The Red Lion & Sun is situated about half-way between my old house in Archway and my new one in East Finchley, not more than a couple of miles away from either, but it took me a few years to discover it. Located as it is very close to the part of Highgate village that is lovely to stroll around, without actually being in that part of Highgate village, it always used to lose out to the better-located but, as it turned out, markedly inferior Angel Inn or Flask. I was missing out, big time.
As usual, my stomach led me to their door. The first time I went the then much-hyped Meatwagon was parked in the front garden. I liked what I saw, and have been back regularly since. There’s plenty of space outside but not a lot inside, most of which is bar, most of which is dedicated to displaying their bulging whisky collection. It’s cosy, there’s a very fine fire that roars through the winter. They make very good but very unfussy food at reasonably prices and without fuss. It’s quietly, unpretentiously excellent.
A few weeks ago the current owners celebrated the fifth anniversary of their taking control, by throwing a party. They roasted a pig, and for good measure, they also roasted a lamb. That was enough to grab my attention.
There was a DJ in the front garden, playing loud disco music. The bad news ended there: the meat was served in buns, with a fistful of salad leaves. It was delicious, and it was free. I went to the bar, and ordered a couple of pints. They were free also. The atmosphere was startlingly friendly. People were actually talking to strangers.
I was astonished by this act of generosity. They could have charged a couple of pounds for a plate of food, and everyone would have felt that they had themselves a bargain. They could have charged a pound or two for a drink, and everyone would still have been rubbing their hands with glee. But they gave it all away, and this can mean one of two things: either they’ve got no business sense and the entire enterprise is doomed, or they truly understand how to make customers feel valued, and everyone who was there will come back often enough to repay them several times over. I know I’ll be back; I just hope they’re still open when I get there.