Okay, maybe it wasn’t the lion that was roaring...maybe it was me; roaring with absolute pleasure after an amazingly Mojo experience at the Red Lion Freehouse in East Chisenbury.
As someone who is in constant pursuit of all things delicious and delectable with a healthy dose of conscious sustainability, I couldn’t have been happier to find the Red Lion. It is tucked a little ways off the beaten path in an unassuming cul-de-sac of goodness. The location is in itself perfect and enchanting. Thatched roof cottages line a small country-ish lane; dotted with climbing Rose bushes, primroses, violets and ancient oaks. Old world charm stimulated my senses and tickled my fancy. Hoping that the food would be every bit as appealing as the meandering drive, I parked and wandered inside the premises. Adorable, historical, old world combined with new world functionality and savvy; loved it! I decided to sit at the bar, although truly to call something so charming a “bar” really doesn’t describe it at all. So, let’s just say I chose to sit in the tall seats. I perused the menu, chatted with the bartender, and then dove headlong into a Red Lion love affair that continues to this day. It all started with, what is now referred to as, the cheese and pickle incident.
Being relatively new to British cuisine, I was unaware of and had never experienced the cheese and pickle phenomenon; a faux pas that the peeps at the RL were eager to help me correct. I was assured I would not be disappointed. Okay, I’m the first person to love all things cheesy, but seriously, I was a tiny bit skeptical that a cheese and pickle sandwich could really be worth all of that praise. Could it really be THAT good? The bartender chuckled in a way that was distinctively akin to “I know something you don’t know” and headed off to the kitchen.
A little bit later, my order arrived in the shape of a simple, rustic and unassuming sandwich. House baked sourdough bread; straight from Gilbert the sourdough starter (anyone who names their sourdough starter and makes it part of the family has my vote, any day!), lovely, thick slices of sharpish cheddar, and the most amazingly delicious house-made chutney I’ve ever tasted. Holy moley... my first bite was one of those moments that requires you to stop and savor.
Seriously, bite one took forever to finish because it was virtually impossible to rush past all of the nuances of flavor, texture, mouthfeel, and just downright goodness. If only all dining could be like this! You’ve had those moments, I’m sure...you’re cruising along, minding your own business and suddenly something, maybe a sunset, or the first notes of a piece of music, stops you, just stops you cold in your tracks and you have to pause and breathe it in.
Such were my first moments at the Red Lion Freehouse. It sounds crazy, I know. I mean how much love can you have for a sandwich??? But truthfully, it wasn’t just the sandwich; it was the whole entire experience and vibe. The team at the Red Lion Freehouse is committed to doing “everything the best they can”... and they do. Besides the cheese and pickle sandwich, here are the things that I fell in love with: they make as much of their menu as possible in house, they have a garden on the premises, not to mention chickens and the sweetest little piggies ever hanging out on the back hill. The rest of the ingredients they require for their ever changing menu is sourced locally as much as possible and mindfully if it can’t be local.
Truly, everyone on premises at the RL is completely enjoyable; engaging, friendly and more then happy to talk about what they’ve got going on. After I finished eating, I was encouraged to wander around the property a bit, which I did. To my extreme delight, I was able to get friendly with some of the west Berkshire piggies in the back, cluck up some chickens, and then watch the chef and his crew pick herbs and veggies from the garden as they decided what would be on the evening’s menu. I was totally in heaven.
I returned the next night to sample their dinner menu, and while there was no cheese and pickle in sight, the evening experience was a culinary joy. Stopping first to say hello to my new piggy pals, I was again reminded of the absolute beauty of small, local, and mindfully cultivated. Here I was enjoying the countryside, the beauty of nature, and the absolute harmony of being able see exactly where everything that was going to nourish me, had been nourished before it got to me, so that I in turn could continue a circle of nourishment around me. Perfection.
Breathing in the beautiful evening air, I stepped inside to continue on to my dining experience (yes, I thoroughly washed my hands first), within just a few bites I was again singing absolute praise for what this team of people had pulled together. To me fine dining is not dependent on a price tag or the current day shock and awe of molecular gastronomy; rather it is dependent on the level of craftsmanship, artistry, and even soul that the chef is willing to pour into his/her culinary endeavors. The RL is indeed fine dining.
Back to the story... So at some point during the meal, I lamented that I would be flying back to America the next day and the prospect of life without a cheese and pickle fix seemed bleak indeed. Well, say no more... how about taking a cheese and pickle sandwich on the plane? Woohoo! Yes, thank you! And so, to my absolute delight, Chef agreed to craft a cheese and pickle situation worthy of transatlantic travel. (this is where I have to admit that it didn’t actually make it on the plane.... cheese and pickle sandwiches are divine for breakfast!)
I’ve since then returned multiple times to the Red Lion Freehouse with other MojoMakers in tow. In fact, Alun and I are in agreement that the Red Lion Burger is one of the absolute best burgers on the planet. We’re always happy to make our way to the RL and partake of the seasonally changing, mindfully crafted cuisine and pleasing surroundings; and while I do consume other things from their menu, I have enough of a commitment to the cheese and pickle situation that I have earned the moniker “cheese and pickle girl”.
It could be worse. (:
If you're in the area and want to have a fabulous dining experience while also supporting sustainability, stop in at the Red Lion Freehouse and tell them the cheese and pickle girl sent you...or better yet, sign up for a Bohemian Mojo destination retreat and we'll all go enjoy the deliciousness together.