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Secret Drinker reviews the Red Lion pub at Bridge, Canterbury


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Entering the village of Bridge, near Canterbury, I couldn’t help thinking the locals are blessed – for a place this size to have this number of pubs must be unusual these days.

And the Red Lion is a wonderfully inviting roadside pub which couldn’t look more charming or more like the traditional British hostelry we all love so dearly.

Looking every inch the traditional British village pub, there’s no denying the Red Lion in Bridge has kerbside appeal but the warm welcome inside comes from across the Channel
Looking every inch the traditional British village pub, there’s no denying the Red Lion in Bridge has kerbside appeal but the warm welcome inside comes from across the Channel

Having assessed the place so accurately and decided it was exactly what we were looking for, imagine my surprise when we stepped through the door and found ourselves taking part in a previously unseen episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!

This historic little corner of dear old Blighty couldn’t be more English if it tried but we were greeted by René with a superb French accent, a large dash of Gallic charm and a very individual pub interior.

The barman, who introduced himself as Harry, had made a special effort to dress to match the colour of the bar meaning his shirt was a very specific, and fetching, shade of purple (or aubergine to Mrs SD). At this point I caught sight of the wallpaper on the far side of the restaurant and was pleased he at least hadn’t tried to match this pattern.

A few brave souls, who’d arrived at the pub on bikes, were seated in the garden but I imagine it is packed on a sunny summer evening
A few brave souls, who’d arrived at the pub on bikes, were seated in the garden but I imagine it is packed on a sunny summer evening

Likeable, and larger than life, Harry is a tour de force behind the pumps and we were already firm friends in the time it took to pour Mrs SD’s large Sav Blanc.

Having already mentioned to our host we were thinking of returning to Jamaica for a holiday he insisted I start with a Red Stripe.

We checked that a table was available for dinner and were shown to our seats by a very pleasant waitress and were immediately joined by a pair of small ponies, disguised as dogs. Going by the names of Oscar and Maximus, one was brown and the other black.

Rene and Harry were determined to put their own mark on this place, and that includes the wallpaper
Rene and Harry were determined to put their own mark on this place, and that includes the wallpaper

They were fairly quickly herded up by their master Harry who assured us Maximus, despite his name, was barely out of puppyhood.

The dog-loving barman then returned to spend a few moments serving regulars and a lot more time putting the world to rights.

We, in the meantime, had been passed into the capable hands of the real star of the show, the aforementioned Rene.

Oscar might be the older top pub dog but he’s still a fraction smaller than his puppy buddy Maximus. A truly dog-friendly pub – note to self, I could bring the SD hound next time.
Oscar might be the older top pub dog but he’s still a fraction smaller than his puppy buddy Maximus. A truly dog-friendly pub – note to self, I could bring the SD hound next time.

Originally from Brittany, he and Harry have had the pub for 12 years now and, judging by the reactions, not to mention the interactions, with everyone in the pub, René is as much an established part of this village as the famous road which runs through it.

Having already been treated to two of the most genial hosts possible and a great village pub could the food match the billing?

I chose the goat cheese salad as a main and Mrs SD went for the beef burger, both were absolutely superb.

The Red Lion manages to bridge the balance between a bar area for locals to enjoy a pint and a restaurant for diners
The Red Lion manages to bridge the balance between a bar area for locals to enjoy a pint and a restaurant for diners

They were delivered promptly, were incredibly fresh, the salad, with honey and roasted walnuts was fantastic but, according to my dining partner, nothing could match the quality of her perfectly cooked burger, in her humble opinion.

The menu is not extensive but varied enough to cater for everyone and there are several other meals I must try another time.

Having skipped starters we were determined to treat ourselves to puddings but, inexplicably switched our usual favourites.

I chose the goat cheese salad as a main course and, with its honey and roasted walnuts, it was superbly tasty
I chose the goat cheese salad as a main course and, with its honey and roasted walnuts, it was superbly tasty
I still maintain my meal was best but Mrs SD is a burger lover and she reckons this was one of the best ever
I still maintain my meal was best but Mrs SD is a burger lover and she reckons this was one of the best ever

However, I insisted on sampling the incredibly rich and powerful chocolate pot with a generous slab of honeycomb. I then returned to what should have been Mrs SD’s fresh, fruity and marvellously creamy Eton Mess.

I also saw karaoke and quiz nights advertised, as well as other events so the pub is keen to have something for everyone.

As a side note, there’s also a post office sign outside the pub so I assume it’s a key part of the village and takes its role in the community seriously.

Normally it would be my choice, but we switched puds on this occasion, though I was allowed to try the chocolate pot with honeycomb and it didn’t disappoint
Normally it would be my choice, but we switched puds on this occasion, though I was allowed to try the chocolate pot with honeycomb and it didn’t disappoint

No report would be complete with a visit to the gents – I’m pleased to be able to report they are as top notch as everything else, smart, wonderfully fresh and very well maintained.

In conclusion, neither the food or drink at this great pub is particularly cheap but I guarantee you it is great value and that you won’t be disappointed.

What’s more, you will be greeted by a pair of the most welcoming hosts to be found in any Kent pub.

I’m no expert on plants and took a bit of convincing it wasn’t fake but it nice to see a real plant on each table. I’m sure someone will correct her, but Mrs SD reckons it’s a Laceleaf?
I’m no expert on plants and took a bit of convincing it wasn’t fake but it nice to see a real plant on each table. I’m sure someone will correct her, but Mrs SD reckons it’s a Laceleaf?

It perfectly handles the challenge of creating a bar area for locals just wanting to enjoy a pint and the craic with a good-sized restaurant area for anyone seeking great gastro pub food.

And, having taken a wander around there’s a great space for live music and other events as well as a massive, well-maintained pub garden with a separate play area for the kids.

The best compliment I can give is that I’ll be back, very, very soon – and villagers of Bridge you are truly blessed with this pub.

This covered outside area, complete with heaters, is just through the back door of the pub and looked very comfortable
This covered outside area, complete with heaters, is just through the back door of the pub and looked very comfortable

Red Lion, 73 High Street, Bridge, Canterbury CT4 5LB

Decor: Plenty of traditional touches, set among a great modern makeover. From the outside it’s all British charm, inside there’s a good dash of je ne sais quoi ****

Drink: Harry’s enthusiasm persuaded me to switch my usual order – but both the Red Stripe to start, and the following Harvey’s Best Bitter, were excellent. And, Mrs SD really rated the wine. ****

Food: Quite exceptional, my compliments to the chef. Sure, René and Harry are joyful, wonderful hosts, but there’s even better work going on in the kitchen. Great, fresh, homemade meals. *****

The play area for children is separate from the rest of the pub garden
The play area for children is separate from the rest of the pub garden

Price: Harvey’s is £4.40, a pint of Red Stripe £5.50 and a large wine £7.50. The burger was £13.95 and the goat cheese salad a few pence less. The puddings were £5.95 each. Not the cheapest, but the best value I’ve had for a while. ****

Staff: René Renault and his partner Harry and quite simply the hosts with the mosts. The perfect balance of welcoming and friendly without being overbearing – and completely professional and efficient. *****

Some of the best presented facilities I found in a pub for many months
Some of the best presented facilities I found in a pub for many months
I didn’t spot a log burner or open fire but this tell-tale pile of logs suggests there must be a fire for the colder winter months
I didn’t spot a log burner or open fire but this tell-tale pile of logs suggests there must be a fire for the colder winter months
There are parking spaces right round the pub
There are parking spaces right round the pub

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