The Red Lion at Hellidon
Over the years I have completed many long distance walks across Northamptonshire, my home county. One of my favourites is a path called the Jurassic Way which starts in Banbury, Oxfordshire before crossing the county onwards to Stamford in Lincolnshire. Walkers pass through many beautiful villages, characterised by the stone built cottages & buildings made from the local ironstone & limestone. One such place is the picturesque village of Hellidon located about five miles south-west of Daventry, just south of the A425, Daventry to Southam road.
From the hill directly overlooking the village walkers drop gently down past an old windmill and get their first glimpse of The Red Lion. What a sight it is for tired, thirsty walkers ready to pull off their boots and enjoy some well-deserved refreshments and much needed food. You don’t need to be on foot to visit The Red Lion because it also has a very large car park! Dogs are also very welcome at The Red Lion too!
The Red Lion has been given an impressive looking makeover having been renovated & refurbished since being put into the care of Free Spirit Pubs, so I was looking forward to seeing how it had changed since the last time I had visited. My wife & I entered the pub through the front door passing through a delightful wooden porch & outdoor seating area. There is another entrance at the side of the pub which has direct access from the car park. What struck me at once was how bright, fresh & clean the interior looked. Modern Pastel matt greys & blues dominate the colour scheme throughout, and the quality of the soft furnishings was excellent. Fine upholstered armchairs, smart wooden coffee tables, tartan style carpets, bay window seats with large fluffy cushions and long wooden dining tables with upstanding smart dining chairs. The walls were also covered with a whole host of original art work produced by local artists, all for sale!
Having checked in at the bar we were taken to our table at once by one of the young polite & friendly staff members. There are some alfresco tables out front so diners can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine after letting the bar staff know their table number. We chose to sit inside as the interior dining spaces were very comfortable and welcoming. The sun flickered in through the open windows and a cool breeze blew lightly across the room. If you are looking to eat, The Red Lion has a clear focus on home-cooked food using quality, locally-sourced ingredients so whether you are looking for fine dining or traditional pub classics, The Red Lion is sure to have something on their menu to satisfy your appetite whatever the season, whatever the occasion. All of their food is freshly prepared on site daily.
The table service was excellent, attentive yet not obtrusive. Our young table server was happy & able to answer questions about the menu and to engage in more general conversation about the other four pubs in the Free Spirit family. It was quite early in the evening and very warm, so the restaurant area of the pub was quiet as most diners that evening had chosen to sit outside. The speed of the table service was excellent, we didn’t have to wait too long between courses at all but we never once felt hurried.
There is a large function room, the Billiard Room, at the rear of the Red Lion which on the evening I visited was set up for a special celebration party. This room is an ideal space for that special occasion as it is of a good size and can be accessed separately from the rear garden and side entrances to the pub. A perfect space for private parties, weddings or other special occasions.
The Red Lion offered a wide range of starters, everything from Olives & Bread , Chef`s Soup, Trout Terrine, Buffalo Chicken Wings or the traditional Melon & Parma Ham. My wife & I opted for the following appetizers which were both perfectly prepared & presented to table.
- Pan fried Scallops, Cauliflower, Pancetta & Curry Oil
- Red Lion Tempura Prawns, Spicy Chilli Mayonnaise, Charred Pineapple & Endive
We considered the Sharing Meat Board consisting of Chicken Wings, Cured Meats, Scotch Eggs, Bread & Olives because it offered a tempting array of dishes & looked to be extremely good value for money but we finally opted for the Duck Leg & Pork Medallions despite there being an alternative choice of two fish dishes, Crayfish Linguine & Pan Fried Sea Bass or a Mushroom Risotto.
- Confit Duck Leg, House Fries, Sticky Cabbage with a Red Wine Jus
- Pork Medallions, Creamy Mushroom & Madeira Sauce & Wilted Greens, House Fries – The pork medallions were very tender & soft. The small pot of creamy mushroom sauce was the perfect dip for the pork & thinly cut pot of fries. I loved the wilted greens, leeks!
There was also a tempting dessert menu which we could not resist because we both have a sweet tooth. We had a choice of six delicious desserts which included the Chef’s Mango Cheesecake, Vanilla Pannacotta, British Cheeseboard or a selection of Local Ice Cream & Sorbets. I had never come across a Portuguese Molotof Pudding before, so I was very keen to try it. My wife went for the chocolate option and said that she was very happy with her choice! It certainly looked incredible!
