Some people don't know how good they have it. Tucked away in the sleepy village of Wiswell, the Freemasons pub seems to generate a fairly steady stream of bad reviews on Tripadvisor from the scathing locals. Apparently, they're longing for a traditional pub serving generic pints with pie and chips for £2.50; fine dining here it seems will not be tolerated.
People are, of course, completely entitled to their opinion and many restaurants have rapidly sunk without a trace for failing to understand their local market. Yet when I visited for Saturday lunch, the place was packed and showing no signs whatsoever of disappearing anytime soon. The reason I suppose, is simple. Chef patron Steven Smith has created a restaurant that's so utterly brilliant, it transcends geographical boundaries. Even the risk of cliche Kevin Costner references from small time restaurant reviewers (such as myself) won't keep them away. Well after all, if you build it....
On arrival, the first thing that struck me was that the place is immaculate. Gleaming white walls, stone flagged floors and it was clean, like exceptionally clean, not even a hint of dust anywhere. Does it matter? Well yes, because if you take that much pride in the appearance of your restaurant, you're surely going to take a lot of pride in the appearance of your food. Ultra clean doesn't mean ultra formal though; the service is warm, friendly and relaxed. There's no placing of napkins or pouring of water here, the staff didn't even offer to take our coats, but that doesn't detract from the professional feel.
The main reason people flock here though is undoubtedly the food and having now indulged myself with the tasting menu, it's not difficult to see why. The meal started with a tasty leek and haddock soup, complete with a more than interesting fish finger hot dog, very enjoyable. The rosemary infused brioche was very good but the next course, which was basically onion a few ways with pear and foie gras, was absolutely delightful. I never take pictures of dishes in restaurants, but I was so tempted here, it was a phenomenal looking plate of food and stunning flavours too; what a dish! Unfortunately my wife's version did have a rather large hair in it which was a shame.
The next dish didn't really work for me or my wife sadly. It was potato with a nice egg but a phenomenally strong and very acidic bacon dashi; it wasn't great to be honest. I managed to eat it but my wife really struggled, not sure it was supposed to have tasted like that. However the next course of scallop baked in its shell was much more what I was hoping for; it was a beautiful scallop with a lovely scrambled duck egg and winter truffle on top; a very nice combination.
Last of the savoury dishes was suckling pig and sausage, I wasn't quite as blown away by this as what had gone before but it was still a very accomplished and tasty piece of cooking and of course, beautifully presented. I'm never upset to see two desserts on a seven course tasting menu and the first of lemon meringue pie was very good indeed. To finish we were treated to an excellent mille feuille; it wasn't the first use of rhubarb on the menu but it was another very enjoyable dish. Sadly it was my turn for a hair this time, nestling pretty visibly in the cardamom ice cream. To have seen two in one meal, considering the level of what was being produced, was unexpected.
I had the wine parings with the meal and these were better than expected and good value at £35 for seven glasses. I got the impression the sommelier was fairly new, but the delivery was accomplished and the wine paired well so no complaints at all. They even managed to knock up a pretty decent non-alcoholic cocktail for my wife without any fuss.
All in all it was a stunning meal that really exceeded my expectations, however there is one significant problem. The wait between courses is just far too long. More than once my wine was poured and I was sat waiting for at least ten minutes before the next course; being able to deliver a tasting menu with good pacing is so important in restaurants that really want to reach a high level. I know it's not easy to achieve; every time I've had a mid-service tour of two or three Michelin star kitchens, everyone is running round like a maniac to make sure the pace is maintained but it does make such a difference to the end customer.
The long waits aside this was still a fantastic meal with really top class cooking in a beautiful restaurant. Yes, if your ideal pub lunch is a cremated Wetherspoons minted lamb burger, this probably isn't the place for you. However if you enjoy truly top class cooking in a relaxed setting, my advice is to make the trip to Wiswell as soon as possible; a glorious meal awaits.
|Ratings||Michelin Guide||AA Guide||Good Food Guide|
|At time of review||Listed||7|