Thu, 15 Aug 2019
NOT many sights are more joyous than the Berkshire countryside, especially when the trees are full of fresh green leaves and the sun is shining.
The Red House sits next to the level crossing at Marsh Benham and, as you walk from the car park into the pub garden, it’s hard to believe you’re just a stone’s throw from the A4.
There are plenty of seats outside for good-weather dining, in sun or shade; alternatively, you can choose the airy bar with its ample seating or the more formal – but equally welcoming – restaurant.
Dogs are welcome in the garden and bar, which is wonderful if you’ve been for a walk along the nearby Kennet & Avon Canal with your canine companion.
My friend Mandy Boston and I visited on a sunny Thursday and were delighted to walk into a friendly, buzzy atmosphere.
Guests included couples, small groups, individuals at the bar and a large, exuberant group of friends celebrating together.
The setting is in keeping with a traditional English pub, but has incorporated a light, airy openness – you don’t get the identikit feeling of the chain gastropubs.
John, the manager, invited us to have a drink in the garden before we sat at our table, but we were hungry and headed straight into the restaurant.
I enjoyed a glass of light, chilled Côtes de Provence rosé (£9.50) while we studied the menus, and we drank sparkling water with our meal.
The Red House has the ideal combination of options, divided between à la carte, set lunch menu and a specials board.
There is also a magnificent gluten- and dairy-free menu, comprising four starters/light dishes, nine mains, four desserts and a cheese board. You don’t feel pressured to have a large meal, or several courses, if all you’re after is a lighter dish.
Mandy chose the small portion of crispy halloumi (£7.75) to start: breaded, fried halloumi fingers served with tzatziki and homemade smoked tomato chutney. The cheese was fried to perfection – crisp on the outside but softly chewy on the inside – and the dips provided the perfect zing.
I started with a perennial favourite, tomato soup (£6.50), which was served with two slices of bread. Sometimes restaurants fall down on the simpler dishes, but this soup was hot and delicious, full of flavour and not acidic. There was a pesto swirl on top, providing a lovely after-taste.
It took us a long time to choose our main course because the options are genuinely mouth-watering.
Eventually we chose from the specials board. Mandy plumped for smoked haddock and spinach gratin, poached egg and mash (£13.75). This was a generous piece of fish sitting atop a good pile of spinach; the gratin was milky and subtle – not so cheesey as to overwhelm the haddock. The egg was poached exactly so that it held its shape until pierced, at which point it spilled deliciously over the rest of the food. The mash was smooth and creamy.
I selected the prawn and crab bloomer sandwich, salad and chips (£12.50). I was a little surprised that the prawn and crab had been combined into a sort of mousse filler – I had been expecting whole prawns and crab meat – however, the result was still full of flavour. The green salad was fresh and tasty and the chips were perfect: evenly cooked and piping hot.
There are some pudding options on the main menu, but John brought a separate dessert menu featuring an even wider array of appealing choices, from tummy-filling sticky toffee pudding or chocolate sundae (complete with brownie, ice cream, whipped cream, toasted almonds and hot chocolate sauce) to lighter ice creams, sorbets and pannacotta.
Mandy had to leave at this point, so I valiantly flew solo and chose the apple crumble pie with vanilla ice cream (£7).
Well, my taste buds were in heaven. The pie has a light crust, full of large, soft apple pieces that melt in your mouth, the crumble is crisp and sweet and the ice cream melts deliciously over the top. There’s a pretty twirl of tempered chocolate on top, which I devoured first, but the more restrained diner might save it for last...
To finish this heavenly meal, I ordered mint tea, which arrived in a pretty pot with a delicate matching cup, to my delight. Doesn’t tea always taste better in fine china?
WiFi is free if you feel the need to post a photo of your delicious food on social media.
It’s a good idea to scan The Red House’s website before you book, that way you can see the varied menus covering lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, as well as the wine list.
The pub runs events as well, including quiz nights and themed food nights. Guests can hold meetings, parties and weddings there and even hire the whole pub – including individual menus and entertainment.
You can also buy vouchers for meals and treat your friends or family for a special occasion.
I’m already planning my next visit – a walk along the canal followed by afternoon tea in the garden – as I can’t resist the lure of sandwiches, scones and maybe even a glass of Prosecco.