I love Fountain Square. It's just across the highway from my front door, so I obviously want the area to do well. It's already got some great restaurants (Naisa Pan-Asian Cafe, Siam Square, the Shelbi Street Cafe and Bistro, Maria's Pizza, etc.), and the impending Cultural Trail should help enliven Fountain Square even more. All of which makes it difficult for me to admit that I'm not really feeling one of the area's newer eateries, the Red Lion Grog House.
To be honest, I'm surprised I don't dig the place. I used to live in England and I love pub grub and good beer, so it seems like the Red Lion Grog House would be right up my alley. I think the trouble began the first time I went there for dinner and they didn't yet have their liquour license. Now, I'm not one of those people that HAS to have alcohol with their meals, but I was really looking forward to some draft Strongbow. To say that I was a little let down that a "grog house" didn't have alcohol available would be fair. Still, I stuck around and ordered dinner anyway. It was just okay. I ordered toad in the hole as an appetizer and and shephard's pie as my main. My friends tried the fish and chips and the chicken tikka masala. Although I can't say that any of us were thrilled with our food, the only thing that was actively bad was the toad in the hole. When I've had toad in the hole in the past, it has consisted of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter cooked in a pan in the oven. The toad in the hole served to me at the Red Lion Grog House was more like a chewy roll with a small sausage stuck in the middle. I can't be sure, but it tasted pre-made, like someone just pullled it out of the freezer and reheated it. Not good.
A few months later, I decided to try the Red Lion Grog House again. I called to make sure they now had their liquor license, first, of course. My experience this time wasn't as bad (the beer helped), but I was still not sold on the place. The Scotch eggs did make a much more palatable appetizer than the toad in the hole, though, and the yummy curry sauce helped enliven my chips. The bangers and mash were alright, too. I've been back one other time since then, and enjoyed what I ate/drank well enough.
So, if visits 2 and 3 to the Red Lion were fine, then why am I not giving it a glowing review? I think the problem is that it's just mediocre. It's hard to get too excited by the place, really. The food is just okay and seems kind of expensive, to me, for what it is. If I pay $20 for dinner, I'd like it to be memorable (hopefully in a good way). Unfortunately, the food here is just forgettable. Another problem for me is the layout of the restaurant. When I think "English pub," I think cozy. Nooks and crannies. The Red Lion Grog House is basically a hallway - one long hallway with very little on the walls, which causes echoes and general noisiness. One positive, though, is that my servers have always been nice and performed their jobs well. I've never had any complaints in that regard.
Will I give the Red Lion Grog House another try? Probably. It's too close to my house for me to not wander over and have a beer every once in a while. Will I take visitors there to show them how good the restaurants in Fountain Square can be? Absolutely not.