The Red Lion, Odiham
Muddy's Hants ed, Mary, visits this stylish and convivial, family-friendly pub with a love of local produce.
The Red Lion feels daisy-fresh, from its interiors to its enthusiastic staff. No surprises then that, back in spring, Red Mist Leisure’s most recent venture had a facelift worthy of Joan Rivers.
You can still smell the paint and manager, Edina, has that wonderful, attention-to-detail enthusiasm that you often find in a new venue — little touches like the blankets piled by busy outdoor tables keeping drinkers warm on a sunny but chilly Saturday afternoon or the toy-boxes with my children’s names spelt on them.
This is a new breed of hostelry, an evolved version of your cool-school gastropub.
The food is equally as good, but here you can breathe, relax. It’s a bit like being in a spit-and-sawdust pub of old, except the interiors are clean and 21st Century chic, all exposed beams and teal paint.
The friendly, intelligent waiting staff know a good Rioja when they see it as well, and the food has impeccable local provenance so, on second thoughts, not that similar to Grandad’s boozer.*
It’s just that you can enjoy your 10oz Surrey sirloin steak without worrying about what brand of trainers you’re wearing. I like that. Jamie Oliver eating at its best. We were there on a packed Saturday evening, groups of thirty-something upwards friends enjoying, great food, wine and chats.
The bar was full as well, but it was never rowdy just convivial. This would be a great place to meet left-behind London friends for dinner, Odiham is just over an hour’s drive from Clapham. More on the rooms later.
*Or make that Great-Great Grandad’s boozer, pre-refurb the building was a B&B called Next Door but Red Mist Leisure commissioned a historical report and found that back in the 17th century, there was a hostelry on this spot called The Red Lion.
Red Mist Leisure is renowned for its commitment to local produce.
The meat selection says it all: Hampshire and Surrey sirloins, ‘Rushmoor Ripper’ sausage rolls from Farnham’s Tilford Brewery and local charcuterie. Both counties are represented on the cheese board as well, Tunworth brie and Norbury Park Farm’s blue respectively.
The menu itself is all about dig-in-and-eat comfort food, done very well, which frankly is how most of us want to eat these days. Head Chef, Simon Lamb, and his team should be proud.
Starters include chalk-stream smoked trout and crispy fried baby squid. There’s a good selection of deli boards, as well, which really facilitate that munch-and-giggle together atmosphere.
Other options include honey and thyme baked camembert; vegetarian mezze and a fisherman’s board.
For our mains, Mr Muddy opted for the rump and shoulder of English lamb. It was rich, autumnal, the creamy rosemary sauce bringing out the deep umami only found in great quality meat. Days on and he’s still talking about it. Ditto my chargrilled 10oz Surrey sirloin (as I said, Club Carnivore), and bonus points for the crisp chips dipped in a tarragon-mellow béarnaise sauce.
We were so very tempted by the puddings: butterscotch cheesecake, autumnal-spiced apple crumble, and that King of Comfort Treats, Sticky Toffee Pudding, but space did not allow. An excuse to return very soon though.
If you’re after something lighter, bear the deli boards in mind or the sandwich menu is served at lunchtimes, Monday to Saturday.
Local all the way. Silent Pool Gin is distilled just down the road. It’s a favourite at the bar apparently so, of course, I had to sample it, for research purposes.*
Elsewhere, a there’s chance to swat up on the English Sparkling Wine trend with Surrey-based Albury vineyard’s Classic Cuvée, plus a solid selection of locally brewed beers: Hogs Back, Rushmoor Ripper, Gold Muddler and more.
Our meaty-meal was washed down by Casa del Marques’ earthy Rioja. Spanish reds are absolutely on my radar at the moment: their cinnamon-cumin spice was made for open fires, bed-socks and plates of chorizo.
The Red Lion also serves Muddy local food producer finalists, Mozzo Coffee. Roasted in Southampton, it invests 5p per kilo of coffee sold into its own Community2Community fund, and it tastes pretty special as well. Try it when you get the chance.
Gnarled wooden beams punctuate the slick paint-work, a timely reminder that, despite the urban-chic interiors — the industrial lampshades and the wet room’s bright-white hospital tiles, you are in a Georgian town in rural Hampshire.
Back to the wet room; definitely wet room not bathroom because there are no baths here (très continental). Don’t worry, though, the huge shower-heads pump out hot water, and some. A certain Mr Muddy Hants, a.k.a the cleanest man in Odiham, was a huge fan.
