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Review: The Red Lion at East Chisenbury

This charming but unassuming pub hidden deep in the Salisbury Plains serves some of the best food in the county that Muddy has ever eaten. Want to find out more?

THE LOCATION

Salisbury Plains is a vast, sparsely populated area that’s played silent witness to so much anglo-saxon history (and these days, British Army training  – look out for Tanks Crossing signs on the way there). Nestled within the Plains, just off the A303 and the A345 is East Chisenbury, a small village made for classic English escapes, with pink-walled thatched cottages, locals selling eggs and jams from carts in their front gardens and of course, a pub with rooms – The Red Lion – which, given there’s no shop or café, church or school, acts as the beating heart of the hamlet.

THE VIBE

When you first arrive, The Red Lion looks as charming as any other pretty British watering hole: Thatched roof – tick. Black and white exterior – tick. Intimate pub garden – tick – and a double tick for the Union Jack bunting festooned across the front. I parked in the car park at the back and went in through the rear, past a large map of Wiltshire, which was useful as I needed to work out where I was after driving down so many country lanes in the dwindling evening light.

The well-stocked bar at The Red Lion

Once I worked out I was near the Hampshire border, only ten miles from Stonehenge and only half and hour’s drive from Salisbury,  I made my way into the welcoming main room, with its well-stocked drinks shelves and classic pub décor – Toby jugs on a top shelf, retro advertising mirrors on the walls, mismatched leather-padded chairs parked under rustic wooden tables and a local propping up the lengthy bar (who I later discovered was also the local shepherd, jam maker and egg seller). Helpful staff showed me to my table and once seated, I took a few moments to soak up the vibes. I realised then this place also has a continental influence, like a French bistro. Was it the deep burgundy and sage green colour scheme, or the empty wine bottles on the windowsill, or maybe it was discreet but attentive service?

Sometime during the evening I discovered the answer: Chef-owners, Guy and Brittany Manning, who met while working in a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York, wanted to serve fine-dining in a relaxed, unfussy atmosphere -and since an English Pub seemed the ideal setting for this, they moved to Wiltshire and bought this one. Brit-born Guy went to school in Marlborough – (he grew up in Newbury in nearby Berkshire) before working internationally in smart restaurants while Brittany, a pastry chef also with extensive experience, is from America, where English Pubs don’t properly exist.

Thus, the The Red Lion is an interpretation of their combined ideas around British hostelry mixed with influences from fine restaurants in the States and Europe. Look closely and there are framed menus from places they’ve worked at or where they’ve eaten, like Per Se in New York, where they met. There are also photos of famous chefs on the walls of the guest house, a short walk down the road in a separate building called The Troutbeck. It’s well worth booking one of these five rooms because not only is the river view spectacular, but you really will want to taste the wines they pair with the food – and if so, driving home is a no-no!

SCOFF & QUAFF

Cerviche of Orkney scallops with peas, mint, jalapenos and lime dressing

You can’t talk about The Red Lion without absolutely raving about the food & drink. One foodie Insta influencer described it as a “secret gem” but it really shouldn’t be buried treasure. Fresh and flavoursome, this is top-quality restaurant feasting at its lip-smacking best, plus the informal setting means you can really relax and enjoy it.

There are two menus – an A La Carte and a Tasting Menu (a fixed price menu of five smaller sized dishes chosen from the main selection) and both are delicious. Dishes change slightly each day according to which local, seasonal ingredients are available, or what produce is ready from their vegetable garden out the back, and are printed on quality paper. In contrast the drinks menu is a hefty tome, bound with a leather cover and looking like Harry Potter’s Spellbook.

It certainly contains magic – to start, you might want to order one of the in-house cocktails – ask the staff for their recommendations and make sure you try something with one of their homemade cordials- they forage as much as possible from around the village and had just completed an elderflower harvest when I was there. Or take advantage of their suggested wine pairings on the menu which are all excellent.

Definitely opt for the wine pairing suggestions

I ordered from the A La Carte, although lucky for me, the kitchen also sent out some other tasting-menu-sized dishes to try, like the gazpacho. Now, I usually avoid cold tomato soup like Covid, but this was a revelation: creamy, tomatoey, with a hint of heat from chilli and mellowed by cumin and toasted pine kernels. A basket of bread appeared – homemade under Brittany’s careful eye and designed to delight – mine contained slices of Sourdough and Rye and Sunflower and Sesame.

My main starter was Cerviche of Orkney scallops with peas, mint, jalapenos and lime dressing (if the Red Lion can’t source an ingredient locally, like scallops, it picks the best suppliers they can).

Daintily presented, I practically inhaled this as I couldn’t get enough of the clean, fresh flavours, the lime was a triumph. I plumped for the vino pairing on the menu – a glass of Alter, Riberio Blanco, Galicia which pretty much made me realise that I’ve been living in a supermarket wine wasteland up to now, such was the difference in taste.

Next came the main: Roast Brill with garden potatoes (literally), asparagus, salty fingers (seaweed), brown shrimp & sauce Americaine, below.

