This is the third time we’ve schlepped from North Cheshire to the Freemasons – but it’s the first time we discovered that the village name isn’t pronounced as we’d thought from the spelling, but “Whizzel”. The other discovery is that the food just gets better and better – The Good Food Guide rates it amongst its top 50 restaurants in the whole country and its highest ranking pub (a certain well known Michelin 2* place in the south of England doesn’t get a look in on that list). I wouldn’t disagree for one minute.
They offer two menus – an “a la carte”, with main courses in the mid £20s, and a “Celebration of Summer”, short and cheaper but more appealing to my partner. From that latter menu, there was a pea soup which was just essence of pea. A lovely thing in itself but topped with a cheesey foam and what can best be described as mini “Cheesy Wotsits”. You get the idea. Just fab. That was followed by long cooked shoulder of Herdwick lamb. Herdwick is a great eating beast – it gets its flavour from running up and down the Lake District fells. That came with French style peas (yes, the second course where peas featured heavily – but if you can’t do that in July when can you?) and a powerful gravy lifted by a background zing of mint. It needed a side order of Jersey Royals.
From the main menu came one of the best starters I’ve eaten in several months. There’s a small fillet of line caught mackerel, quickly seared and just cooked through. There’s also a tartare of the fish wrapped in thin slices of cucumber – great contrast of texture as well as flavour. But what brought it all together was what was described as “English wasabi” – I’m not sure whether actual wasabi or an English mustard, but it zings through the plate. I had been tempted by the Herdwick lamb dish on this menu but greed got the better of me once I saw “whole roast” against a duck dish. Now I can’t recall ever having been served a whole duck – and I still haven’t. The description is something of a porky – tut, tut. You don’t get a whole duck, not even a small mallard, but they do use the whole bird to put stuff on your plate. There’s perfectly pink breast, roasted in honey and lavender – a scattering flowers is restrained and doesn’t interfere with the flavour of the meat. There’s liver, briefly cooked yakitori style and served on toast. And there’s a shepherds pie affair – leg meat in the bottom of a dish topped with what I thought was an overly wet potato puree (but this would be the only negative in the whole meal). There’s a griddled wedge of fennel, a scattering of cherries and, in contrast to the western cherry accompaniment, a very eastern style hoisin sauce flavour to the jus. The potato issue aside, this is a faultless plate of food.
For dessert, we both went with items from the main carte. There was half a peach roasted and served up with a rum and raisin sauce, ice cream and a chocolate cornet stuffed with chocolate ganache. It seemed a bit disparate but it did all work together. Rice pudding was skilfully made – rich and comforting – and was topped with a crisp biscuit and, according to the menu, rhubarb.
Have to say, this was one of the best meals in recent weeks.