The Red Lion, Ealing (or the best Beef and Guinness Pie I've ever tasted)

Posted on 8 September 2002 in (No comments)

I moved to Ealing, West London in the Autumn of 1999 after spending all my live in the north of England. For most of that time I've been a regular at The Red Lion.

I can't for the life of me remember when I first went in there, but it was probably something like November. I remember sitting in to this little pub situated moments away from the Ealing Studios, surrounded by signed photos of the stars of stage and screen from Britain.

I fell in love instantly. It was a small cosy pub. Okay the three bar electric fire in the fireplace looked very dodgy, the 1970s television set stood silent on a bracket on the wall (even when the TV was turned on, the sound was always off). The wallpaper was peeling, and the pictures crooked (I never understood why no one ever put them straight!) but it had a friendly atmosphere where people of all ages mixed and felt comfortable. And the Fullers ales were fantastic.

Over time the manager left, to be replaced by another - a friendly bloke called Jason, but the brewery seemed remarkably uninterested in their little enclave. Much money had obviously been pumped into the refurbishment of two nearby Fullers pubs, but the Red Lion seemed stuck in a 1970s timewarp, loved by its regulars and staff, but left alone.

All Change!

And so it would have continued had it not been for Fullers deciding that the Red Lion should switch from being a managed pub, to a tennanted one.

Overnight the staff disappeared, taking the tills and a rather manky coffee machine with them. Jason went off to manage another Ealing pub, The Wheatsheaf, and the new landlords arrived.

The food stopped, but the beer was still great. The atmosphere changed slightly, but it soon slipped back into its old routine.

In May 2002 we went one Saturday with my parents. Hoping to show them the wonderful beer garden, it was with dismay we found it was closed. "We're doing some building work." Oh. Right...

Next time we went, the Red Lion was shut. We peered into the gloomy pub from the front door to see some breezeblocks... Over the next few weeks we kept going back, peering in, seeing little. Whatever was going on, it was big.

After spending a few weeks in the wilderness (Ealing town centre is sadly full of chain pubs with little to distinguish them from each other) we finally got back in. What a transformation. The front pub area was left intact, bar a paint job, new lights and the seats being reupholstered. In the back, a extension replacing the old toilets and storerooms - with extra film photos, presumably raided from the archives of the Ealing Studios, posters and more. Nice and very inkeeping with the character of the pub. Plus the kitchen had been extended...

Yummy yummy!

In the 'old' Lion, the food made no pretence. The kitchen facilities seemed to consist of a grill and several deep fat friers. It it was frozen and could be fried, it was sold. It was basic, it was piled high, it tasted quite good and it was cheap. If you wanted a burger or scampi and chips you were away. Hardly the most imaginative cuisine, but the salad accompaniment did include red onion and sweetcorn.

The new look menu was no longer cheap, but it certainly wasn't basic. It didn't take long to find out that this was food as it should be. No microwavable meals here - freshly prepared food, prepared on the premises.

Good food is hard to find these days - most pubs and many restaurants have got lazy. Plastic food, for a pastic generation. How many pub lasanges are anything other than a frozen meal made in a factory, defrosted and shoved in the microwave, before being shoved in front of you with some sad looking salad and some chips?

Not at the Red Lion. In the following weeks I tasted with delight the Cod Herb Crust, the divine steaks (just cooked so well) and a wonderful honey glazed chicken. Without tonnes of sad looking 'garnish' to fill the plate, some meals looked so little, but the portions were always just right, and the combinations worked perfectly.

The menu changed daily, although often recipies would be changed by using different ingrediants. The Cod Herb Crust also appeared using Haddock, and a pasta with wild mushroom sauce was done on one occassion with just lots of mushrooms, another with green beans, and a third with ham.

The average main course may cost about £9, but I quickly came to the conclusion that if you want decent food, you pay a decent price. If you want plastic food, you pay the plastic price. I stuck with the decent.

The Pie.

As well as being regular drinkers, we became regular eaters. I just can't get enough of that food. However on Saturday, 7 September 2002, the team at the Red Lion really excelled themselves.

Beef and Guinness Puff Pastry Pie was on the menu. In most pubs this will get you some bland beef in a murky black gravey with a ridiculously oversized rectangle of puff pastry sitting on top. Not a particularly pleasent experience.

Having had bad experiences in the past, I approached it with caution, but decided, what the heckers. They hadn't let me down so far.

My fears were unfounded. This was without a doubt the best Beef and Guinness pie I had ever had. For starters I could actually taste the Guinness! Sounds simple, but it was the first time that had ever happened. And the gravy wasn't black.

Important point. For whilst most of the pint is black, the head is white, which when mixed, gives grey...

With each bite of beef, carrot or potato, came a different taste. One minute the bitterness of the stout, next the creamyness, a third a blast of pepper. It was a taste sensation. Even the puff pastry was nice and crisp, not greasy like it so often is. In short, it was a masterpiece.

Upon passing on my praise after the meal, I found out it was the first night they'd put it on the menu. I can only hope it isn't the last time it is there.

Great Food for a Great Pub.

Some people would say that food belongs in restaurants, and beer in pubs. I wouldn't agree. I like a nice pint of real ale and some fantastic food whilst I eat, and sometimes I like eating in a nice relaxed atmosphere of a nice pub.

The problem is, few pubs have great food. Thankfully I know a few, and after the Red Lion reopened, it quickly made it on to the list. Its food has never let me down - true I've liked some of it better than others, but I've never had a bad meal in the three months since the refurbishment.

Indeed the only problem with the Red Lion is its location. One day I'll end up moving from Ealing I'm sure, and then me and the Lion will have to go our seperate ways. It won't be for a few years thankfully, and I hope to be enjoying their fantastic food and beer for a few more years to come.

The Red Lion is on St Mary's Road, Ealing, London W5 and open all normal pub hours. Food is served 12-2:30 and 7-9:30 Monday to Saturday, and 12-5 on Sunday. Go there! Now!

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