Paul Watson takes a trip to the highly acclaimed Freemasons Arms at Wiswell and ends up begging for more!
I had a couple of concerns setting out to sample the cuisine at the mutli-award winning Freemasons at Wiswell, near Clitheroe.
Firstly, could it really live up to its billing as the country’s top pub for grub.
And secondly would I have to roll my trouser leg up and engage in strange handshakes and ceremonies to get fed there.
The Freemasons has, under the guidance of renowned chef-patron Steven Smith, become something of an “in place” for discerning diners during the past five years.
It has picked up a very long menu of awards and accolades, the latest being first place in the Good Food Guide Top 50 Pubs list.
These successes might have put it the Freemasons firmly on the map gastronomically, but the place itself can still be quite tricky locating.
Being in a tiny hamlet you would expect to find it on the main road or to be at least be very noticeable. In fact, it is down a little side street and not easy to find – even with sat-nav.
You could, in fact, build up quite an appetite trying to find it.
What you discover when you get there is a traditional pub building with flagged floors, beamed ceilings and rustic tables spread out over small rooms rather than one large dining room. All in all a very stylish and quaint setting in which to enjoy a relaxed meal.
To be fair the Freemasons’ reputation is reflected in its prices. They are a bit out of “pub league”, with starters on the a la carte menu ranging from £8 to £14, main courses from £17 to £35 and desserts from £9 to £12.
With the review budget not quite stretching to those prices, we instead opted for the Sunday special menu of three courses for £25 each.
For starters, I chose the lamb with barbecue lettuce, miso aubergine, mint and yoghurt, while my wife had the organic crispy hen’s egg with gammon and pineapple.
Both dishes were well presented and absolutely delicious. In fact, the sauce on my meal was so tasty that I was tempted to lick the plate - and probably would have done had it not been for the dire threats from my wife.
For the main course I selected the Aged Beef, roast sirloin with Yorkshire pudding, duck fat potatoes, cauliflower cheese and roast beef juices.
My wife went for the Fisherman’s Pie with a Lancashire cheese crust and fine green beans.
There was not a lot of beef, with the emphasis obviously on quality over quantity, but it was succulent and very tender. The Yorkshire pudding and vegetables were top notch too - real fine dining.
The Fisherman’s Pie was almost swimming in aquatic creatures, allowing the full flavour to come through the mashed potato topping. It was, my wife commented, very, very more-ish.
The one disappointment with this dish was that the only accompaniment was green beans - additional vegetables would have been welcomed.
For dessert I had the Michel Clulzel, dark chocolate mousse and passion fruit, while my wife opted for blackberry jelly and baked apple with a coating of vanilla cream. Both were absolutely delightful and vanished in an instance.
Throughout the meal the service was attentive but unobtrusive.
Any criticisms? I don’t want to sound like Oliver, but the starter and dessert portions were rather small and could have been a bit more generous for the price we were paying.
That apart though it was splendid dining experience and one of the best meals out I have ever had.
So does the Freemasons serve up the best pub food in the UK? I’m not sure about that. I would have to check out all the other establishments with a claim to the title- a task I am quite happy to do if invited to. The food though is most definitely top quality.
Oh and you don’t need to worry about rolling up your trouser leg. The only Masonic link I could ascertain is that the place gets its name from the fact that the building was once three cottages, one of which was the HQ of a Freemasons’ lodge.