Christopher Gray enjoys the top bites on offer at the village-owned Red Lion in Northmoor

I owe my pals at the Cotswold Brewing Company a big thank-you for supplying me with an introduction to the Red Lion in Northmoor. With more than an introduction, in fact, since the company also treated Rosemarie and me to a delicious lunch there. This was so expertly prepared by chef Ian Neale that I shall hail the place at once as one of the happiest additions to the local scene.

Ian and his charming partner Lisa Lyne, who is in charge front-of-house, come to the pub after considerable experience in other establishments. In Ian’s case this included a spell at Sir Terence Conran’s highly rated Bibendum in London’s Fulham Road. I know he cooked for me there, because he had charge of the canapés at a celebrity-packed lunch marking the Michelin Guide’s centenary in 2011, at which I was present.

Ian and Lisa’s move to the Red Lion in April (from a restaurant in Newbury) came at a stage in their careers when they wanted to start to work for themselves rather than for other people.

In a manner of speaking, they still work for other people — a lot of other people. The Red Lion, you see, is village-owned, with 85 locals having shares in it. At a time when so many pubs are closing, this new mode of operation is a welcome development. The same has happened with the White Hart in Wolvercote, the Plough at Great Haseley, the Seven Stars at Toot Baldon and possibly with other county pubs I don’t know about.

Northmoor Parish Council’s chairman Graham Shelton was lunching at the Red Lion on the day of my visit and told me the story. It began with a survey by the council that revealed the enormous importance of the pub as a family-friendly centre to village life.

Northmoor especially valued the Red Lion, having already lost (in 1991) the staunchly traditional Dun Cow, a pub so old-fashioned that it didn’t have a bar — the fitting I mean, not the room. The landlady, Joyce Douglas, used famously to advise that customers requiring ice with drinks had best visit in the winter. The property is now the home of Claire Harvey, the long-standing owner of the popular Pierre Victoire in Little Clarendon Street, itself an Oxford institution, as I observed when she called in at the Red Lion during our lunch.

Claire is one of seven villagers supplying their area of expertise as directors of the company that owns the pub. The sale to the villagers at the start of the year occurred after Greene King failed to find a tenant willing to take on the lease.

Ian and Lisa’s appointment, on terms more favourable than the brewers’, followed the excellent impression they gave at interview. The flow of happy customers since the Easter opening has proved that confidence in them was justified.

Our lunch with Cotswold’s publicity boss Tania Corbett was a delight, Ian’s food especially. A concentration on local producers is a feature of the blackboard menu. There are also a number of daily specials listed on a printed sheet.

My intention had been to order a starter from this — the fillet of mackerel “with gooseberry sauce from Michael Druce’s gooseberries”, he being a local grower. In the event, with fillet of sea bass coming for my main course, I switched to Brixham crab. This brought a very generous salad of fresh-tasting hand-picked white meat served with Little Gem and lamb’s lettuce beside a shiny arc of smooth dressing made from the brown meat. There was home-made bread, white and brown. Curious about the gooseberry sauce, though, I requested a sample from the kitchen. Tangy and creamy, it made a super dip.

My companions both selected dishes from the specials which, on delivery, would not have looked out of place on the table of a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. Rosemarie’s was pork rillettes, flavoursome and naughtily fatty, with a French bean and almond salad, and honey and thyme dressing. Tania had Scottish girolles, fried and placed on a base of sweetcorn and saffron purée with a poached duck egg from village supplier Maureen Shears.

I know the purée made a major contribution to the dish because more of the same, plus the girolles, came, with mussels and crushed new potatoes, alongside my “wild fillet of sea bass”, a description seeming to suggest that the fillet rather than the fish was wild. A thumbs up for flavour, though, if not on this occasion for syntax.

Rosemarie was meanwhile all contented smiles as she enjoyed her top-quality burger made from heavily marbled wagyu beef (after the rillettes she sure does like her fat!) offered with salad, melted cheddar cheese and chips. Tania had top-class meat, too, in her melt-in-the-mouth honey roast ham, prepared to Ian’s recipe and served with a pair of free-range eggs and triple-cooked chips.

To finish, Rosemarie and Tania shared “rich and yummy” (Tania) chocolate mousse cake with espresso chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. This was all home-made, as is everything here, with the sole exception of the Carr’s water biscuits with the super English cheeses (Wigmore, Cerney Ash, Oxford Isis, Oxford Blue and Montgomery Cheddar).

By the end of the meal we had been joined by Cotswold’s boss Rick Keene, who enjoyed a pint of his own lager and was very forgiving towards me for sticking to the good-value Spanish white wine (Casa Maria Verdejo, 2013).

The Red Lion 
Northmoor, OX29 5SX
01865 300301,

Opening times: Closed Mon. Food served Tues – Fri, noon to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Sat, noon to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Sun, noon to 4pm.
Parking: Large car park beside pub garden
Key personnel: Partners Ian Neale (chef) and Lisa Lyne, below
Make sure you try the... Brixham crab (£7.50), pork rillettes with French bean and almond salad (£6.50), Scottish girolles, poached duck egg and sweetcorn and saffron purée (£5.50); fillet of wild sea bass (£18), ham, egg and chips (£9.50), The Red Lion Burger (£12); chocolate mousse cake with espresso chocolate sauce and ice cream (£6), English cheeseboard (£9.50).
In ten words: Delicious dishes from well-sourced ingredients served in comfortable country pub