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Shock at sudden closure of Red Lion pub at Stodmarsh near Canterbury

A popular 200-year-old pub best known for its adventurous menu has suddenly shut.

Villagers in Stodmarsh near Canterbury have been left shocked after their local, The Red Lion, was boarded up.

The Red Lion at Stodmarsh is now boarded up
The Red Lion at Stodmarsh is now boarded up

The pub's menu featured food partly foraged and "inspired by the wilds of Kent", including Kentucky-fried squirrel and wood ants, which were served initially when the pub was re-launched.

But last Wednesday, workmen arrived to board up the windows. A hand-written note on the door simply says "pub now closed".

The building is owned by the Fun Pub Company and was being run by tenants Mark Winstone and Morgan Lewis.

Mr Winstone says it was a "heartbreaking" decision to close, but had been taken because of a slump in trade and rocketing energy bills.

He told KentOnline: "We have seen a decline in business this summer which together with sky high energy bills has just mean it wasn't viable.

A note on the door simply says 'pub now closed'
A note on the door simply says 'pub now closed'

"For example, our electricity bill had gone up from £4,500 a quarter to the same amount a month.

"It's heartbreaking because we had a great team who worked really hard.

"But it's only a little village and like many in hospitality we have been struggling. Sadly, I think many others will end up having to close too."

He says the business was also affected by the sad and sudden death of a third business partner.

Mr Lewis added: "The locals were mostly unsupportive because they expected fish and chips for £6 but times have moved on and that model doesn't work any more.

The KFC squirrel (59484594)
The KFC squirrel (59484594)

"But the pub was popular with lots of loyal customers and I have dozens of emails from people saddened at our closure.

"We offered an alternative that many appreciated and got a great review in the Sunday Times from a highly regarded food critic."

Farmer Martin Twyman, of Wickhambreaux Parish Council, says the sudden closure has come as a shock and surprise.

"It is well known and has been very popular in the past but I don't think the upmarket menu was to everyone's taste," he said.

Retired academic Susan Matthews, who recently moved to Stodmarsh, says part of the attraction of the hamlet was that it had a pub.

She said: "It's a lovely pub. It's a pity because the staff were very friendly and now seeing it boarded up is quite a sorry sight.

"The pub would normally be closed on Mondays but when it didn't open on Tuesday either, we thought something was wrong. And then some people arrived on Wednesday to board it up."

The Red Lion was owned for 25 years by colourful landlord Robert Whigham and then run by his family before it was sold prior to his death in 2016.

General manager Morgan Lewis and chef John Young at the Red Lion in Stodmarsh
General manager Morgan Lewis and chef John Young at the Red Lion in Stodmarsh

Reporter Jack Dyson visited the Red Lion for Kent Online to sample its unconventional menu in 2019.

He was hosted by general manager Morgan Lewis, who explained that squirrel tasted "like a cross-between rabbit and quail" with a chicken texture and gamey taste.

He added: "We push the kitchen far beyond what it’s capable of. But it’s a small country pub and my view of country food is what this is – homefare. Everything is done in-house and in season."

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