Long days at work and mild sporting endeavours tend to leave many of us with what feels like a gaping chasm in our stomach, and certainly for me, the culinary “delights” offered by our on-site chefs don’t always fit the bill. Fortunately, this particular part of Somerset offers a wealth of local pubs with excellent kitchens, many of which have saved us from disappointing meals at the hands of Sodexo at some point. Tonight, it was the turn of the Red Lion Inn at Babcary, just a few miles away, and conveniently located just a stone’s throw from the A303. The fact that it is frequented by students from the local cookery school (Lou Hutton’s Food of Course) is an early indicator that we shouldn’t be disappointed, and it soon becomes apparent that they know a thing or two about eating well.
Despite a slightly unhurried welcome (though admittedly, 6.30pm on a Tuesday is unlikely to be a peak time), the bar area that greets punters is homely, with a wood burner in the corner, an assortment of sofas, church pews and window tables, and a pound coin glued to the bar that causes every visitor a moment of consternation when they can’t pocket it… How the staff must laugh. There is a fair selection of ales and ciders on offer, and an extensive wine list (roughly 60 bottles) that at a brief glance looks like it has something for everyone.
The kitchen doesn’t open until 7pm and so armed with a drink we found ourselves a table in the back of the bar (the four main rooms encircle the bar, which can be confusing for anyone searching for the loo). As soon as the kitchen was open a waitress appeared to take our order, and from that moment on the service we received was very attentive and efficient – with just the right amount of time between courses to let vast platefuls settle but not fill us up entirely. Choosing what to eat took some deliberation – the well thought out menu presents a mixture of pub standards (Burgers, Shepherd’s Pie or Ham, Egg and Chips) with more creative fare (Trio of Duck Liver or Goats’ Cheese Cheesecake with Chorizo jam), but at no point did we feel hurried – everything happened at a very comfortable pace.
After whetting our appetites with a plate of Olives, Stuffed Peppers, Hummus and French Toast, which felt small at the time but given the generous portions that were to follow was perfectly sized, I opted for the Moules Marinièrs to start. Deliciously fresh (ever since living on a beach, ageing seafood has been my pet hate), they came in a relatively large bowl that might have been daunting as a starter had they not been so beautifully cooked – and at no point did I even contemplate not finishing everything in front of me. The sauce was deliciously rich but easy on the stomach, and not so strong that it clashed with the cider accompanying it. For my main I was unable to resist the Slow Roasted Belly Pork with Braised Red Cabbage, Mustard Mash and Apple Sauce, a personal favourite. This 8-inch strip of meat had been cooked so that the thin crackling was crunchy without being inedibly hard, and the pork beneath almost falling apart. It wasn’t the leanest cut in the world, but if you can’t accept the odd bit of fat, maybe Belly Pork isn’t the thing for you. The mustard mash had a moreish tang that paired very well with the sweetness of the red cabbage, and the apple sauce was smooth and subtle.
David opted for the Goats Cheese Cheesecake with Chorizo Jam to start, and was very impressed – the cheesecake was light and fluffy, but with plenty of flavour, and the chorizo jam found the balance between being meaty and sweet perfectly. The Red Lion Burger (with cheese and bacon), Hand Cut Chips and Salad for his main proved that the kitchen produces pub staples just as well – it was meaty and succulent, delightfully fresh meat that had not been allowed to lose any of its flavour. The accompaniments were equally fresh, and generously apportioned, as was the case for all our food.
All in all, The Red Lion served us very well, with big plates of fantastically fresh food that had obviously been meticulously prepared. At £31 each for two courses, “nibbles”, a couple of ciders and a coffee it also comes in significantly cheaper than most other decent pubs in the area. I’m always happy to say this, and hope I don’t overuse it, but… I’ll be back!
The Red Lion Inn, Babcary, Somerset, TA11 7ED. 01458 223230.