Food review - Freemasons at Wiswell
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 October 2018
When is a pub not a pub? When it's the Freemasons at Wiswell, as Emma Mayoh discovered
Don’t be fooled by the Freemasons at Wiswell. It may look like a pub and act like a pub. You might find a cracking lamb dinner, “chippy tea” nights and an annual family summer barbecue. But this is no ordinary boozer.
Even a brief look at one of the several seasonal menus proves it. You’ll find just cooked salmon from the River Lune with ponzu, samphire and elderflower; butter poached lobster with crispy claw wonton, heritage potato cooked in seaweed, raspberry and coastal herbs and rabbit and langoustine pie baked in brioche. They’re dishes that offer the warm, comforting nourishment you’d want from dinner out at the pub but these creatively arranged plates are designed to knock your socks off.
It’s a formula that chef patron Steven Smith has worked hard to establish. He has a strong desire to retain the village pub in pretty Wiswell where locals can pop down for a pint. But he is determined the food coming out of the Freemasons’ small kitchen wows its diners.
It’s a commitment that has been rewarded. Turning up without a booking on a weekend is ill advised, on a Sunday, complete madness. On the night I visited, it was full, unsurprisingly. The welcome was warm and the service friendly and efficient – no overzealous checking whether the food was ok. There is a stonking wine list and – as you’d expect from any self respecting pub – a good choice of beer.
But it is the main event, the food, that people travel for. It’s a good hour from my front door and a pilgrimage I’d happily take every week – but people travel much further than that. Some diners have been known to choose it as a stop off point on journeys between London and Scotland. Others have crossed the Atlantic to visit as part of a culinary tour of the UK.
It’s no surprise, though. Smith is a chef with skill, a technically minded culinarie with Asian influences. My starter of flame grilled mackerel with a parcel of smoked cucumber, mint and horseradish tasted as exquisite as it was expertly presented. The pea soup served with a thick crust of Procters Kick Ass Cheddar and beans on toast raised pleasing murmurs from my dining companion – and other tables near us.
The wild sea bass was a colorful dish with a fillet covered with tiny circular slices of courgette sat on a strawberry sauce vierge. The fish was perfectly cooked, delicately flavoured and, as cliche as it may be, melt-in-the-mouth. A battered ‘drumstick’ of shellfish filled tempura courgette flower was a perfect accompaniment to the dish.
The stand out – in looks and taste – was the Amalfi lemon meringue pie. It didn’t look a bit like any I’d seen before. Inspired by nearby Wiswell Moor – a theme in several of Steven’s dishes – this decadent dessert was a combination of jagged shards and tiny, heavenly droplets of soft meringue, supersweet berries and a slice of lemon jelly which exploded with citrus flavour.
Steven’s inventive approach to creating the perfect pub has been noticed by the likes of the Good Food Guide and Top 50 gastropubs – it placed at number four. It also received a prestigious ranking in the National Restaurant Awards moving up 59 places to 18 and was one of only a handful of pubs named on the list. The AA also named the village pub its Restaurant of the Year for England 2017-18.
Freemasons at Wiswell, while being good at being a local pub, is certainly different and perhaps being at the higher end of the price spectrum, a place reserved for special occasions rather than a weekly visit. The Taste of Freemasons menu is £80 a head but there are also other menus offering the same stellar food for smaller prices. For those wanting something exciting to eat without the formality of a fine dining restaurant, the Freemasons is your place.