OVER the past year, the Adver’s trusty ‘taste test trio’ has wined and dined at venues right across Swindon, with varying degrees of success.

But having exhausted much of the culinary offering in the town, last week we decided to cast our net further afield – just over 10 miles away to the town of Cricklade.

Our destination for the evening was The Red Lion Inn on the High Street, a traditional British pub in every sense.

Dating from the 1600s, the period exterior continues through the front door into the main bar where a number of charming features – heavy wooden beams and exposed stone walls among them – still remain.

Arriving not long after 7pm on a Wednesday evening, the pub was busy but not overcrowded and clearly a popular evening haunt.

Two dining options are available, the bar or the restaurant. While neither was completely full, booking a table would probably have been a wise move if the bar area was your preferred choice.

We had opted for the restaurant, a decision which by no means limited us when it came to our menu options with dishes from both the bar and restaurant menus made available.

I was joined in this out-of-town taste test trip by, as ever, Adver_Tom and Adver_Stephen. But a special occasion calls for a special guest and we were delighted to welcome Cricklade local Adver_Steve as well.

While I might normally move straight to our choice of starters at this point in a review, it is worth pausing for just a moment to focus on the drinks at The Red Lion.

This is a pub that takes beer seriously – with dozens of bottled options and not an inconsiderable number of keg and cask varieties – it is clear to see why CAMRA has named it as pub of the year twice in recent memory.

As someone who is not a beer connoisseur, I was particularly taken by the extra steps the team have clearly gone to in an effort to assist visitors with their beverage choice.

For example, each dish on the restaurant menu comes with a recommendation for a suitable alcoholic accompaniment – country of origin, strength and price all included.

At the bar there are small jars filled with a sample of each beer nestled next to the pumps to aid those who might prefer to make their choice according to which shade of amber fills the glass rather than on name alone.

These are little things, but I’ve spoken before in this paper about the need for pubs to stand out from the crowd in an age of such great expectations from diners and drinkers and at The Red Lion, they’re trying to do just that.

So, enough of the décor and the drinks. How does the food measure up to its surroundings?

To start I had the Cotswold Chicken and Ham Hock Terrine (£6.50) which was served with pickled allotment vegetables, toast and a mixed salad.

An impressive dish, the terrine was meaty and flavoursome, with the pickled vegetables an unusual accompaniment but one which provided an exciting kick.

My two regular dining colleagues opted for the duo of pork – a confit belly and shoulder croquette with an apple puree (£6).

Adver_Tom, not one to hold back on flamboyant praise, described it as “simply devine” and went on to say the crackling “was done to perfection; crunchy without splintering, yet soft without being chewy.”

Our special guest, a veteran of The Red Lion unlike the three of us, opted for the poached plaice, served with spinach, baby beetroot and radish (£6). A veteran of The Red Lion, it came as no surprise to Adver_Steve that he thoroughly enjoyed his dish

You may sense an overwhelmingly positive tone to this review, and I’m afraid that if you’re waiting for a sudden dramatic twist as we move through the courses you will be sorely disappointed.

The mains delivered with the same tricky-to-achieve balance of hearty pub grub and restaurant fine dining.

Adver_Tom decided on the roast lamb rump (£16.95), which arrived accompanied by a chickpea and coriander salad, spinach and jus.

Adver_Steve the sausage and mash – pork, black pudding and sage sausages to be exact (£10.50). Adver_Stephen decided to go for the flat iron steak (£11.95) which came with such a generous serving of rosemary salted fries and mixed salad that the steak was initially hidden from view.

“The steak was incredibly good value,” he said. “Especially for a bar meal.

“It was a decent cut of steak, and many pubs could learn a lesson from their onion rings.”

As I was to discover to my delight, it isn’t only onion rings that the chefs excel at.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the pub’s triple cooked chips had attracted so much praise from diners that as far back as 2010 this paper had carried a special piece focused just on them.

Well I can see why – they were outstanding, I’d go so far as to say they were the nicest chips I have ever tasted (and I’ve tasted quite a few).

Accompanying my chips was the signature Red Lion Burger (£12.95), served with Ogleshield cheese and Kelmscott smoked bacon and a juicy delight.

After two courses I was forced to admit defeat and opt for a cappuccino in place of a dessert. Had I been up to it, I would have had the choice of the crumble and ice cream (£5), sticky toffee pudding (£4.95) or the chocolate brownie and raspberry sorbet (£4.95).

Our meal complete, we retired to the bar to enjoy a relaxing drink before returning to Swindon.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, a surprise discovery only a 15 minute drive from home and one which I highly encourage you to visit.

The Red Lion Inn

Red Lion, 74 High St, Cricklade, Swindon SN6 6DD


Parking: On street nearby

Disabled access: Yes

Our ratings:

Food: 10/10

Choice: 9/10

Décor: 9/10

Customer service: 9/10

Main course prices: £8.50 to £22.95

TripAdvisor: 4/5