Restaurant Review: The Red Lion and Sun
Thanks to the rise of the gastro pub it's not uncommon to find a pub that serves decent food. It's not particularly rare to find a restaurant that serves a good ale either. So what is it that makes The Red Lion and Sun so special? Maybe it's the fact they have not one but two beer gardens or that they offer "the best roast in North London" (Time Out) as a takeaway option but, pub or restaurant, make of it what you like because it's got the charm to win over any seasoned foodie or serial boozer.
With many a man and his dog taking residence at the rounded bar, The Red Lion and Sun is clearly a pub for locals but don't be afraid to turn up unannounced - they're a friendly bunch with enough room to cater for the whole of Highgate's superior tastes. In fact with their own collection of resident pups and doggie 'regulars' they're well-prepared for any muddy visitor stumbling in off nearby Hampstead Heath.
We visited on a busy Saturday evening and claimed our table for six in the corner of the restaurant, grateful to have booked as it really did seem that the whole village had turned up for the night. Twinkling fairy lights and open fires are immediately inviting, the traditional wood panelling painted a light grey which really opens up the Edwardian building whilst maintaining the character and intimacy of the original build.
The menu is similar in style, classic British dishes with a sophisticated twist courtesy of a head chef who originates from Bourges in central France. All ingredients are locally sourced with meat supplied from Highgate's village butchers - and it's the meat that truly gives this place that little 'je ne sais quoi'.
To start we ordered pan-fried baby squid stuffed with chorizo, feta cheese and parsley, smoked chicken croquettes with avocado and tomato salsa and Jersey rock-oysters with Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar and shallot dressing to share. The squid and chicken arrived in two small pieces, exquisite in taste but somewhat disappointing in size. The oysters were more impressive, six irresistible mouthfuls of the sea so fresh and clean it's only a shame we didn't quite have the knack to knock them back as elegantly as they deserved.
Feeling somewhat teased by the quality of the food, it was a good job our mains arrived not long after and they definitely did not disappoint. Not normally one to share, the steak and chips looked too good not to bargain with and was confirmed across the table as the best steak anyone had ever eaten. To be honest I wouldn't even say I like steak at all but thick, juicy and succulent - at The Red Lion and Sun steak is something else altogether.
I am told the pan-fried sea bass fillets with broad beans, peas and basil oil was beautifully light and the chicken and crayfish pie was demolished before anyone else really got the chance to stick their forks in. Perhaps I am somewhat biased but the star of the show was my own order: braised ox cheeks in red wine served with spring onion mash and stem broccoli. The tender meat literally collapsed under my fork with a rich sauce and creamy mash that was just heaven on a plate - the recipients of my steak-exchange equally impressed.
Well-sized and well-presented we cleaned up our main courses with just enough room to squeeze in some dessert. Indulgent and creamy, the salted caramel and chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream helped soften the blow of such a heavy meal whilst the chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and ice cream floored us in sticky, gooey deliciousness.
You may notice a lack of my own photos and this has something to be said for how good the food was. Any feigned attempts at professionalism were quickly scuppered as soon as the food arrived, the camera quickly forgotten about as all thoughts were consumed in devouring what was in front of us.
However, it would have been a shame to reduce the quality of the food to a sly picture on an iPhone and luckily this isn't really the place for pretensions. With word of a hog roast starting in spring and as many whiskies as wines on the menu, there's no question I'll be back before long and demonstrating just as little self-control.
Location: North Road, Highgate, N6
Price: Around £30pp for three courses
Top Tip: Save eating here with your carnivore friends