Red Bar & Lounge, Dorking, Surrey RH4 2DW – restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 12:03 23 June 2017
A venue that’s a home-from-home for its regulars, Red Bar and Lounge, in Dorking, treads the line between lively bar and fine dining. Matthew Williams visits and discovers a hidden gem
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2017
Need to know
Red Bar & Lounge
45 Dene Street, Dorking, Surrey RH4 2DW
Tel: 01306 882222
What we ate
Beetroot cured salmon gravadlax, wasabi aioli and pickled watermelon radish, £7.50
Tuna variation (sashimi, tarta and carpaccio), pickles and wasabi, £9
Pan fried duck breast, seared pak choi, duck bon bon, butternut squash, chilli and port reduction, £15
Pan roasted cod, chorizo, cherry tomatoes, saffron potatoes and lemon butter, £16
Crème brûlée and salted caramel ice cream, £6
Cheese, biscuits, celery, apple and chutney, £6.50
Chateau de Haute Serre, Cahors, Malbec, 2012, £36
REVIEW: What is it that makes a town or village spring into technicolour life? Investment? Location? People? A mix of all three? Probably. Whatever the answer, in the shadow of Box Hill and the town’s famous giant roundabout cockerel, there’s a certain thrill of foodie creativity in the Dorking air.
English wine royalty Denbies Wine Estate, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has been joined by a farmers’ market worth of exciting young businesses, from a butcher, beer shop and greengrocer to producers of chocolate pastes, gins and meads. Not to mention chef Steve Drake’s hotly-tipped Sorrel, which is set to open around September.
That’s not to say it’s all been sweetness and light. There have been heated debates about rising business rates and the recent liquidation of the long-established Two to Four restaurant was a reminder of how tough the industry is.
But back to the positives. One of the creative collaborators in the past year’s foodie action has been Red Bar and Lounge. Well-known to those who live in the town, it remains a hidden gem to most people outside. Part of the reason is that you’d never stumble upon it. It’s tucked down a little lane off the main High Street by Cotmandene.
It feels a bit like one of those brilliantly random holiday recommendations that you chance upon from an enthusiastic local cabbie while abroad. “Trust me, the food is great.”
As a building it’s nondescript, unpretentious and the prices don’t give much away about the ambition in the kitchen – you could just as easily pop in for a burger with your pint as a three-course meal. You enter through an extremely lively bar brimming with atmosphere, so don’t expect sterile formality.
I’d popped in a couple of times over the years, for a quick sandwich while touring the nearby Deepdene Trail, but it was social media videos of barbecuing meat from Dorking Butchery; their championing of foodie initiatives (Goatober, Gamestock, the launch of Dorking’s The Gin Kitchen... for instance); and a steady stream of recommendations that meant it made our must-visit list.
It’s run by chef Eric Hockey and his wonderfully bubbly wife Lorraine. Eric tells me later on, after our meal, that all he’s ever set out to do with his cooking is “make people happy”. He originally joined the Red team some seven years ago as a freelance chef, only planning to be around for a few months. He ended up taking over the place in October 2015. Eric mentions that they’ve just taken on a new head chef too, so the friendly competitive edge in the kitchen means there should be plenty more “happiness” to come for diners. They’ve also added Jean-Marie Soreau, previously of Little Dudley House and Two to Four, to run front of house with Gallic charm.
Settling into the dining room, we opt for fish starters and both dishes come with a lip-smacking whack of wasabi. While the tuna three ways is the more refined, it’s the salmon gravadlax that plays wonderful tricks – bursting with flavour, the delicious salmon fights intriguing battles with wasabi and pickled radish before settling down in harmony. The creative tuna dish plays a similar game but the salmon is a star.
It should be noted that Eric serves us a few little extras along the way to showcase their love of seasonality: the asparagus, fresh from Secretts in Milford, and asparagus and wild garlic veloute are fitting celebrations.
My main of succulent duck breast brings the big guns with a winning chilli and port reduction. The seared pak choi and butternut squash add a really lovely undercurrent to the plate, as well as vibrant colour. In the game of dining top trumps, I think I win this one, as the elevated excitement of my duck wasn’t quite matched by the cod. Not a bad dish at all, but the duck delighted with every mouthful.
To finish, we enjoy a crème brûlée and a stacked plate of cheese and biscuits.
All in all, there’s a passion and ambition at Red that shines through. They put a lot of love into what they do – and it’s paying dividends. From other diners, we overhear stories of the amazing quality of meat used for the steaks; about the time comedian Ross Noble came for dinner before singing its praises at his Dorking Halls show; that birthday celebrations here the other week were the best etc. Basically, Red is down-to-earth, high quality dining and a night out with friends, wrapped up in one.
“To be honest, I love this but I really can’t wait to get outdoors and cooking on our barbecue this summer,” says Eric with a glint in his eye. “We get some really fantastic meat in and it all helps to add drama to our food.”
Fitting, as the sun is certainly shining on Dorking at the moment…
Vote for your favourite Surrey pubs and restaurants in the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards
Three more top notch foodie pubs
High Street, Ripley, Surrey GU23 6AE. Tel: 01483 211866. Web: ripleyanchor.co.uk
Expect confident and creative cooking at this pub, which is owned by Steve Drake and holds two AA rosettes and a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand. Don’t miss the ‘secret’ courtyard, perfect for a summer aperitif.
The Street, Hascombe, Surrey GU8 4JA. Tel: 01483 208258. Web: whitehorsepub.net
It’s been all change here since chef Daniel Britten made the move out into the country. A stunning country pub found down winding lanes, the dining room is its own world and the garden is glorious when the sun shines.
42 Guildford Road, West End, Surrey GU24 9PW. Tel: 01276 858652. Web: the-inn.co.uk
Long renowned for its down-to-earth celebration of the seasons menu – as well as its exceptional wines – The Inn is an adults-only pub/restaurant with rooms that well deserves its place at the top table.