This excellent pub just re-opened its doors to the public in time for the festive season.
The relaunch of the Red Lion in Handcross follows a glorious renovation. Carly Pepperell and Lili Lowe went to review.
Get the right pub
Before we delve into the thick of it, let me give you a word of advice. Make sure you go to the right pub. I know, it sounds simple. The beauty of the ever-evolving digital landscape means you just need to type in the first line of any address on your iPhone in order to get your destination up on the maps. This is not always the best option, however…
Unbeknownst to me, there are actually two Red Lion pubs, and both equal distance from my house. So when I typed in The Red Lion, Handcross on my phone before driving off, I didn’t even think to check the postcode.
I’d parked, we’d entered the pub, and declared we had a booking at 6:30pm. Then I realised my mistake.
Definitely the wrong pub
Unless ‘press’ meant ‘quiet locals drinking pints’, we were in the wrong place. We’d already felt bewildered at the difference in venue compared to the pictures we’d seen. Then our fears were confirmed. What are the chances?
The barman cheerily told us this, and the customers laughed us back out the door. We climbed in the car and raced (legally and safely) to the correct Red Lion, where we were informed that we were by no means the first people to do that.
So yes, before setting off, maybe check the postcode.
There is ample space in the car park, and the spaces were wide. Does anyone else worry through dinner about someone hitting their car with their door? The archway entrance to the door was beautifully lit, and there was a really festive feeling about the place.
After explaining our misdemeanour to the hosts which was thankfully forgiven and laughed off, we were taken through to the bar area for a tipple before dinner. Picture a modern twist on an art deco meets country pub, and that’s what the bar was like. The fireplace was warm and inviting, the cocktail list was irresistible, and the atmosphere was lovely.
The staff were attentive and smiley, seeming genuinely happy to chat with us and provide us with recommendations and stories. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when one of us spilt our cocktail all over the freshly polished table.
Innovation and excitement
We both chose cocktails from the Christmas specials, as it seemed more fitting to enjoy a festive martini instead of something we could easily make at home, though that’s not to say we weren’t incredibly tempted by the Gin Station.
OMG THE GIN STATION!
A smorgasbord of fruits, botanicals and herbs were laid out in the most picturesque of displays, for each consumer to help themselves and create their own gin infusion.
It was the first time I’d seen something like this, and although having never thought about it before, I think it’s a valuable asset that should be instilled in most bars (though perhaps only for the start of the night, to avoid the cross-contamination between strawberries and lime slices after a few hours of drinking spirits).
Time to eat
After our cocktails, we were offered a dining experience in the ‘top’ area – nearer the entrance – or the ‘bottom’ area – which was described as quieter. We chose the latter.
With a roaring fire separating the restaurant area from the bar, we soon settled into our seats feeling warm, happy, and excited for food. The dining area felt very intimate and romantic, and I’d definitely recommend an evening here for a besotted couple.
Cosy it might be, but it was such low ambient lighting – which would occasionally flicker even dimmer every now and then. Reading the menu was something of a challenge. I don’t have 20/20 vision at the best of times, but I did wonder how someone with poorer eyesight than myself would find this.
About the food…
In terms of the food: wow. We began – of course – with Artisan Rustic Breads and Nocellara Olives. Who doesn’t love bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar?! I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of this delicacy, and actually have a definitive list of best to worst bread and olive selections I’ve had over the years. I can confidently say that the Red Lion’s was a strong contender, coming in at a close second to a restaurant I visited in Boulder, Colorado.
These nibbles were labelled as ‘While you ponder…’ on the menu, and they definitely gave me inspiration for my starter: Panko-Breaded Brie. I absolutely can not fault the brie, it was exquisite, and went perfectly with my choice of Pinot Noir. Lili had the Gourmet Soup of the Day, which was Leek and Potato served with more artisan bread. The consistency was spot on, but the portion size was perhaps a bit too big for a starter.
Great wine list
The wine went down a treat, which was also a shame; if I hadn’t been driving, I could easily have had at least a bottle to myself! I felt the warmth and body of the wine characterised the atmosphere perfectly. If you take nothing else from this review, remember this: I advise you not to drive, so you can take full advantage of the gorgeous drinks menu. I’ll leave alternative travel methods at the end.
The space in between our starter and main provided the perfect opportunity to absorb the ambience of the place. We were respectfully checked upon to ensure our satisfaction, though not in the way that’s intrusive and annoying. It felt like you never needed to ask for anything, as the lovely waitresses were on hand to supply you with whatever you needed before you even realised you needed it.
Attentive and welcoming
We were kept hydrated and comfortable, and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food. Everything had clearly been cooked to order, though we were never left too long wondering where our food was. It provided the perfect amount of time for flowing conversation while allowing the food to settle, getting our taste buds ready for the next course.
Something I couldn’t help but notice (mainly because I almost got stuck) was the size of the toilets. Gorgeously decorated though they were, the cubicles themselves were quite small. It took precise maneuvering to get myself and my bag inside the cubicle and shut the door behind me… I did genuinely wonder how someone larger than myself would navigate these loos, particularly if they were drunk and desperate to use the facilities… Of course, this didn’t affect my night, but it definitely didn’t escape my notice.
The mains were lovely, and the presentation of my battered halloumi was delightful. I absolutely loved the taste, and the chips were cooked to perfection, but I did struggle a little to finish the main due to the portion sizes.
Lili opted for the Pandana pizza, which she felt “was an amazing portion for the price with a lovely crust, but these benefits were somewhat overshadowed by how insanely sweet the chutney was. It almost felt like I was eating a dessert pizza… which, with goats cheese and rocket, was a slightly strange combination.” Despite this, she loved the pizza, and we were impressed with the freshness and quality of the ingredients in our food.
The house salad had an absolutely delectable dressing, which I honestly could have eaten on everything. I couldn’t get enough. Everyone knows that a good salad is key to assessing a restaurant; if they struggle to make a salad, what can they do? The salad was definitely worth writing home about, and even writing about it is making me create the sweet and crunchy deliciousness…
Overall, The Red Lion was a cosy and inviting place with qualities worth noting, and we would love to go back.
To visit the venue, it’s easily accessible by car, though as we said, if you want to take advantage of the drinks menu, maybe think about other means of transport…
The Red Lion
You can also get public transport, by taking a Southern Rail or Thameslink train to Haywards Heath, and then jumping on the 271 bus towards Crawley. The bus journey from Haywards Heath to the pub takes just 20 minutes. Of course, a taxi is also a great choice; again, though, make sure you give the right postcode.
Are you a foodie? Ever foraged for cocktails before?