The Red Lion in Water End is steeped in local history and its owners have been making history too.
The Red Lion pub just outside Hemel Hempstead tucked away off the Leighton Buzzard Road dates from the mid-18th century and the earliest reference to the inn is from 1730, when the then owner Richard Meriot passed away.
At the time, the inn was very large and occupied three acres of land, complete with animals and farm equipment, and was said to have six rooms. It also had a brew house and two cellars.
In those days the main thoroughfare, now the Leighton Buzzard Road (A4146), was the major coach route between London and the Midlands and beyond. The Red Lion would have been a coaching inn, and possibly the first overnight stop on that very long journey. The next recorded licensee was Richard Snelling and the pub stayed in his family for more than a century.
Over the next 200 years the pub was modernised and extended several times including 2009 when Oakman Inns and Restaurants, the team behind the award-winning Akeman in Tring and Kings Arms in Berkhamsted, took over. The firm carefully planned its most recent renovation, ensuring that its trademark contemporary style complemented the history of the property.
Closed in October 2009 for renovation, the Red Lion reopened two months later and what a transformation it was.
It has won accolades such as the Italian Food Pub of the Year and it is easy to see why. Oakman Inns, the Dacorum-born pub group which owns the Red Lion, has also been celebrating this week after it became only the second pub group to achieve the prestigious 3 Star Rating by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) and has been named in the top 50 of the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For 2016 - for the second year running.
But that’s the history lesson over, what is the Red Lion actually like to visit for a meal?
Well the new spring/summer menu has just launched in the last fortnight which tied in with the arrival of talented and hardworking head chef Oli Churton, who you can watch in action with his staff in the open kitchen, a real feature of the Red Lion and many Oakman venues.
The menu is a veritable feast for all tastes. From the handmade pizzas cooked in an authentic wood-fired oven to sumptuous fillet steaks from the Josper Oven.
The Josper oven is not just a gimmick either. The enclosed, charcoal-fired grill allows Oli and his staff to smoke, slow-cook and roast the most delicious and tender meats, fish and vegetables adding immense flavour to the dishes.
If meat isn’t your thing, though, the menu also features gluten free, vegan and vegetarian dishes and children’s menus so it really does cater for all.
As a rule Oakman Inns pride themselves on serving fresh seasonal ingredients and serve a range of different specials every single day.
There is a big Italian-influence on the menu with the pea and mint tortellini a real seasonal taste sensation.
The Saltimbocca Scotch Egg is a personal favourite, in fact it is so good you’ll wish you could have it for starter and main.
But that would mean you miss out on the likes of the succulent and soft pork belly - for each one it sells the Red Lion donates 25p to the Woodland Trust - house burger (which has a halloumi option) and smoked haddock fillet which would crown any good meal.
There is an impressive drinks menu featuring a host of popular lagers and the Bellini cocktails were prepared to perfection, which is a rarity even in the best bars.
The food and atmosphere is five star as is the service which is a credit to the pub-restaurant’s excellent management team Conor McKinney, Andy Crutcher and Ross Taylor.
And if you are lucky enough to get Salvatore as your waiter you’ll be sure to enjoy superb service with a smile.
The Red Lion combines comfort and style and really is one of the jewel’s in Hemel Hempstead’s pub-restaurant crown.
It’s reputation is hard earned and worthy and with its beautiful outdoor setting it is a must visit this spring/summer.