Day 4 was a special sort of day; breakfast was ordinary – scrambled eggs, gammon, avocado and roasted cherry tomato. It wasn’t until lunch where things got really interesting; on our drive down to Devon we decided to stop for lunch, but without much idea where we might be able to find decent food; thank god for google! I googled “restaurants off the A303” and read through a bunch of recommendations on the Pistonheads website – a car enthusiasts website may be a strange place to read restaurant recommendations but it was perhaps the one site with the most suggestions. Having read through and found something not too far off the beaten track, I promptly typed the pub name into google. When one types in ‘Red Lion Freehouse, East Chisenbury,‘ not knowing what to expect, it is always a nice surprise when the second page from the top on google search results is a stellar review of the place from Jay Rayner (he seems to be featuring quite heavily in my posts this week).
The Red Lion Freehouse is a quaint gastropub, certainly; but the couple who own and run it are not what you might expect. Guy and Brittany Manning hail from the old school of fine dining restaurants, having both been through the kitchens of Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian and Per Se in New York; two of the worlds finest eateries and exceptional training grounds for any chef. The pair moved over to the UK to open their country pub quite a few years back, and since then they have been building notoriety in all the right circles, with a legion of locals who have helped them along the way, and support from the guys over at The Good Food Guide who have showed their support from the start, this small country pub has won critical acclaim and even a Michelin Star; a fact I found out only after we had eaten there. Not that it would have made a difference, the fact remains that the food here is impeccable, the service friendly and the place itself genuinely warm and welcoming in the way very few country pubs manage to be.
I digress; the food, that’s what this is about. The starter of Fennel cured salmon was served amidst a perfectly laid out garden of baby beetroot, fennel shavings and wafer thin crisps, and along the side of the plate was a single thin slice of creamy horseradish topped with a hazelnut crumb; immaculately presented in every way, perfectly balanced and delicate – quite simply, bloody delicious. As a main we both ate roast Cornish hake served with River Fowey mussels, grapefruit, gem lettuce and a chive beurre blanc. The three new potatoes on the plate were of course not something I was able to eat, nor was the sauce or horseradish, but aside from my bizarre dietary restriction, the entire meal was Whole 30 friendly and absolutely jaw-dropping. I am a bit of a fish fanatic, and anything that tastes that good should be illegal. I don’t care who you are, this is a dish not to be missed; it’s going on my list of recipes to try and recreate at home, immediately.
As much as it pained me not to try one of the incredible desserts on the menu, I resisted; I even resisted the warm, freshly baked bread which sat in the middle of the table, although not for long. I was informed by my companion that the bread was fantastic, although I’m not sure this was something I needed to be told having watched him devour all four slices in just as many minutes. It has to be said then, this was no ordinary Wednesday afternoon lunch; it was something incredibly special and one of the nicest surprises I’ve had in a very long time. I recommend it, particularly if you happen to be in the vicinity, or driving down the A303 at any time.
Dinner was not worth much of a mention after that; Salmon, mixed veg – basically more fish, thrown on a plate with some green stuff, incomparable to my lunch to be honest but still nice.
The Red Lion Free House | East Chisenbury, Pewsey, Wiltshire | 01980 671 124 | www.redlionfreehouse.com