Early comments on the newly-refurbished Red Lion in Gloucester Street were generally favourable although a few minor teething problems were reported. We left it for a few weeks before taking the chance to look inside one morning. The large interior is furnished in a neutral modern style with several partly-separate seating areas which could provide accommodation for groups. We had a friendly greeting from the waitress on duty who happily gave us the menus to look at. We liked what we saw and decided to go back for a meal.
So earlier this week we arrived just before 12.30. It was quiet with only a few customers, and we chose a table by the window overlooking the street. A cheerful and friendly waiter brought menus. There is an à la carte which offers salads, burgers and pizzas as well as starters (including the now-obligatory sharing plates) and main courses, and a separate sandwich menu. Our choice though was the ‘prix fixe’ menu: two courses for £12.50 with a choice of starters, main courses and puddings. Yes puddings, not desserts. We were told this menu changes seasonally (roughly quarterly).
I’m pleased to say that the four dishes we had were all very good. Indeed J said the Caesar salad was excellent, with a light and not overpowering dressing. My soup of the day – sweet potato and coriander – had enough fresh coriander to give it a good flavour. For main courses we had pork chop, minted baby potatoes, apple, ginger & rocket salad with honey dressing (J) and chicken scallopini, sage, lemon, tomato & red onion salad with frites (me). Portions were just right, enough to enjoy without being either overfacing or leaving you wishing you’d asked for some bread to go with it.
More customers arrived as we ate and by about 1.15 the waiting staff were being kept busy. We declined a pudding (a separate menu was offerred) but had coffee which again was good quality. With a pint and a half of bitter and a bottle of San Pellegrino the bill came to £36.60 (service not included).
So all round it was a good experience. My only negative comment – which is more of a gentle nudge to the management rather than a complaint – is that we waited too long for our coffee. I notice that The Red Lion is a ‘sister’ operation to The Trout, which I’ve found does suffer from having too few staff on duty at busy times. A specific Trout problem is only having one person behind the bar trying to serve both bar customers and orders from the tables. Of the four hard-working young people on duty during our visit one was mostly behind the bar, the others were serving the restaurant. Together they were only just able to cope with the workload, especially as the eating area is quite large and there were also customers outside on the terrace. However, they were pleasant and attentive throughout and made a big contribution to establishing a lively atmosphere.
I’m sure The Red Lion will become a popular place to meet and eat in central Oxford, especially as it’s one of the few pubs that offers something other that the monotonous burgers, bangers and baguettes you find everywhere else. They normally offer ‘specials’ but none were available when we were there, apparently due to them expecting ‘a quiet day’ and so only having one chef in the kitchen.
Conclusion: Good food and atmosphere; a welcome addition to the food scene in central Oxford; go soon before it gets in all the tourist guidebooks.