With its rustic interior, the Red Lion – just north of Highgate Village on a street home to three or four convivial boozers – is a little like a country pub in atmosphere, its tables chocka with family groups, couples and mixed age gangs. Now it’s nearly summer a spacious terrace out front increases capacity, especially useful at weekends, while also being ideal for some mid-afternoon rays.
1. Feather-blade“If we take it off there are always complaints,” proffers the friendly waitress about this cut as we dither over which main to pick: the John Dory in panko breadcrumbs? Wild garlic gnocchi? A hearty sirloin? It’s good to hear that all the meat is supplied by Highgate Butchers, so we don’t regret our choice of feather-blade, known nowadays more often as flat iron. Sliced generously, it’s especially good for its price (£17.50): served with thin-cut, skin-on chips, the rosy flesh is pillowy, its crust carbonised, the peppercorn sauce adding notes of cream, shallot and butter to lend it luxury ‘meal out’ status. Chef, don’t take it off – ever!
2. Chicken wingsThe polar opposite to the cauliflower (see #4), at least in health terms, this signature starter is another popular dish. It’s nothing you haven’t had before, with the glut of posh chicken shops across the capital, but here it’s well executed, with tender meat and a velvety, spicy, Korean sauce. Warning: it’s messy. Thank goodness for the finger bowl.
3. Swordfish supremeDon’t let the word ‘supreme’ put you off, retro though it sounds: it simply means the best part of the fish. Here a big chunk is seared so lightly it’s more akin to rare tuna in texture, lending it sashimi qualities. It sits on a laidback Mediterranean jumble of tenderstem broccoli, garlic and chopped tomatoes, a loose green sauce of olives and oregano upping the general umami factor. It’s a winner served this way, especially as swordfish has the texture of pork if overcooked.
4. Roasted cauliflower saladA tad fridge-cold on our visit, this healthy starter is perhaps more suited to a swift lunch at work than the dimly-lit delights of a cosy pub dinner. Still, the attractively fractal romanesco florets – lightly roasted, their flavour delicate rather than sweet – sit on a wholesome mix of lentils, artichokes, bulgar wheat and pomegranates, sparkling like jewels.
5. TiramisuWe ended the meal on this staple: served in a small glass, all swirls of cream and marscapone, a real depth of Marsala nonetheless limbered up for a decent alcoholic kick. We also shared a plate of three cheeses – cheddar, stilton and brie – whose simple effectiveness emphasises the classic nature of the food here. Not flash – but the flavours do sing.
Finally, a note on the wineThe pub has won every award going – including an industry gong for Best Wine Pub in the UK. So understandably owner Heath is proud of his vino, with wine flights offered – try four 50 ml glasses for £12, for example – or 26 to choose from by the glass. We started with a German Riesling, fruity but with a dry finish – and ideal with the Korean chicken. And the New Zealand Prophet’s Rock pinot noir was superlative, a surefire match for the steak.
Starters from £6, mains from £13. The Red Lion & Sun is open daily until 11pm at 25 North Rd N6. More info