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Secret Drinker reviews the Red Lion pub, Biddenden, near Cranbrook


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If you wanted to be kind you’d say Bob at the Red Lion in Biddenden is a cantankerous old so-and-so who just about tolerates regulars, but abuses visitors with gay abandon.

I’m not sure what persuaded me to take a step back and encourage Mrs SD forward to order the drinks at this picturesque village pub, but something did.

The incredulity must have shown on my face when she returned with a small rose wine as she explained: “That landlord is just plain rude, bordering on unbelievably rude”.

To be fair, it did look as if this quaint boozer in a 15th century building was being run solely by one guy, but when she’d politely requested a large sauvignon blanc he said NO and blamed a busy weekend. Pushed, he offered rose, but just a small measure as he had no clean large glasses.

Believe me, no-one wants Mrs SD restricted to small measures! And offering her ice in a small wine glass that would have left her with even less was the final straw.

Red Lion is in Biddenden High Street
Red Lion is in Biddenden High Street
The Red Lion Inn is a Grade II listed building
The Red Lion Inn is a Grade II listed building

Along with the glasses, it looked as if the crockery and cutlery wasn’t being cleared from the tables either on the evening we were in so hopefully there was plenty of knives and forks in the kitchen.

The only beer on offer was Harvey’s and it was perfectly well kept and served – fortunately there hadn’t been a run on pint glasses.

The pub itself, whilst decorated in an incredibly old fashioned style, is attractive enough but there’s definitely something of Acorn Antiques about the place, with Bob taking the role of Mrs Overall. There are hops hung round the bar and Bob has plastered his collection of old banknotes across the ceiling.

The public bar at the back is closed due to Covid with a sign reading ‘no entry’ and is being used to store the barbecue – though when Bob decided he was ready to invite an unusually-named pal for a frame or two it was magically re-opened.

The traditional hops around the bar are now sadly hidden by the plastic screens installed to protect everyone against coronavirus
The traditional hops around the bar are now sadly hidden by the plastic screens installed to protect everyone against coronavirus
As traditional as the rest of the place, the pub sign stands proud to welcome new visitors – sadly the welcome isn’t quite as good when you get inside
As traditional as the rest of the place, the pub sign stands proud to welcome new visitors – sadly the welcome isn’t quite as good when you get inside

There were several family groups in eating meals who seemed happy enough with the grub being served up by Bob’s wife, Carol – the menu appears on a large blackboard in the main dining room, avoiding the need for individual menus. One family had a lovely cocker spaniel puppy at their table so dogs are clearly welcome here.

Bob and Carol have run the place for more than 30 years and Bob does admit they are stretched on a Monday evening when he gives ‘the girls’ the night off.

The toilets, like the rest of the pub, are fairly old fashioned but were reasonably clean and fresh.

The decoration won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the pub is well-lit and homely – it feels like you nan’s front room 30 years ago
The decoration won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the pub is well-lit and homely – it feels like you nan’s front room 30 years ago
Unfortunately dishes and glasses were left uncollected
Unfortunately dishes and glasses were left uncollected

There is a small garden at the back of the pub, opposite the bins, where there are a few picnic benches, but the regulars seem to favour the four tables out front.

I persuaded Mrs SD we should have a second drink to make sure we’d given the place a proper chance. I shifted across to a pint of Kronenbourg, which was also perfectly acceptable.

Sadly, rather than concentrating on serving me, Bob spent the time taking the micky out of a young lad with a bag saying: “If I’d said to my dad I wanted a man bag, he’d have told me to man up”.

The only one in the village centre, this quaint 15th century pub can boast real kerb appeal
The only one in the village centre, this quaint 15th century pub can boast real kerb appeal
There are plenty of character features in the Red Lion and the wood burner must create a warm welcome in the winter
There are plenty of character features in the Red Lion and the wood burner must create a warm welcome in the winter

We moved to sit inside as it had become chilly outside and sank into the softer than soft sofa right at the front of the pub.

This was comfortable and with some distance between us and our less than genial host we were hoping to enjoy a few pleasant, undisturbed moments to ourselves.

Unfortunately we found ourselves plagued by an infestation of fruit flies – whatever the cause we’d now seen enough, so drank up quickly and left Bob playing pool in the back room.

The pool table, darts board and jukebox in the public bar were all out of use until Bob decided it was okay to play a frame or two
The pool table, darts board and jukebox in the public bar were all out of use until Bob decided it was okay to play a frame or two
The hallway to the toilets and the public bar is tastefully decorated and used to store logs, a high chair and a superb old mangle
The hallway to the toilets and the public bar is tastefully decorated and used to store logs, a high chair and a superb old mangle

Red Lion – 14 High Street, Biddenden, Ashford TN27 8AH

Decor: It’s reasonably quaint and well-lit with lots of table lamps around the place, though the festoon curtains should have been ditched back in the 80s. **

Drink: There was only one beer on offer and, although the Harvey’s was tasty enough, there needs to be more choice. The reduced wine list clearly leaves a good deal to be desired. **

Price: A small rose wine and a pint of Harvey’s was £8.90. A pint of Kronenbourg was the same price as the Harvey’s. ***

Atmosphere: With only one pub left in the centre of the village the locals have no choice and, unfortunately, the atmosphere in the pub reflects that – very, very cliquey. *

Staff: I have to record no score. This is a pub which could be so much more, but the days of landlords being able to be downright rude and get away with it have passed.

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The centuries-old building is packed full of great features. This cute little cubbyhole sits at the left hand side of the fire.
The centuries-old building is packed full of great features. This cute little cubbyhole sits at the left hand side of the fire.
At the back of the pub to the left there’s a small garden area with a couple of picnic benches but these weren’t in use while we were in
At the back of the pub to the left there’s a small garden area with a couple of picnic benches but these weren’t in use while we were in
An alleyway beyond the back door leads to picnic benches at the back and a few parking spaces
An alleyway beyond the back door leads to picnic benches at the back and a few parking spaces
The toilets are old fashioned and haven’t been redecorated for a while, but they were clean and fresh smelling
The toilets are old fashioned and haven’t been redecorated for a while, but they were clean and fresh smelling
There was a good selection of meals available, with everything written up clearly on a very large blackboard
There was a good selection of meals available, with everything written up clearly on a very large blackboard
The ‘closed’ public bar is currently being used to store tables and chairs, the pub barbecue and an assortment of other odds and ends
The ‘closed’ public bar is currently being used to store tables and chairs, the pub barbecue and an assortment of other odds and ends
The cubicle in the gents seemed to be out of use for some reason and was marked with a cross
The cubicle in the gents seemed to be out of use for some reason and was marked with a cross
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