I’M SURE we are not the only parents out there resorting to bribery to get our children to try to keep up with the ever-growing mountain of school work that their teachers are diligently setting them during the lockdown.

It has been a constant case of good cop/bad cop, stick-and-carrot, to encourage them to keep their brains ticking over and to hit the books. And food is playing a big part in that.

So when we found out our local gastropub, the Red Lion in Bloxham, North Oxfordshire, was starting a takeaway service to help it cope with the coronavirus crisis and enforced closure of the pubs, we had our answer. Well, for one week, at least.

“Keep up with your set tasks this week, and we can have a takeaway on Saturday night,” we told them. I’d be lying if I said it worked flawlessly.

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However, by the weekend (at least, I think it was the weekend – all the days seem to be merging into one at the moment), I was so in the mood for a culinary treat, I was prepared to overlook the fact that a set of maths questions was only half-finished, and that a history assignment hadn’t been started. Don’t judge me.

I had been meaning to review the Red Lion for these pages long before now – and in better circumstances. All the meals I’ve had there have been excellent, and the decor and service are great. I was planning to review our anniversary meal there not long ago, but it was cut short by a call from the babysitter telling us that a pipe had burst in our bathroom. We were back home before the starters had arrived.

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So this piece is long overdue. But it feels quite timely now, as local, independent businesses are doing everything they can in their powers to stay afloat in these most trying of times. As well as the takeaway service, the Red Lion’s owners, Sandra and Mark Page, have started a pop-up grocery shop, selling essentials plus home-made meals, all while operating a strict one-in-one-out policy, with hand sanitisers for the customers. The lockdown has already cost Bloxham one of its three pubs, so it really is a case of ‘use it or lose it’ now for local residents.

So what was the food like? Well, it was great. The menu is understandably limited, but that’s no bad thing, concentrating on classic pub favourites and excellent pizzas, although the kitchen can’t resist a few gastronomic flourishes, such mackerel goujons, duck bon bons, and lamb spring roll with gooseberry and coriander dip.

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However, we opted for more traditional fayre. I went for beer battered haddock fillet and chips (£10), and was hugely impressed.

Obviously cooked to order, the fish was flaky and succulent, and the batter was thin and crispy. And the chunky chips – well, I don’t know if they were triple-cooked, double-cooked or what, but they were as good as any I can remember having anywhere. Ridiculously crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, it was all I could do to stop my kids stealing them off my plate. Thank goodness the portion was so generous.

The kids themselves opted for the pizzas – a classic Margaretta (£7.50) for my daughter, which was despatched in double-quick time (“even better than the pizzas in Italy” she declared), and a meat feast (£10) for her brother, who couldn’t get enough of the delicious fennel-flavoured meatballs, plus Cumberland sausage, peperoni and bacon. Actually, he couldn’t manage his last slice, but polished it off for breakfast (is there a better impromptu breakfast than cold pizza? If so, I’d love to know). Lovely crisp bases, great tomato sauce and melting cheese, they chose well.

My wife’s beefburger with grilled bacon, melted cheese and thin fries (£10) was also a belter. A very tasty patty, crispy fries and a nice soft bun, a bit of lettuce – delicious. The fries were lovely too – although if she had offered to swap, I would not have accepted. The chunky chips won this round of the battle of the spuds.

So, £37.50 to feed a family of four for the night, ease a bit of the cabin fever and give you a virtuous feeling for supporting a local business – sounds like a bit of a bargain. We’ll definitely be back.


  • WHERE: The Red Lion, High Street, Bloxham, near Banbury OX15 4LX
  • PHONE: 01295 722067
  • WEBSITE: the-red-lion-at-bloxham.co.uk/
  • TAKEAWAYS: Monday-Saturday 5-9om
  • PEOPLE: Mark and Sandra Page
  • PARKING: On site car park for picking up your order
  • TRY: The haddock and chips (£10), the excellent pizzas (£7.50-10)