We expect so much of our pubs these days. Gastro but the right kind of gastro ( a quick lick of Farrow & Ball Elephant's Breath won't cut it anymore), somewhere that's good for a quick pint, a full blown dinner and, by the way, we want to bring our kids here too.
What I love most about The Red Lion in Babcary, Somerset is that it is first and foremost a drinker's pub, albeit a very pretty one with creamy stone on the outside and lots of dark wood nooks and crannies on the inside. Yes there's spectacular food courtesy of a new chef (more of which later) and some rather gorgeous bedrooms. But turn up on a midweek night and you'll find it packed with locals chasing down cider and shooting the breeze which is just how it should be. I first got to know The Red Lion last year when, due to a last minute hitch they took on Country Calling's battle of the bands competition - hosting a live performance from 7 bands and a 150 strong crowd without raising an eyebrow. Now I'm back for lunch with a friend on a random sunny Thursday and within moments of arriving it feels like the perfect place to be. It's a bit like an oasis in the sense that Babcary is one of the prettiest villages in Somerset, drive through the county''s most rolling green hills and quite suddenly you arrive at The Red Lion. It is the kind of pub you'd stumble across and say: "We're stopping right here." On the one hand a traditional country pub, then, but on the other one with some serious aspirations. New since my last visit are a converted stable block with 6 bedrooms (cool and boutiquey, I checked them out) and The Den, a wood-fired pizza shack which is open at the weekends throughout the summer.
Pictured above: Red Lion bedroom and below The Den
Owner Charlie Garrard tells me it was meant to be a posh garden shed but then he had the idea of installing a pizza oven and the rest is history. He's clearly an ideas man, already contemplating metamorphosing the Den into an all year-round cafe full of plants and antique garden furniture, a bit like Petersham Nurseries. The Red Lion hosts occasional farmers' markets and a Christmas market, planned for the Spring is a farm shop, open every day selling charcuterie, home-made elderflower, locally grown veg. Pub/pizza restaurant/boutique b&B/farm shop - seems like this place is master of disguises. Then there's the Red Lion's Glastonbury makeover - this year it appeared as a pop-up pub in the heart of the festival, serving a gargantuan 900 covers. Next year, Charlie wants to incorporate a chill out area too so people can turn up for a pint, a bowl of chips and lounge off their hangover on a leather sofa. A proper pub at Glastonbury, so perfect why did no one think of it before. Back to our lunch then, which was unfailingly delicious. There's a new chef, Richard Ford, at the helm and he's seriously good. We opted to share a few starters - a crab risotto, pan fried lamb's liver, souffle - which were much larger than we'd imagined but so delicious we ate it all anyway. The Red Lion has lots of different areas so you can choose where you eat according to your mood - we chose the dining room but I'll be back for cider and a top-knotch ploughman's in the main pub or for a more romantic assignation, there's the cute, secret bar at the back.
Chatting to the barman after lunch, it turns out he has lots of plans afoot too - an open mike night, gigs, jazz evenings. So, yes, we may be asking a lot of our pubs these days but it's great when they deliver. We'd have to say The Red Lion ticks all boxes.