A taste of the country

Holly Heywood gets away to the Red Lion in Hellidon.

Ever felt the need to get away, but without a big journey? We found peace in the countryside at Hellidon, a short easy drive, but in many ways another world. We stopped en route to enjoy a meander through Royal Leamington Spa and Southam, returning via Daventry and Ashby St Ledgers, which should give you an idea of the routes available through Warwickshire and Northamptonshire to make the most of the nearby towns and rural areas open for exploration.

We arrived at the Red Lion late Friday afternoon, having spent the day working our way slowly eastwards. The final part of the drive to Hellidon gave us spectacular views, with the Red Lion itself being a well-kept building full of charm. We were taken to our room – Ariel – by our host, and took time to settle into its beamed lofty space. Each room is individually designed and quirky; Ariel has its own extra spaces, a beautiful rain shower, and a wide array of lovely ungents ready to rejuvenate before dinner. The rooms are all tucked into the first floor eaves, making it a gentle stroll to dinner.

The ground floor space is taken up by the restaurant and bar areas. We didn’t check out the bar menu, but met one of the regular customers later who was making his way through a delicious (and recommended) pint of prawns; this is definitely something to explore on future visits.

The dining areas are made up of a series of open spaces, close enough to enjoy the atmosphere of a busy evening, but with enough room to enjoy the privacy of your own conversation over dinner. And there was plenty of good conversation, as we settled into a beautiful dining experience.

From the main menu my dining companion started with scallops served with chorizo and a watercress salad. This smelled absolutely wonderful, and my delicate attempts to suggest trying the dish were firmly rebuffed. From the daily specials, I chose prawns with garlic cooked in olive oil; these were plump, delicious and totally made up for my disappointment at not sneaking a taste of those scallops.

My main course was a slow cooked pork belly. The crackling reached the beautiful balance of robust and crunchy shards with a mellow underlayer. The pork itself was juicy and fell apart on the fork. The meat was served with carrots and parsnips plus a delicious cider jus, and instead of the sage mash, I had some exceptional chips – also crunchy and fragrant, crisp and yet melting inside. My companion chose the slow cooked blade of beef, also fork tender. This came with creamed mash, red cabbage, and kale so crispy it made a beautiful textural contrast to the remainder of the plate. Both meals were beautifully balanced, with a variety of delicious flavours and textures.

For dessert, my partner selected an ice cream sundae made up of every childhood fantasy of what an ice cream should be. Supplemented by cream, chocolate sauce, and copious amounts of chocolates (including generous amounts of M&Ms), this could realistically have served a family, although my partner made the sacrifice of eating it all himself. I had a beautifully prepared fruit salad with lemon sorbet, although it was a struggle to fit even that after the preceding courses. Generosity is definitely on the menu here, along with creative and delicious cooking.

After a drink at the welcoming bar, and a couple of chats with both the hosts and the pub’s resident dog, we headed upstairs for a great night’s sleep. It was wonderful to lie in bed and watch the clouds chasing across the stars from the room’s high lofted windows.

We had pre-ordered our breakfasts the night before, and fluffy scrambled eggs were accompanied by a generous helping of thickly cut smoked salmon. The full English featured high quality bacon and well cooked accompaniments, although I was still so full from dinner the night before that I could barely do it justice.

If you have food allergies and intolerances, the kitchen is very flexible, adapting dishes to your needs. Gluten and milk allergies were carefully checked and accounted for by cooking prawns in oil rather than butter, and making chips in a separate pan to replace a milk-based menu component. A really nice touch was the inclusion of milk and gluten free snacks in the room, and the offer of oat or soya milk for in-room drinks. This attention to detail and comfort illustrates just how much care is taken by the warm and welcoming staff.

It’s no wonder that there is clearly a large returning customer base, everyone being acknowledged and well-remembered by their hosts. This is a venue that is as well-liked by the local community as it is welcoming to visitors. In short, if you want to feel pampered and well taken care of, the Red Lion is an ideal place to recuperate and recharge in comfort.

We stayed as guests of the Red Lion. Opinions are, as always, our own.