Harden's survey result
For 25 years we've been curating reviews of the UK's most notable restaurant. This year diners have submitted over 60,000 reviews to create the most authoritative restaurant guide in the UK.
“Steve Smith continues to lead the vanguard of haute gastronomy in the Ribble Valley”, at this nationally notable and “attractive pub”, “in a tiny village alley” – “a brilliant gourmet destination high on the moors of East Lancashire”, which local cognoscenti feel “knocks Northcote into second place”. While the style is “unpretentious, with wooden tables”, this is “a class act all round”: “service is exemplary with a sommelier on hand”, and the dishes are “well thought out”, “skilfully executed” and highly “memorable”.
“Northcote’s only serious competitor in the area!” – Steve Smith’s “hard-to-find gastropub, tucked-away in a rural village”, gives its grander local rival a good run for its money, with “skilful and complex” local and seasonal cooking that’s “full of flair” (“and its pub guise even means there’s good ales on draught too”). One or two reporters were “disappointed after all the rave reviews”, but they seem like the exception that proves the rule.
“An almost hidden little restaurant – not really a pub any more – which offers some cracking food”; all reports testify to its remarkable “consistency”… and in a “fantastic” setting too!
It “represents itself as a country pub, yet the main competition is with nearby Northcote Manor!”; this “cosy, multi-roomed old inn”, in an attractive Ribble Valley hamlet, remains rather under the radar – despite Steven Smith's extremely “classy” cooking (“it should have a Michelin star”).
The team at The Freemasons has worked tirelessly to create a pub that is accessible to everyone and we believe we've achieved that. Our menu ticks the boxes for the real food lovers, who want to see flair and imagination in dishes – there’s attention to detail in every aspect, from the butter we make in-house to the Wiswell pine we forage and cook our pigeon on. We have tasting menus that satisfy those with an appetite to try new combinations, beautifully created and put together, who travel the country eating at the best establishments and expect a certain level of quality at every meal. On the flip side, we’ve kept dishes on the menu that work for those who aren’t as adventurous, who come to eat in a pub because they like the simpler things on the menu and who don’t like the formality found in some restaurants. Dishes like our Fish of the Day and our 40 Day Aged Beef have been kept on the menu for that very reason and will continue to stay there.
We have menus varying in price to accommodate differing budgets. Customers have the option of choosing from the a la carte menu, our tasting menus and our Sunday lunch menu.
As well as winning the No.1 pub award in the Waitrose Good Food Guide for the second successive year, we’re also extremely proud that Aga won the Front of House Manager Award at this year’s Gastropub Awards. We now have a front of house team that works seamlessly with the kitchen and this award was a great way of demonstrating that.
Steven Smith is the Chef Owner of the multi award winning Freemasons at Wiswell. Steven, born in nearby Blackburn, learned his craft in some of the North’s top establishments before going solo in this quaint Lancashire village and creating a true gastronomic experience in a stylish yet homely pub setting.
Steven demonstrates assured technique and innovation in his modern adaptation of traditional favourites. Steven says: “We believe this is how dining should be. There are lots of places in our region where you can go and eat good home cooking, and a few places where you can experience fine dining. We want to create an exceptional dining experience, but without being overly formal.”
Industry recognition was quick to arrive in 2011, with Steven’s Best Newcomer award in The Publican awards and Freemasons’ ranking in the top 15 gastropubs in the UK. He was invited to cook alongside some of the country’s star names at the London Restaurant Festival and was selected as one of eight ‘visionaries’ in the nationwide Great 8 series of charity dinners.
Awards followed one after another. From being named as one of the top five places to dine in 2013 by Waitrose Magazine, to winning its third AA rosette, to maintaining The Freemasons Michelin status, to being shortlisted for menu of the year in the Hotel & Caterer awards and personally winning the Acorn award that recognises excellence in the industry under 30, The Freemasons and Steven had the perfect platform to build on.
Recent years have seen the achievements continue to flow. In 2014, the Waitrose Good Food Guide named The Freemasons the UK’s best pub, as well as The Sunday Times placing it in their Top 100 Restaurants – a commendable accolade given only seven North West establishments made the list. The Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2015 selected Freemasons as one of the Inspector’s favourites, alongside only two other Lancashire restaurants.
Last year, Freemasons proved its staying power. Retaining its status as the country’s best pub in the Waitrose Good Food Guide for the second year running and being placed in Square Meal’s Top 100 Restaurants, the Freemasons’ accomplishments continue to accumulate.
Steven’s aim going forward is to continually improve the offering for his loyal diners and push the boundaries of modern pub food, making The Freemasons synonymous with excellence for both cooking and service. The Freemasons now enjoys welcoming diners from far and wide, who have travelled specifically to dine there, proving its reputation precedes it, a reputation Steven plans to continue to evolve and grow in 2016. Watch this space!
Freemasons at Wiswell Restaurant Diner Reviews
"Having been a supporter since Steven Smith arrived I continue to believe this is one of the very best Pub food operations in the North. However on 2 recent visits it has not really hit the heights I have become used to. I wonder whether the focus on the kitchen has been lost a little with the recent planning problems?"