that enormous rolltop bath.
This is a pub which truly values the community around it, after all it has been serving locals for the past 500 years, and the team very much want to carry on The Red Lion’s role as a focal point in the village. They host a Christmas party every year, on the last Friday before Christmas, exclusively for the village and quizzes are held regularly (booking ahead is essential apparently) with funds going towards local initiatives such as fixing the church roof.
Sunday night tends to be a bit of riot, when guests move on, and the locals descend for a last hurrah of the weekend and local farmers usually head there on a Friday evening to refresh themselves. For those popping by for a quick drink, there is always cheese (and as you know, no ordinary platters here), freshly baked bread and soup on the go for anyone looking for a heart-warming snack. If bat and trap is your thing, you will be pleased to hear that they are within a league of 50 pubs and fiercely proud of their pole position as bottom of the bottom league.
You should also consider The Red Lion as a truly unique destination for a private party or wedding as they have space for 50 guests (plus more if using the garden) and have put on some bespoke and quirky parties in the past, with very good food at the heart of the proceedings.
And for those who love a beer garden, The Red Lion has this one in spades too. Cleverly, one of the first tasks in hand when taking over the pub, was to take down the high hedgerow around the proximity of the garden and you can now sit on one of its many colourful picnic tables with uninterrupted views of the fields beyond – bliss.
Lastly, it is important to note that the full a la carte lunch and dinner is served only on Thursdays through to Sundays, and make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Starters start from £5.50 with main courses ranging between £17.00 to £28.00 and puddings from £4.50 to £7.00.
For a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, you can expect to pay from £18 upwards, depending on the cut of meat you are after, with Cauliflower Cheese (at £7 for two) as a compulsory (in our humble opinion) extra.
And for those of you lucky enough to be staying, the master bedroom with en-suite bathroom costs £150 per night (including breakfast) on a Saturday night but this can drop down to £75 mid-week but does not include breakfast.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Foodies – to truly appreciate the calibre of cooking and scope of ingredients – but it is also good for family get-togethers, the perfect pit stop for ramblers, and for a romantic dinner due to the picturesque candlelit setting. But if doing that, I heartily recommend pushing the boat out and opting to stay the night afterwards.
Not for: Stilettos – this is a place where you can ditch the high heels and snuggle up with a glass of wine and some exceedingly good food.
The Red Lion, Stodmarsh Road, Canterbury, Kent CT3 4BA, 01227 721339, email@example.com