The Red Lion Inn, Babcary
Babcary’s a tiny village just off the A303 and A37, lying between Somerton and Castle Cary, with just a church and a local pub. I can’t vouch for the church – but oh, what a pub. The Red Lion Inn, runner-up in the Best Destination Pub category in the recent Muddy Stilettos Awards, has an award-winning restaurant, swanky guest rooms that are more boutique hotel than country inn – yet still manages to feel like the village pub, with locals who’ve been coming here for decades.
It’s a pretty, traditional stone and thatched building with a front door (down the side on the right) which takes you, handily, straight into the bar. It wasn’t long before we were sipping champagne (at £9.50 a beautifully chilled glass, it would have been rude not to) and feeling much like locals ourselves. There are also house beers from Teignworthy and Otter Breweries, guest ales, farm-produced ciders and a mix of house and listed wines.
The bar’s at the heart of the pub, with tables, chairs, wooden benches and squashy sofas around and to the left, a cosy room behind (the bar’s double sided) which would be perfect for a private birthday dinner and a dining room through to the right. The bar seemed more of a place to have a drink before eating rather than a place to just drink; the atmos was relaxed but there was a buzz in the air as guests arrived for dinner – everyone seemed in a really good mood.
There are interesting bits and bobs around the place: old prints, clay pipes, the owner’s grandfather’s race colours, a regal lion’s head and a couple of wonderful, hand painted Red Lion signs that used to hang outside the pub back in the day.
The Red Lion has won awards for its food, most recently, a Gold Medal from Taste of the West 2016. The menu changes regularly. In July, starters included ham hock terrine, charcuterie, deep fried whitebait with poached egg, and a heritage tomato salad. Here’s my antipasti (as a starter for one or to share), with hummus, aubergine puree, shaved fennel and pitta – there’s some chargrilled yellow courgette hiding in there too. The jewel-like pomegranate seeds were a nice touch. My friend choose the soup of the day, which was a very thick pea and mint.
The mains are meaty – steaks, pork belly, steak burger, lamb rump, sausage and mash – with three fish and just one vegetarian option. They certainly know how to cook a damn fine steak. My piece of rump (32 days aged, since you’re asking), served with green peppercorn sauce, watercress salad and some crisp, crisp chips was cooked just how I like it. If you’re veggie, look away now…
This was my friend’s pan fried polenta with roasted summer vegetables and salsa – and that’s a nice, thick slice of goats’ cheese on top – which looked (and tasted, she said) delicious.
For dessert, we chose gooseberry and elderflower fool, with some plump and slightly sharp (in a good way) gooseberries and vanilla ice cream, served with some crisp homemade, shortbready biscuits…
…and the ’99’ Banoffee pie and ice cream: bananas, toffee, cream and more cream… ’nuff said.
And so to bed….There are six guest rooms in The Barn, which is a separate, two-storey building, fairly recently converted.
Love the antler chandelier in the entrance hall; the carved wings in the background are wittily positioned but I’m not going to tell you why – you’ll have to discover that for yourself.
The rooms (two doubles, two twins and two superior/family) are gorgeous – perfect for a weekend away without the kids (though two of the rooms come with sofa beds, so if you really must….). I love the combination of understatement and glamour: neutral walls, simply designed furniture and crisp, white Egyptian cotton sheets mixed with faux animal fur throws, velvet chairs, sumptuous elongated headboards, original artworks and dramatic lighting. The beds were comfortable, too.
The en suite bathroom/wet room also has a luxury feel, more high end hotel than country pub, with slick tiling, a glorious shower (some of the other rooms also have a bath), lots of fluffy white towels and full-sized Bramley toiletries. There are rails and an additional low basin, too, for disabled access.
Breakfast is served in The Den, a separate room decorated in modern ‘vintage’ style, which is used as another dining room, has a bar and a wood-fired pizza oven – and I spotted a ceiling mounted projector and pull-down screen so I guess the room’s used for meetings and work events, too.
Ten out of ten for the breakfasts, which are included in the price of the rooms. You can help yourself to cereals, fresh and dried fruits, yoghurts from the glam French looking side table…
…or ask for freshly made porridge, toast (jam, marmalade, honey, Nutella, Marmite), eggs or beans on toast. And of course, there is the impressive Full English.
I had a quick whizz round the gardens before I left. They’re leafy and spacious, with a small slide that would keep younger guests entertained while you enjoy a glass of Pimms, there’s a pergola which comes complete with a fire pit to huddle around when the sun goes down.
… and a large marquee for a big party or a wedding. They’ve got all bases covered.
This is a lovely country pub in a pretty setting with good food, warm and friendly atmosphere – and very superior rooms. I’ll be back.
So how much does it cost to stay here? Double/twin room with en-suite shower or bath costs from £110 per room; superior/family rooms with en-suite shower costs from £120 (sofabeds in these rooms cost £25/child or £4/adult). Single occupancy from £90 per night. Breakfast is included.
Pub opening times: Mon-Thurs 11am-3pm & 6pm-11pm; Fri-Sun – 11am to midnight. Food served: Mon-Fri 12pm-2.30pm; 6.30pm-9.30pm; Sat & Sun 2pm-3pm & 6.30pm-9.30pm
Good for: anyone who enjoys eating good food as an evening out; foodies; groups of friends or family, as there are large tables, it’s got a lively atmosphere and there are options for private dining; families with kids – it’s relaxed, lots of dishes are available as children’s portions and there’s a lawned garden (but it’s not enclosed so you’d have to keep an eye on young ones). The rooms would be perfect for a romantic night or weekend away without the kids, or time to catch up with your bestie. Groups of friends or rellies wanting to get together could hire the entire Barn.
Not for: non-meat eaters who don’t eat fish – there was only one veggie main. Anyone wanting a formal dining experience – this has a relaxed, up-market pub atmosphere.
£££: Reasonable. Starters £5.95-£7.50; Mains £12.50 (sausage & mash)-£24.95 (sirloin steak). Sides £3-£3.50. Desserts £3.75 (homemade ice cream)-£7.50(Affogato).
The Red Lion Inn, Babcary, Somerton TA11 7ED. Tel 01458 223230. redlionbabcary.co.uk