Don’t worry if you have very small ones in tow, the large duravit sink is big enough to bath a baby. More on families soon.
Our room, Hunter, was directly above the bar and backed onto the main road. I’m very sensitive to sound but heard not a cough nor a splutter.
The bar was empty and silent by 11.30pm, traffic noise was minimal and in the morning I opened the large, Georgian windows to Sunday morning bells from All Saints Church across the road.
Each room has a Dualit coffee machine, ESPA goodies in the bathroom and a reasonably priced mini-bar, plus there’s a shared guest cupboard with an ironing board, board games and wine glasses (life’s essentials).
Very much so. In practical terms, the room we stayed in, Hunter, is at right angles to another double-room, Javelin. Both have private doors, but for families staying these can be left open and the heavy door in front of both rooms used instead to create a family suite (see below).
Edina’s attention to detail really comes into play here. When set-up as a children’s room, Javelin includes toy-boxes personalised with your children’s names (the team had spelt out my youngest, Lily, a lovely touch), Child’s Farm smellies (bonus points for using a toxin-free, Hampshire brand), milk bottles, straws and chockie biccies before bedtime… and finally, joy of joys, no need to tustle with a carry cot. You can ask to have one set-up for you. I checked it myself, and it’s new, solid and feels safe. You can bring your own, though, if you prefer.
We’re in buzzing Odiham here, the Stockbridge of North Hampshire. Two minutes from the M3, packed full of shops and walks: you’ll find Muddy Award Winner stickers popping up all along the high street. Have a look at Originals for jewellery, Libelula for clothes and accessories and Moutan for flowers. Muddy’s Best Farmshop, Newlyns is only a half walk away as well.
THINGS TO DO
Take your pick: The Red Lion is an easy ten minute walk from the Basingstoke Canal with its path that runs all the way to Byfleet. Choose from cycling (off-road paths like this are a rarity, and we saw plenty of families zooming along), walking, running or boating.
Canoes and row boats are for hire by the clearly signed Galleon Marine. We saw parents with young kids rowing past and even a regal looking black Lab peering from one boat’s bow. You can catch a regular cruise along the canal from March to October run by John Pinkerton Canal Cruises.
After a century of decay, the canal was restored and reopened in 1991: it’s now a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest, say that after a triple gin) and has one of the largest varieties of aquatic plants and invertebrates in the UK.
Watch out for kingfishers, damsel and dragonflies, plus a herd of menacing cows. On the other side of barbed-wire, thankfully.
To find the canal path, turn left out of The Red Lion, after the War Memorial, veer left off the High Street and down London Rd.
You’ll come to a bridge with The Water Witch pub on your left. To your right is the boat hire and a tarmaced path for cycling (you can drive down with bikes if you’d prefer, there is parking over the bridge and to your right).
To your left is a long canal-side walk which takes you to Newlyns Farmshop or after about half an hour, the ruins of Odiham Castle where the evil King John rode out to Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta.
* If gin is your thing then pop in on Wednesdays when you can work your way through choose from the terrific selection of local and national gins for £5 including a fever tree tonic.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
A new breed of hostelry: the evolved version of your cool-school gastropub. Here the food is equally as good, but you can breathe and relax.
Good for: Families, all generations are catered for, and lovers of quality, locally produced pub food, English fizz and gin. Groups of friends who appreciate great, non-stuffy food and wine, and see it as a conduit for chats and laughs. This would be the ideal venue to meet left-behind London friends for dinner, they can then stay the night and you can all meet for a walk/cycle in the morning. You are minutes from the M3, so a Sunday lunch meet-up is also do-able. Also lovers of a good leg-stretch/ bike-ride/ canoe. There is time to work-up an appetite as well, Sunday roasts are available from midday until 8.30pm with no tiresome gap, especially useful if you have young children who like to eat late-afternoon. The Red Lion also opens at 9am every day for those seeking Mozzo coffee and cake.
Not for: Those looking for sophisticated, restaurant fare or families looking for ample space for their kids to let off steam (but bear in mind that the Basingstoke Canal is only a ten minute stroll away). This is a popular pub with a busy bar so expect some background noise upstairs before closing time.
The Damage: Reasonable seeing as we’re this close to Surrey’s banker belt and such care is taken with the provenance. Very generous starters around £7/8, sharing platters average at £17 and mains around £16. There’s also a mid-week lunch and early evening set-menu: 2 courses £12.95 or 3 for £16.95.
The Red Lion, 102 High Street Odiham Hampshire RG29 1LP. 01256 701145 redlionodiham.co.uk