Some of you in the Mid Sussex area may be aware that the Red Lion at Handcross has recently undergone a fairly substantial renovation. I’ve got a little family history with this pub as long ago (possibly as long ago as the 1940s and 50s) my grandfather, who lived in nearby Balcombe, would take a table for the day every November to watch the London To Brighton veteran car rally. So I was excited to get a chance to check out its new look and vibe as well as walk in the footsteps of my grandfather.
I took with me our SE resident refurbishment expert. They call him “The Governor” and frankly, what he doesn’t know about refurbs isn’t worth knowing! Together, we pulled up on a cold, wet and stormy night keen to get inside from the elements and warm our cockles with hearty fodder. But would it deliver?
A great vibe
The answer is an unmitigated yes. With roaring fires and comfy sofas for those pre-dinner drinks, they’ve kept many of the existing period features but given them a nice modern feel. Soft oak beams add warmth along with some stylish ambient lighting. Georgian leaded windows (not originals but quality enough to feel authentic) and the use of vintage mirrors added a nice touch, and music (don’t ask me what it was but it felt “right”) created a great atmosphere and vibe.
Thumbs up from The Governor too (who apart from quickly pricing the job in his head – he’s prone to doing that by reason of force of habit) who declared it a “high-quality finish”.
They describe their menu as “featuring fresh flavours inspired by the seasons and modern world-food trends”… with “grill dishes, fresh fish that’s delivered daily, Asian influences plus plenty of healthier and lower-calorie options.” They also have a vegan menu and cocktails. Oh hello, they had my attention.
Personally, any menu that starts with pan-fried wild scallops gets my vote but for the non fishy amongst you there is also Panko breaded brie, Balsamic and Rosemary lamb Koftas, duck parfait, creamy sautéed mushrooms. In short, whatever your tastes, I think there is something for you. Prices for starters start at about £6.95 but there are also sharing platters. Beautifully presented and a delicious delight, I was ready for mains.
Here we were spoilt for choice, with the mains including a rack of lamb, a Rotisserie and classic menu, burgers and pizzas, salads and healthy options. I stayed clear of healthy and opted for Devon crab and king prawn fish cakes, while The Governor opted for king prawn, crab and chorizo linguine. Beautifully presented again, great portion size, great flavours. My crab cakes were £14.75 to give you an idea of price.
Which only left time for the pudding. And as it’s nearly Christmas a chocolate orange melting bomb with a caramel sauce was the obvious choice for me. Divine, just divine as well as a feast for the eyes. This was all washed down with the help of a great wine menu, although personally, I’d like to see more local wines on offer. After all, Sussex does have some great vineyards.
Tonics and salads
I tend to judge a restaurant by its choice of tonics and quality of salad. Both are small elements of the overall picture but for me, make a real difference to the experience. So, I’m delighted to report that not only does the Red Lion have tonics beyond the average well-known name but they also had an array of cordials and garnishes on the bar to which you could help yourself. The cocktails looked fun and the salad was fresh, and suitably well dressed.
Will we be back?
The staff were charming and attentive and my only misgiving was that the tables are very close together and I was worried about my butt cleaning the next table as I squeezed my way to my seat. That said, we ended up in happy conversation with our neighbours (who, it turns out, once lived almost next door to The Governor’s mum).
Sitting in a window seat with a large G and T when we arrived, I couldn’t help but wonder what my grandfather would have made of it all. And do you know what? I think he would love it! It’s warm and welcoming, a great blend of tradition with stylishly modern, and a really atmospheric place to hang out. Yes, we’ll be back!