Owned by Steven Smith, this elegant Lancashire gastropub is deserving of it position among the top 10, which it has held for several years now. This year the pub has pushed its way back into the top five, having dipped into sixth place in 2020 for the first time in years.
As well as serving many outstanding dishes, Smith has launched an accommodation offering and his own spin on a chef’s table following a big refurb and revamp of the business, which was completed in 2019.
Food at the Freemasons is all about contrast – experimental meeting traditional. Smith fuses locally sourced ingredients and his love of the classics with wild, sharp world flavours.
In the hands of a lesser chef it could so easily go wrong but Smith pulls it off with professionalism and gusto, creating a delicious roster of food you have to experience to believe.
Menu highlights have included foie gras with beer vinegar, blackberry and smoked eel; roast loin and kofta of Nidderdale lamb with BBQ gem lettuce, miso aubergine, mint and yoghurt; as well as butter-poached native lobster tail with crispy claw wontons, wild blueberry, coastal herbs and black pepper sauce.
Desserts have featured rice pudding baked with vanilla, blackberry, sake and buttermilk ice cream; Amalfi lemon meringue pie; and dark chocolate with banana, black sesame and yuzu.
While the dishes may sound fantastical (that they are) with their unusual ingredients, the Freemasons is very much a pub, with Smith and his team (including his wife Aga, the award-winning front-of-house manager) entrenching themselves in the local community.
They host summer barbecues, regular “chippy teas” and more delectable tasting evenings than you can shake a duck-fat chip smothered in caviar at.
The focus is not all on the food, as Smith launched the pub’s first guest rooms – four in total – to feed demand for accommodation in the surrounding area of natural beauty.
Along with the rooms, Smith has boosted the size of his already ample kitchen to make way for the chef’s table. It is not the familiar, arguably over-used, simple chef’s table many foodies familiar with the concept have become accustomed to. Smith’s is a true ‘Kitchen Table’ and sits at the very centre of the busy kitchen space so diners are right in the action.
Smith does not follow in the wake of others when it comes to his pub. This is most obvious from the chef’s table, with which Smith dares to go beyond boundaries others would not.
Speaking about the extension, he says: “It is a chef’s table but we didn’t want a traditional one, we wanted it to be original and a first and another reason why people will want to come to the Freemasons.”
He adds: “I’ve said many times that we want to be the best pub in the world, so we’ll see where this takes us.”