PROGRESSIVE & PASSIONATE
They say that time flies when you’re enjoying yourself! It doesn’t feel like two minutes let alone 10 years since I first interviewed the young, fresh-faced chef Steven Smith as the Freemasons opened its doors for the first time in the summer of 2009, writes Tedd Walmsley. Photography: Robin Lyndon
It’s been quite the culinary journey since the Freemasons opened, with the pub, staff and of course Steve Smith, rarely out of the gastronomic headlines.
Countless awards and accolades have followed which are far too numerous to list, however the most recent have included an incredible third place in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs and Steve himself becoming their Chef of the Year 2019. Just last week the pub also claimed a very credible spot in the Estrella Damm Top UK 100 Restaurants Awards.
Throughout this time the pub has remained true to its core values and culinary roots and has always been welcoming, inclusive and accessible to everyone. The pub continues to evolve and just last week Liz and I were honoured to be invited to the official opening of ‘Mr Smiths’ the long-awaited private dining experience house within the huge kitchen extension.
With its own private entrance, this is a practical yet elegant space with polished stainless steel, wooden floors, concrete effect walls and atmospheric lighting above the Mr Smith’s table and kitchen bench. There is a specialist pastry area where all the pastries and breakfast croissants are prepared, a cold starter section and an extra-large pass.
The latest equipment has enabled the pub to refine the food even further, as Steve explains: “The team here are always pushing to the next level. We need to keep being the best and we never stand still. At the Freemasons we are always striving for perfection.”
With the new kitchen comes a new menu which pays homage to a number of Steve’s iconic dishes: “It reflects what is really a life’s work to date! It’s very seasonal and it’s a menu that features what I believe are some of our greatest hits.”
Director of Wine, Mario Martins, has also created a new specialist wine list to perfectly complement the Mr Smith’s dining experience.
Mr Smith’s kitchen table and ‘kitchen bench’ places discerning diners right in the middle of the busy kitchen enabling them to see the chefs in action creating the award-winning dishes for which the Freemasons is renowned.
“Diners are in the thick of it, observing the chefs,” says Steve. “It really is the ultimate dining experience.”
Mr Smith’s kitchen table – a superior European oak bespoke table with beautifully comfortable seating, seats up to 12 people, with a minimum of six, while the bench offer four stools right in the hub of the kitchen. There are a number of menu options too with diners at Mr Smith’s table able to opt for a totally tailor-made menu in collaboration with Steve or, alternatively, they can choose a tasting menu or from the a la carte menu. At Mr Smith’s bench, the tasting menu is offered.
Steve explains: “Diners at the table can have carte blanche, giving them the option of choosing all their best loved dishes or they can leave it totally in our hands. It’s important to note also that this is not an exclusive club – it is totally inclusive – it’s available to anyone who enjoys great food!”
Sunday lunch sees diners at the table enjoy beef carved in front of them amidst all the theatre of a busy kitchen. This is a truly unique experience.
I asked Steve about the addition of accommodation and revealing that the Freemasons is soon to add four guestrooms by mid-July, Steve adds: “As we have evolved, we have become a destination so people are travelling from throughout the UK to visit.”
A further four rooms will be completed by the end of the year. Described as ‘timeless luxury’ they have beautiful panelling and mezzanine floors with roll top bathtubs.
“It’s all about looking after our customers and keeping ahead. The latest developments here are an exciting part of our journey,” says Steve.
The new ethos to describe the kitchen is ‘seasonal, progressive, passionate and humble’ which summed up our evening succinctly. Follow the Freemasons on social media and check their website for all the very latest news.
Freemasons at Wiswell
8 Vicarage Fold
Wiswell BB7 9DF