Again the depth of flavours and quality of the ingredients made me feel like I was judging Masterchef: The Professionals – I must have been very good in a previous life to get to eat there. The wine recommendation – Macon-Burgy “Les 3 Terroirs”, Oliver Fichet, Burgundy was perfect. Plus the actual glasses were very high quality – you can always tell how seriously foodie a place is from its glassware – a £3 bundle from B&M just isn’t going to cut it.

I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat anymore, but in service to Muddy Wilts readers, I ploughed on with the hardship of tasting both the Gooseberry sorbet with black sesame tuille and the Poached apricot millefeuille, with puff pastry made in-house, each layer a melty-mouth joy.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t stay for coffee or liqueurs although that is very much an option. I instead wondered the short walk down to my room where I gazed at the starry sky from the river terrace before collapsing into the super-soft bed for one of the best night’s sleep ever.

PILLOW TALK

At first I thought it strange that the rooms were separate from the pub but after such a blissful night I thought it was a stroke of genius as you can’t be woken by kitchen or cleaning sounds. Guy and Brittany have converted a former bungalow into five extremely high spec rooms, with river view balconies, Bang and Olufsen entertainment systems, Asian antique furniture, Nespresso machines, fresh milk and homemade cannelli instead of plastic-wrapped mini Biscoff.

Brittany’s American hospitality percolates the place – for instance she’s written the informative guest book with a warm and personal tone, drawing attention to so many details not usually typical of English B&Bs, like the bed, which is the ultimate Princess and the Pea experience. Handmade in Yorkshire by Somnus it’s on my Lotto-winners’ shopping list. The linen is of course, Egyptian cotton, fragrantly freshly-laundered.

Breakfast is served back at the pub, but not until 9am (checkout is at 11), so being an early riser I made myself an Nespresso, scoffed the cannelli and headed for a stroll around the village, past the Shire-style cottages, locals walking their dogs and Hollyhocked-gardens. If there hadn’t been a midnight downpour I might have sat on the terrace to read too.

As soon as it was time to eat I was back at my table and served a reviving breakfast of Eggs Benedict with homemade muffins and a cup of coffee from Bristol roastery, Wogan. If I hadn’t been driving I would have also imbibed a Bloody Mary or Bucks Fizz – all the ingredients for these are laid out on the bar for guests to help themselves. Of course you could also have a full English or homemade granola or even homemade Danish pastries too. But then you might need to call a crane to winch you out.

ANYTHING ELSE?

There’s an opulently decorated private dining room upstairs with an open kitchen attached perfect for hen dos, birthdays and all kinds of private dining experiences. Outside there’s a secluded pub garden and the rooms all have relaxing river views.

The view from my terrace at The Troutbeck Guest House

It’s also very friendly to locals, who supply ingredients like eggs and jams (which you can buy direct from their gardens to take home). There are regular drinks evenings for locals at the bar too, especially as many are newly moved down from London as a result of the pandemic.

OUT AND ABOUT

A stay at the Red Lion is perfect for a Wilts staycation as it’s under two hours from London: an hour from Paddington to nearest town Pewsey or around an hour and a half by car along the M4. Once here you are a 20 minute drive from Stonehenge and Avebury, half an hour from Salisbury and all its cathedral and cool indie shops or you could book any number of country sports nearby from trout fishing to golf, gliding and parachuting. Then there are numerous walks starting at the Red Lion itself – they can give you maps and info so you’ll be back in time for tea!

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Foodies, lovers and those looking for some deeply relaxing time. Although it’s on the expensive side, it’s worth every penny. Make sure you make time to really enjoy this properly – turn your phone off, make sure the kids/dog is being looked after and treat yourself to at least one day and night of bliss. Although if you do bring the pooch, they are welcome.

Not for: Non-drivers. Although you’ll want to stay over so you can enjoy the wine, if you are planning on using this as a base to explore Wiltshire, you’ll definitely need a car. Neither are the rooms super-quiet: While the double-glazing is excellent, you can hear the A345 from your riverside terrace when the door is open which is a good and bad thing. It means it’s not pindrop-still but also means you don’t feel cut off from the rest of the world. Also it’s not open on Sundays, so not good for finding a Sunday Roast (sob).

The damage: This is definitely treat-territory but oh so worth it. The Tasting Menu (5 courses) is £60 per head while main courses on the A La Carte menu average £30. Rooms start from £195. Follow their social for special offers.

The Red Lion, East Chisenbury, Pewsey SN9 6AQ. Tel: 01980 671124

2 comments on “Review: The Red Lion at East Chisenbury”

  • Joanna July 7, 2022

    Love the Red Lion since it opened.
    We take turns to drive!
    Also dog friendly so a walk before (or after to allow the driver one drink) can allow a whole day without rushing back. One day the pub dog came along with us.

    Reply
    • cathrapley July 7, 2022

      It’s so amazing! Nice to see a regular reads us, thanks for your comment

      Reply

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