Advertisement Feature: Grown Up Dining
An innovative fusion of flavours in a delightfully rustic setting makes for a winning combination when Louise Cummings enjoys a rare child-free dinner at The Red Lion Inn at Hinxton
Let me start with a disclaimer; parenthood is a joy. There’s so much to love and cherish, from their adorable squidgy baby faces and heart-melting giggles to their unbridled joy at the simplest of things, and their all-encompassing hugs. However, dining with little ones is a whole different ballgame. Humour my rose-tinted specs, but I recall that pre-babies, our social life was a whirl of decadent dinners; Thai banquets, Mexican feasts, even the odd Michelin-starred affair if feeling flush. Fast forward, and today mealtimes are strictly about satisfying the needs of our 3 and 2-year-old daughters. Serve up their dinner 10 minutes late and we endure the wrath of two ‘hangry’, red-faced, tearful tots. So, once their appetite is satiated, husband Kev and I end up eating our dinner - plates perched precariously on our knees - in front of re-runs of Peppa Pig (sigh) while our little darlings clamber up our legs, risking sending an avalanche of flaccid veg tumbling to the floor! Supernanny would not approve.
So, you can imagine my delight at the thought of escaping for a child-free meal with Kev. The girls bathed and in bed, we gladly handed over the reins to Granny and Grandad, crept out of the house with ninja-like stealth, and raced down the M11 to Hinxton.
Our dining choice was the multi-award winning Red Lion Inn, a privately-owned freehouse pub restaurant, housed in a gorgeous grade II listed building, in the heart of the quaint conservation village. A pretty pink hue on the outside, and a charming mix of exposed beams, roaring log fires and cosy Chesterfield sofas on the inside, the Red Lion oozes character. Diners can eat in the bar area, featuring cosy nooks, ideal for those wanting a more private tete-a-tete, then there’s the rustic L-shaped restaurant, with its lofty ceiling, dry-pegged oak rafters (and a couple of hungry-looking gazelles!).
Wandering through the bar, past a vase of cheery sunflowers, we were shown to our table.
Seated on a high back settle, we were given time to peruse the menu – which features a la carte choices alongside classic pub dishes such as beer battered fish and beef and ale pie.
We spent some time perusing the extensive wine list, featuring more than 50 wines, supplied by Suffolk’s Adnams Wine and Matthew Clark. I settled upon the Forrest Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a fruity number with tropical flavours, whilst Kev savoured a large glass of smooth-as-silk Pinot Noir, from the same New Zealand vineyard.
As our starters arrived, it became clear how talented head chef Jiri Wolker is at creating amazing flavour fusions, mixing ingredients that wouldn’t ordinarily co-exist on the same plate.
The star dish was the crispy chilli pork belly, with compressed watermelon salad and toasted sesame seeds. The pork was scrumptiously rich, without being oily, the fresh crimson cubes offsetting the saltiness of the meaty strips, and a soy and ginger dressing adding a spicy kick.
Both seafood lovers, we shared the oven baked scallops, baby leeks, chervil, red onion and lemon butter, another perfect marriage of flavour. Normally fans of pan-fried scallops, we weren’t sure how they’d taste baked. But the fat juicy morsels were gloriously soft, buttery and moreish, the crispy onion and baby leeks adding texture and flavour.
Our mains were a carnivorous extravaganza; my 28-day aged rib-eye steak was perfectly tender and pink, topped with a spicy chimichurri dressing, and served alongside a tasty Caesar salad and double cooked chips. Again, it wasn’t a combination I was used to (peppercorn sauce is my default setting for steak) but what a mouth-watering fusion!
Kev’s garlic and rosemary rump of lamb, and Pommes Anna (French-style layered potato) in a sweet, silky redcurrant jus was a taste triumph (I did have slight food envy) and simply melted-in-the-mouth.
Thankfully I’d left space for dessert as the blueberry cheesecake was heaven on a plate. With THE perfect buttery biscuit base (Greg Wallace would be in raptures!), which crunched agreeably as I sunk my fork in, it was topped with a voluminous cloud of cream and loaded with blueberry compote. It was quite possibly the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve tasted many!)
Seduced by the fromage, Kev asked the chef for the ‘three stinkiest cheeses’. Not quite how I’d have phrased it (!), but the delicious result was a platter of DovedaleBlue, Lyburn Old Winchester and Merry Wyfe, accompanied by an array of biscuits, celery sticks and juicy grapes. The tangy trio were agreeably potent on the palate, and Kev polished off the lot!
Our plates cleared, we drained the last dregs of wine from our glasses and headed home to our sleeping beauties, grateful to have experienced a grand grown-up feast, with not a Peppa Pig in sight! Well, apart from on our starter plate. . .shhh!
The Red Lion Inn is at Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, CB10 1QY. Call (01799) 530601 or visit redlionhinxton.co.uk