Restaurant Review: The Red Lion, Leytonstone

The latest opening from the prolific Antic pub group, The Red Lion in Leytonstone, once an old fashioned East End boozer, is now a modern pub-cum-restaurant-cum-hotel. But can it deliver on all fronts? Paloma Lacy takes a look…

East End boozers are firmly entrenched in London folklore, with tales of their bygone allure, attracting a cross section of society, including celebrities of the day and those operating on the wrong side of the law. Few remain in that mould, and the nearest most of us come to them is weekly visits to Albert Square, as voyeurs through the EastEnders’ lens.

A recent visit to the Red Lion in Leytonstone was the closest I’m ever likely to come to having a drink in the Queen Vic, something I’ve always quite fancied. Imagine my delight when, settled into a corner table, quietly perusing the menu, I spied two familiar-looking pates: a couple of middle-aged balding men, who could’ve easily passed for brothers, sat just to my right. All that was needed was a blonde pocket rocket landlady of a certain age, demanding loudly that unwelcome guests should ‘get outta my pub’!

In reality, this great dame of a building has been through a good many guises since its heyday as an old fashioned East End boozer. Today, every effort has been made to retain the character of the building, with the popular décor style of exposed plaster and brickwork used to great effect.

What some might call unfinished, I see differently and loved it, preferring instead to regard it as a window into the past. The building remains grand, constructed properly, and has clearly stood the test of time.

The Red Lion exists with three purposes in mind: to feed and water via the pub, entertain in the ballroom, and as a place for people to rest their weary heads, in the upstairs hotel.

Recently refurbished bedrooms – styled with a focus on vintage glamour, encorporating beautiful wallpapers and luxurious fabrics to create a cosy and relaxing ambience – only adds to the character. Rooms start from £109 for a standard double.

While first and foremost a pub, this one, like so many, feels more like a restaurant on a busy Friday night. Yes, there is an expansive bar, but people approach to buy drinks and then disappear off to tables. Has the day of the bar fly well and truly disappeared? I suspect so, at least at weekends when it’s ham packed.

‘Local boy Damon Albarn of Blur fame rocked up and rocked out Park Life in 2014’

A late licence pub, after work drinks can quickly turn into dinner, a few more libations and then upstairs to the ballroom. No stranger to top class live acts, local boy Damon Albarn of Blur fame rocked up and rocked out Park Life in 2014.

My Friday night visit began early, at 6.30pm, by which time the atmosphere was buzzing and there was a real party vibe for those interested. For me, not so much, with the prospect of an hour-long tube journey ahead, back to south London.

There for dinner, we waited patiently as the kitchen battled with a full house. The wait, while not overly long, was absolutely worth it. Mindful of not consuming a day’s worth of calories by the time I’d put my fork down from the starter, padron peppers caught my attention. I just love the salty tart-yet-sweet flavours and that charred skin.

Other starters enjoyed at the table showed an attention to detail, a bid to mark its menu out as different when compared with the competition. These included globe artichoke tart with griddled courgettes and roasted cherry tomatoes, and rabbit terrine with plum chutney, cornichons and toasted sourdough.

It would be fair to say, though, that the mains were more noteworthy than the starters. In particular, vegetarian sausage and mash, savoy cabbage and onion gravy was out of this world, with a rather pleasing price point. I’m not a vegetarian, but a fan of the food, and these were quite simply the best veggie bangers I’ve eaten – big, bold and juicy.

‘The vegetarian sausage and mash was out of this world – quite simply the best veggie bangers I’ve eaten’

Hackney battered haddock, chips, minted mushy peas, and tartare sauce were just too inviting a prospect for two of my party to turn down, and was an excellent example of our national dish. I was remiss in failing to ask what the description actually meant, but taking a wild guess, I imagine the beer used in the batter hails from this east London suburb. Slow cooked lamb ragu, served with rigatoni, and Parmesan also made its way to the table and was gratefully received, a welcoming hearty dish on a cold winter’s evening.

Dessert was a sharing affair because it was time to leave the hip young things to it. On my side of the table, chocolate pot, rosemary biscuits, candied orange peel, and on the other side – upside-down pineapple cake, butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice-cream.

The Red Lion’s menu is, as often the case from the Antic stable of pubs, innovative, well executed and above all, far better than pub grub is usually. Will I be back? You bet I will. Next up for me is the Sunday roast.

640 High Road Leytonstone E11 3AA;