- Amaretto & Chocolate Torte, Orange Crème Fraiche, Lime Jelly
- Molotov Portuguese Pudding – It is a Portuguese dessert also known as Molotof Flan or Pudding, Egg White Pudding, Cloud Cake, or Egg White Cake. It is a meringue-based dessert lined with caramel syrup baked in a water bath. It was very airy & light, a lot softer than I expected but I simply loved it! My new favourite pudding!
Wine – San Juan – Para Dos Malbec Argentina – 2021
A smooth and ripely fruity, a spicy, lightly oaked Malbec from Argentina’s high San Juan region. The Malbec went down very well with the Duck & Pork. An excellent choice of House wine recommended by our table waiters.
Cappuccino – A cappuccino is an espresso-based coffee drink that rather surprisingly originated in Austria with some later developments taking place in Italy, and is prepared with steamed milk. Perfect!
Hook Norton Best Bitter – Hooky – 3.5% ABV – A local ale from the village of Hook Norton, Oxfordshire. A subtly balanced, amber bitter, hoppy to the nose, malty on the palate – the classic session beer, eminently drinkable. One of my all time favourite draught ales.
The Red Lion is a very pleasant pub in which to stop for a meal with friends, organise a special occasion or simply drop in for a couple of beers or other refreshments. The refurbishment has turned what was a perfectly acceptable country village pub into a very special village pub offering exceptional food, drink and professional service in very comfortable surroundings in a beautiful country setting.
Whilst enjoying my meal I noticed several people coming in from the village, not only to eat but to sit and enjoy a drink, read the newspaper or chat with friends. The Red Lion is still very much a local for the community as well as the visitors who travel many miles to enjoy its excellent food & drink.
For fabulous food, friendly service, and quality ales, in a local friendly village pub, The Red Lion is a smart choice. I liked The Red Lion, and the staff were brilliant! I urge you to check out The Red Lion at the earliest opportunity. You will not be disappointed!
Did you Know?
Sophie Grigson, English chef, TV presenter, food author at one time lived in Hellidon with her two children Florence and Sidney and former husband, seafood expert William Black. They moved to the village from London. “I still love waking up in the morning to trees, peace and quiet,” she said at the time. Her mother was the equally famous culinary chef & food writer Jane Grigson. In 2019 Sophie moved to Puglia, Italy
The Red Lion is a beautiful village pub with six letting rooms. With Daventry, Banbury and Rugby all within close proximity, this cosy country kitchen is perfectly situated if you want to relax and unwind.
There were several vineyards in the area; one of these was the Windmill Vineyard, with the vines planted around the windmill, the building which can be seen with a silver cap overlooking the village and pub! The windmill, a grade two listed building, was built in the late 18th or early 19th century but by 1973 it had become derelict before being used by the vineyard.
Three major rivers have their sources nearby: the Leam which rises from Leam House on the eastern edge of the village before flowing into Warwickshire to join the Avon & Bristol Channel, the Cherwell going on to the Thames Estuary and the Nene, the counties finest flowing into The Wash.
The estimated population of the village in 2020 was 265 yet the highest ever recorded figure was 449, in 1861, one hundred and sixty one years ago! The village has witnessed a declining population of 184 as farm labourers & other villagers have migrated away from the rural areas to the growing urban areas such as Daventry.
Hellidon used to be the centre of an ironstone quarrying industry until the 1950s and an industrial railway operated in the area, which conveyed ironstone to the Great Central line at Charwelton which surprisingly had a railway station!
The 14th century church, St John the Baptist is at the hub of the village. When the church bells rang for the first time to celebrate the end of the 2nd World War it was discovered that bees had set up home in the belfry during the long enforced silence and laid over a hundredweight of honey in the mechanism of the clock!
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 01327 261200
The Red Lion, Stockwell Lane, Hellidon, Daventry, NN11 6LG
Disclosure: My visit to The Red Lion was courtesy of Free Spirit Pubs & Chalmers Press Pr.
The views and comments expressed are, as usual my own.
James William Davis