Food review: The Red Lion, Hockley, Birmingham – 4/5 stars
What could be more British than a Sunday roast in a pub surrounded by the artwork of Banksy? Emily Bridgewater and her family tuck in . . .
It was rather fitting – and completely coincidental. A few days after Banksy’s Girl With Balloon was shredded in front of a shocked Sotherby’s audience, we visited a pub which pays homage to the mysterious street artist.
However, from the exterior of The Red Lion in Hockley you’d never know it was anything but a standard – albeit very smart-looking – boozer.
Even when you step over the threshold, there’s little to give away its celebration of modern art; the front two rooms scream ‘Great British pub’. Regulars sup pints in intimate bar areas in this Camra-recognised pub and it’s a child-free zone, a revelation in these times of little people being allowed just about everywhere.
Upstairs is the Club Room where kids are allowed – at certain times anyway – and it was on the stairwell that we acknowledged that this was also a pub with a bit of an edge. Framed prints by street artists including Banksy, Nick Walker and D*Face & Dolk adorns the walls. There’s even a nod to Banksy on the menu with a Barbecue Banksy Burger.
However, we were here for one thing and that was for the much-lauded Sunday roast. What could be more British than tucking into a Sunday lunch in a boozer surrounded by Banksy? Nuffink, I tell you.
The pub’s been named regional runners-up in the Observer Food Awards 2013-2017 for best Sunday lunch so our expectations were high.
We’d reserved a table earlier in the week, having tried a couple of impromptu visits over the past few months only to be politely turned away.
When we arrived the dining room was empty although all of the tables displayed ‘reserved’ notes – including ours – but it quickly became full with punters also flocking for hearty Sunday lunches.
The room was spacious yet cosy, with a flat-screen TV showing footie for the dads (or mums) not wanting to miss the match. There’s a small bar area (the room is also available for private hire) and it has the familiar feel of a social club function room. I half wanted them to play Agadoo or Come On Eileen. It’s a bit too cool for that though; the play list was more Stones’ Play It Black than The Monkees’ Daydream Believer.
Service was friendly, and our drinks were quickly delivered while we browsed the menu albeit only out of interest – we were purely on the roast dinner options. However, it’s packed with British classics such as Birmingham-produced Lashford faggots with chips, mushy peas and onion gravy, or Bathams beer-battered fish and chips. It’s a real crowd-pleaser of a menu and definitely enticed us to come back on another occasion.
Starters, salt cod fritters and garlic mayo, and a daily special of parsnip soup – also gave us good reason for a return visit, but eyeing up the portions meant we needed to conserve our appetite for the main event.
Dining with our two-year-old daughter, we ordered two roast beef dinners (the choice also featured lamb, chicken, pork belly or veggie sausage) with the aim of sharing the grub out between the three of us. There’s a lovely children’s menu but seeing as our daughter is still quite small it wasn’t really worth the extra money. However, seeing as she’s also an enormous carnivore (she’s about the only person I know who could manage The Atkin’s Diet) we ordered side portions of Lashford pigs in blankets and sausage-meat stuffing, oh, and cauliflower cheese.
The food arrived quickly and we were impressed by how appetising it all looked. As an afterthought we also ordered an extra jug of gravy, and some complimentary horseradish. It all came to our table swiftly. Perfect!
The roast beef was succulent and deliciously medium rare. It came in two generous slices. I didn’t get much of a look in though as my little girl snaffled most of it with lashings of extra gravy, but what I did eat was very good.
The meat was piled on top of a range of well-cooked veg including mash and roast potatoes, crushed swede, braised red cabbage and a medley of carrots, peas and green cabbage. The mashed potato was creamy and moorish and the roasties were satisfying, if lacking in a bit of crunch. The braised cabbage was a revelation – a veg so often left off a roast dinner except at Christmas. It still had bite and added a nice piquancy to the meal.
There was also an enormous, and tasty Yorkshire pud – this is not a meal for the faint-hearted. My other half said he wished he’d had a hangover; it was that kind of comfort food in colossal portions that you just want to drown in the day after the night before.
Adding to that we also had the side dishes to work through. I thought the pigs in blankets were especially good; the quality of the Lashford sausage exceptional. They were another hit with our mini meat-eater too.
It came as no surprise that my partner and I couldn’t find space for dessert, despite spying a damn good looking sticky toffee pud. Other options included baked rum and raisin cheesecake, or Bakewell tart with pouring cream.
Our daughter, however, demanded ice cream and was presented with a bowl containing vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavour boules topped with a couple of wafers – old skool! She was delighted and ate most of it, despite daddy attempting to get a spoonful or two.
The bill came in at a very reasonable £47 which included a load of soft drinks. It was great value for money for fine food in friendly, inclusive surroundings. Hidden down an unassuming side street in Brum’s Jewellery Quarter, this is a real gem of a pub. Seek it out now.