The makeover rumours were true: the faded sofas and grubby floors are long gone, replaced by stylish light wood furnishings and soft lighting. The initial impression is of a slick modern restaurant rather than a pub, and although The Red Lion has kept a lounge bar area, it's clearly aiming primarily at diners rather than drinkers these days. With an extensive and varied menu (and wine list too, for that matter, with reds and whites sub-divided into Mediterranean and World categories), there's far more on offer than the usual pub fare.
While classics such as burgers and fish and chips will keep the traditionalists happy, The Red Lion also offers creative pastas (such as strozzapreti with goat's cheese, tomato and spinach, £10.25) and stonebaked pizzas (including crispy duck, £10.45), as well as an extensive 'spit roast/stove' section which should keep even the most die-hard carnivore happy. Meaty choices range from spit-roast chicken (£12.45) to ribeye steak cooked in smoken paprika butter and served with watercress and chips (£16.45). Beefing up the menu even further are continental-style sharing plates and a selection of modern European starters, such as arancini risotto balls with peas, mint and feta (£5.95). As if all this wasn't enough, there's also a list of chef's recommendations on each table, which we unfortunately only spotted after ordering. The swanky-sounding dishes (3 starters and 3 mains) were a little fancier than those on the menu but around the same price, so it's definitely worth checking them out. On our visit, options included confit duck leg served on caramelised white cabbage with black cherry sauce (£13.95).
I finally opted for the blackened cod fillet served on a bed of egg noodles and pak choi, with mango and chilli salsa (£14.95). The generously-sized fillet was beautifully presented and delicately spiced, with the mango chunks adding an interesting complementary flavour. Filling but fresh-tasting and light, it's an ideal spring dish. The pak choi made a pretty minimal contribution and I did feel the price was a little high, but the quality of the flaky fish almost justified the mark up.
|Blackened cod fillet|
A's classic burger (£10.95), served up on a rustic wooden board, was served in a wholesome-looking sunflower seed-topped bun with a side dish of fries. Well-cooked and tasty, the addition of a hefty portion of salad may have contributed to A's 5 a day, but it also contributed to lowering the burger's temperature and made for some slightly unwieldy eating.
S chose a stonebaked margherita pizza, good value at £7.95. Topped with plenty of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, it was a well-executed version of the quintessential pizza.
The dessert menu features a number of modern British classic puddings, such as brownie and ice cream, treacle tart and Eton mess (from £4.75). We opted for a sticky toffee pudding (average, made less of an impression than the creamy vanilla ice cream it was topped with) and an Eton mess (delicious, with slightly sticky homemade meringue that was just the right side of sweet), but as the lunchtime rush had begun, we had to wait over 20 minutes for our desserts to arrive.
Located near Gloucester Green in central Oxford, The Red Lion is ideally located for a mid-shopping lunch break or a pre-drinks dinner. Opened just over a month ago, it already seems like a popular place, and with a wide-ranging menu of good quality, beautifully-presented modern dishes, I can understand why. It didn't entirely set my palate on fire, but it's definitely a welcome addition to Oxford's dining scene and a much-needed alternative to the multitude of chain Italian restaurants on George Street.
The Red Lion is at 14 Gloucester Street, Oxford. Tel: 01865 726255.