Penderyn is as tucked away a valley village as you can get. But the Cynon Valley destination, which is the gateway to the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park for many travelling to Brecon from that valley and the Rhondda, is home to not just a globally loved whisky brand, but a destination pub that has a particular draw for regulars who keep visiting time and time again.

The Red Lion, or Tafarn Llew Coch, is up on the side of Moel Penderyn just a few miles from the much-loved waterfall country or Ystradfellte to Sgwd y Eira - and is the ideal walker's stop off for a pint, lunch or if you're less of a hiker, a beautiful country drive with the treat of a three-course meal of stunningly put together, traditional Welsh fare. It's pub grub done to a thoughtful and skilful level that once you've finished your lunch or dinner, you'll want to book in for the next time. Scroll down for more on what we thought of The Red Lion's lunchtime menu.

As soon as you turn off the main road through Penderyn you're onto the narrow, windy bit up the moel that many in the valleys are used to perfecting their clutch control to climb, and it isn't far around the bend that you'll happen upon the pub, which has had its roots on that spot since the 12th century, when it housed the men who built the watch tower, now part of nearby St Cynog’s church.

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The building - a Welsh longhouse - that used to home cattle now is a lovingly restored, stone dining room, topped out with wooden beams and decorated with traditional pub wares and a roaring fireplace that connects you into the lounge and bar. That bar feels like stepping back in time. Dark wood furniture on black slate floors, blood-red seat cushions and curtains but also it's brightly lit with fairy lights and lamps that reflect off the horse brasses and mirrored vintage brewery branding pictures dotted all around.

It's now run by Natalie and Richard Noble, but the pub first entered the family in 1978 when Natalie's parents, Aberdare natives Keith and Beryl James, moved back from London where Keith had been working as an architect for the now defunct Greater London Council. Using his expertise and a desire to restore the pub to its stunning heyday, Keith and Beryl's plans for the Red Lion saw decades of contemporary decor stripped back to the stunning stonework and original fireplaces and the place started to grow into what you see today. In fact, the couple's last proper holiday was the year before they bought the Lion, such has been their dedication to the pub's revival.

Richard delved into why the building, and the pub itself, is so special: "For our family the Red Lion is truly a love affair with a building which is continuing as strong today as it ever has. Being an old building it seems to spend most of its time plotting new and interesting ways to break itself which can make some days extremely frustrating, and eye-wateringly expensive, but would we have it any other way? Absolutely not.....well maybe without the eye-wateringly expensive bit!" he explained, adding that the building "draws" people back time and time again.

He continued: "The building seems to draw people to it, we have staff members who, now in their mid-twenties, have worked here since the age of 16, others who have left to move on to pastures new but are now back with us, customers who travel many miles every week, sometimes multiple times a week, to eat and drink with us. The old Rector of the parish used to speak of powerful ley lines converging underneath St Cynog's church opposite the pub, generating unique unseen forces which affect people deeply. It may be true, it may not, but the Red Lion does seem to have a unique affect on people and conjours a deep affection in their hearts."

We visited the Red Lion on a chilly April afternoon, midweek, but every fire was roaring and bar and waiting staff's welcoming and super friendly demeanour and service soon warmed us up. Fast forward a couple of months and the pub is the place to be to take advantage of its beer garden with brilliant views as well as their outdoor pizza van and regular pop-ups with the likes of The Beefy Boys burgers regularly slinging patties there. Their pop-ups were something of an accident Richard explained, resulting from a case of mistaken location.

"The street food trucks in the car park began by rather by accident with a gentleman from Brecon mistakenly ringing one night to see if the Beefy Boys were at the pub as he had heard they were, they were not," he said. "However we thought that it might be a bit something a little different and fun to try and as the Beefy Boys share our views on quality of local produce, using only their locally sourced Hereford beef for their burgers, we got in touch. They have since been twice, both incredibly successful evenings, and are due to come again in June and October this year."

