[Wiswell, Lancashire] Freemasons

We were last here in 2011 when we were trying all the restaurants in the Good Food Guide, within an hour’s drive of home. The Freemason’s was right on the edge of our self-imposed 60 minutes. Frankly, the meal wasn’t worth the schlep and we felt there was no need ever to go back (not least as Northcote is just up the road). However, the Good Food Guide now has the Freemasons as its highest rated pub so it was time to give it a second try.

It’s something of a misnomer describing this as a pub. It’s a restaurant. It might be in a building that once operated as a pub but, by no stretch of the imagination, would anyone really regard it as one now. For example, all the tables are set for eating, with none cleared simply for drinking. There’s none of the obvious trappings that folk would expect from the village local – not even a decent bar area where blokes might stand sipping a pint of mild and chatting about last night’s football. So, let’s regard it as a restaurant, in the same way that a couple of others on the Guide’s list, are also restaurants for all intents in purposes. I’m thinking of the Royal Oak Paley Street, in Berkshire and the Nut Tree at Murcot in Oxfordshire. Both of them Michelin starred and neither as good as the Freemason’s.

There was good bread to start and a lovely amuse bouche – a crisp pastry tart enclosing soft cheese, topped with peas and beans. For one starter, there was wild salmon from the River Lune. The menu said “just cooked” but it looked and tasted more like just marination than heat. It was delicious whatever. It came with a slice of pikelet, topped with Morecambe Bay potted shrimps. There’s a scattering of samphire which gave a welcome crunch and a vaguely citrussy and floral dressing. Pea soup was bang-on for both seasonality and flavour. It comes topped with a foam of balsamic vinegar and a scattering of Lancashire cheese. Alongside, a cheese “hotdog” – a thick cheese sauce made into a sausage shape before being breadcrumbed and fried. It’s stuffed into a mini brioche hotdog bun and topped with grated summer truffle. It’s inspired!

“Fish of the day” featured Morecambe Bay seabass – apparently only available four weeks of the year, for reasons of conservation. It’s a thickish fillet and cooking is all but perfect – the lack of crispy skin being a let-down. It comes simply grilled with a lemon butter sauce, sat on creamed leeks, with a scattering of shrimps and samphire and a bowl of Jersey Royals. There’s suckling pig on the other plate – it doesn’t say so on the menu but my bet is this also local – there’s a guy at Preston who raises them. It’s delicious, whether the long cooked fatty belly (?), the quickly fried bit of fillet (?), or the long cooked jowl. There’s slices of a black carrot and a couple of dollops of a thick orange and Chinese XO sauce. The waiter suggested duckfat chips to accompany. Good recommendation.

We didn’t want dessert. Coffee was decent enough.

In conclusion, this was a good lunch, far better than five years ago and a place we’ll definitely return to.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold