The Red Lion, Ealing (or the best Beef and Guinness Pie I’ve ever tasted)
I moved to Ealing, West London in the Autumn of 1999 after spending
all my live in the north of England. For most of that time I’ve been
a regular at The Red Lion.
I can’t for the life of me remember when I first went in there, but
it was probably something like November. I remember sitting in to
this little pub situated moments away from the Ealing Studios,
surrounded by signed photos of the stars of stage and screen from
I fell in love instantly. It was a small cosy pub. Okay the three
bar electric fire in the fireplace looked very dodgy, the 1970s
television set stood silent on a bracket on the wall (even when the TV
was turned on, the sound was always off). The wallpaper was peeling,
and the pictures crooked (I never understood why no one ever put them
straight!) but it had a friendly atmosphere where people of all ages
mixed and felt comfortable. And the Fullers ales were fantastic.
Over time the manager left, to be replaced by another – a friendly
bloke called Jason, but the brewery seemed remarkably uninterested in
their little enclave. Much money had obviously been pumped into the
refurbishment of two nearby Fullers pubs, but the Red Lion seemed
stuck in a 1970s timewarp, loved by its regulars and staff, but left
And so it would have continued had it not been for Fullers deciding
that the Red Lion should switch from being a managed pub, to a
Overnight the staff disappeared, taking the tills and a rather
manky coffee machine with them. Jason went off to manage another
Ealing pub, The Wheatsheaf, and the new landlords arrived.
The food stopped, but the beer was still great. The atmosphere
changed slightly, but it soon slipped back into its old routine.
In May 2002 we went one Saturday with my parents. Hoping to show
them the wonderful beer garden, it was with dismay we found it was
closed. "We’re doing some building work." Oh. Right…
Next time we went, the Red Lion was shut. We peered into the
gloomy pub from the front door to see some breezeblocks… Over the
next few weeks we kept going back, peering in, seeing little.
Whatever was going on, it was big.
After spending a few weeks in the wilderness (Ealing town centre is
sadly full of chain pubs with little to distinguish them from each
other) we finally got back in. What a transformation. The front pub
area was left intact, bar a paint job, new lights and the seats being
reupholstered. In the back, a extension replacing the old toilets and
storerooms – with extra film photos, presumably raided from the
archives of the Ealing Studios, posters and more. Nice and very
inkeeping with the character of the pub. Plus the kitchen had been
In the ‘old’ Lion, the food made no pretence. The kitchen
facilities seemed to consist of a grill and several deep fat friers.
It it was frozen and could be fried, it was sold. It was basic, it
was piled high, it tasted quite good and it was cheap. If you wanted
a burger or scampi and chips you were away. Hardly the most
imaginative cuisine, but the salad accompaniment did include red onion
The new look menu was no longer cheap, but it certainly wasn’t
basic. It didn’t take long to find out that this was food as it
should be. No microwavable meals here – freshly prepared food,
prepared on the premises.
Good food is hard to find these days – most pubs and many
restaurants have got lazy. Plastic food, for a pastic generation.
How many pub lasanges are anything other than a frozen meal made in a
factory, defrosted and shoved in the microwave, before being shoved in
front of you with some sad looking salad and some chips?
Not at the Red Lion. In the following weeks I tasted with delight
the Cod Herb Crust, the divine steaks (just cooked so well) and a
wonderful honey glazed chicken. Without tonnes of sad looking
‘garnish’ to fill the plate, some meals looked so little, but the
portions were always just right, and the combinations worked
The menu changed daily, although often recipies would be
changed by using different ingrediants. The Cod Herb Crust also
appeared using Haddock, and a pasta with wild mushroom sauce was done
on one occassion with just lots of mushrooms, another with green
beans, and a third with ham.
The average main course may cost about £9, but I quickly came
to the conclusion that if you want decent food, you pay a decent
price. If you want plastic food, you pay the plastic price. I stuck
with the decent.
As well as being regular drinkers, we became regular eaters. I
just can’t get enough of that food. However on Saturday, 7 September
2002, the team at the Red Lion really excelled themselves.
Beef and Guinness Puff Pastry Pie was on the menu. In most pubs
this will get you some bland beef in a murky black gravey with a
ridiculously oversized rectangle of puff pastry sitting on top. Not a
particularly pleasent experience.
Having had bad experiences in the past, I approached it with
caution, but decided, what the heckers. They hadn’t let me down so
My fears were unfounded. This was without a doubt the best Beef
and Guinness pie I had ever had. For starters I could actually taste
the Guinness! Sounds simple, but it was the first time that had ever
happened. And the gravy wasn’t black.
Important point. For whilst most of the pint is black, the head is
white, which when mixed, gives grey…
With each bite of beef, carrot or potato, came a different taste.
One minute the bitterness of the stout, next the creamyness, a third a
blast of pepper. It was a taste sensation. Even the puff pastry was
nice and crisp, not greasy like it so often is. In short, it was a
Upon passing on my praise after the meal, I found out it was the
first night they’d put it on the menu. I can only hope it isn’t the
last time it is there.
Great Food for a Great Pub.
Some people would say that food belongs in restaurants, and beer in
pubs. I wouldn’t agree. I like a nice pint of real ale and some
fantastic food whilst I eat, and sometimes I like eating in a nice
relaxed atmosphere of a nice pub.
The problem is, few pubs have great food. Thankfully I know a few,
and after the Red Lion reopened, it quickly made it on to the list.
Its food has never let me down – true I’ve liked some of it better
than others, but I’ve never had a bad meal in the three months since
Indeed the only problem with the Red Lion is its location. One day
I’ll end up moving from Ealing I’m sure, and then me and the Lion will
have to go our seperate ways. It won’t be for a few years thankfully,
and I hope to be enjoying their fantastic food and beer for a few more
years to come.
The Red Lion is on St Mary’s Road, Ealing, London W5 and open
all normal pub hours. Food is served 12-2:30 and 7-9:30 Monday to
Saturday, and 12-5 on Sunday. Go there! Now!