The Red Lion in Penderyn is worth a road trip

Our visit followed a tour of the nearby Penderyn Distillery, which has, for the past quarter of a century, produced award-winning single malt whiskies from an on-site water spring - more on that here - we were ready to eat and The Red Lion, long on my list of pubs to tick off, was the only choice. Back in 2018 the pub and distillery actually worked together to produce a limited edition single cask Penderyn whisky to celebrate the James' 40th anniversary of buying their beloved inn.

The old school pub lantern outside The Red Lion

It was fairly quiet that afternoon, but it gave us a chance to have a proper nose around the bar and the lounge without disturbing anyone's lunch, the menu, too, was pretty impressive from smaller meals like ciabatta or bagels with fillings such as Welsh rarebit, Monmouthshire air dried ham or Welsh sirloin to those who fancied something a bit more substantial. We went for rump of Welsh beef served with shallot tart, crispy potato, confit shallot, leek and mushroom jus (£24) and the shepherd's pie, sprouting broccoli, roasted cauliflower and leeks (£16). Because we were quite hungry we had on the side chunky chips , chard, samphire and capers (£4.50 each).

The other dishes on offer are part of the reason why we want to return, it's a real menu to salivate over, from big beefed up burgers to fish and chips, and if we'd had room, the side of Caerphilly cheese and Monmouthshire ham fries would have been ordered, because come on, why wouldn't you? It felt like this was a menu put together with real care, the people who run the pub love good food and that seems to go hand-in-hand with how they've looked after The Red Lion, too. From the napkins with the logo on, to the little chocolates that come with the bill, each step has been considered to make it the most attractive to the customer. I'm won over.

After our visit I caught up with Richard about the Red Lion's view on their food output and he shares that it's his and Natalie's desire was to combine fresh, local ingredients to compliment the atmosphere of the pub.

"Both Natalie and I have always been extremely focused on food provenance, origin and locality, great passionate producers and seasonality which, when combined together, simply deliver the most fantastic flavours which, at the end of the day, is what brings the utter joy to eating a plate of wonderful, fresh, local food," he said. "This was obviously something we wanted to deliver via the restaurant and our incredibly talented kitchen team share this passion and work incredibly hard to deliver wonderful dishes based on this ethos. We hope therefore that the pub atmosphere compliments the food and vice versa to provide something a little different for our wonderful customers."

But what about the food? It's great. You can't be surprised at that result. The neat shepherd's pie had its lamb cooked to melt-in-the-mouth perfection and had a slight tomatoey sheen, but it tasted good, especially with the top of soft, creamy mash that had slightly blackened around the side as the sauce bubbled out while cooking. The accompanying roasted cauli and leeks were a light and fresh partner to go with this pie, as was the broccoli. Yeah, I ordered chips too, because you can't have a pub lunch without chips in my book. Chunky but crisp - they were decent chips.

The beef rump

The absolute star of the show was my other half's beef rump, though. Bloody hell, they'd thought about how the flavours married together in this dish. Served medium, cutting through the beef was like slicing a molten hot blade through an ice sculpture, soft and buttery in texture it was a flavourful cut of meat. From the crisp shallot tart to the silky confit shallot and leek, this whole dish was eye-poppingly delicious. It had a soft, herby flavour with a sharp little oniony-undertone. Perhaps that car trip or finishing off your hike at The Red Lion is the best idea as you won't even want to walk off this meal, it being so good.

The shepherd's pie

The only tiny downside was the side dish of greens had too many capers in it, we couldn't make out the taste of the samphire or chard, and the other downside was, we had no room for afters, so a quick espresso and we were out of there and back to reality.

And while stepping into the bar of The Red Lion might feel like a gorgeous step back in time to when pubs were real pubs, their menu is firmly grounded in this century, to their credit.

Get walking and don't fill up on any snacks.

You'll find out more about The Red Lion Inn here.