This article first appeared online at LDN Card. All words are my own.
Thanks to the rise of the gastropub, 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 paneling painted a light grey which opens up the Edwardian building while 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 gives this place that little ‘je ne sais quoi’.
To start we shared 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. 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 did not disappoint. Not normally one to share, the steak and chips looked too good not to bargain with and was quickly confirmed across the table as the best steak anyone had ever eaten. 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. The real star of the show, however, was the braised ox cheeks in red wine served with spring onion mash and stem broccoli. Delicious, tender meat, falling apart in a rich sauce and creamy mash. This really is heaven on a plate.
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, while the chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and ice cream floored us in sticky, gooey deliciousness.
You may notice a lack of food-based photos and this has something to be said for how good it was. Any feigned attempts at professionalism were quickly scuppered as soon as our plates arrived, the camera quickly forgotten about as all thoughts were consumed in devouring what was in front of us. And 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.
The Red Lion & Sun, 25 North Rd, Highgate, N6 4BE