The increasingly popular restaurant trend to mark the changing months and celebrate seasonal food, thus encouraging us shoppers to buy & cook seasonal food at home, gets top marks in my book. There’s some thing very comforting about the transition into Autumn, as the nights get darker, the meals get heartier, richer flavours and warmer colours. Even the words used: braising, smoking, pickling, roasting, make you feel like you’ve already got your onesie on.
A head-to-head challenge featuring British Game and autumnal produce, between two Northern based chefs for National Game Week at the Freemasons in Wiswell, sounded like it’d serve up a winning dinner and we weren’t disappointed. We’d visited before, though just for a light lunch, but had heard great things about chef-patron Steven Smith’s homely, rural pub, squirrelled away in the heart of the Lancashire countryside. I remember the pub from my college days when beery lock-ins were the only feature on the menu… things have definitely changed for the gastronomically better.
Packing a powerful punch to begin was a potent but delicious hare consommé, with succulent pink hare fillets & English truffle. These flavour shots are going to be popular amongst foodies, similar to the Cockshot at Mark Hix’s Tramshed – a vodka shot with chicken consommé & spices. One of those things you’d either love or hate. I loved.
In competition for our starter marks was smoked rose deer tartar, roasted langoustine, pickled turnip and cinnamon, Surf n Turf with a Game twist. Having the hare first put the deer on the back foot flavour wise which was a shame because it’s delicate taste subsequently felt unfairly weak. The north of the border langoustine however, blimey, I’m not sure I’ve even tasted as delicious a crayfish, apparently we export most of them to Spain….. are we mad?! The rich cinnamon jus was the perfect accompaniment and sealed the deal for the dish as a winner for me.
Mains up next and all to play for. In the candle-lit snug corner, nestled pheasant pie, celeriac, toasted chestnuts, savoy cabbage and bacon….. whilst in the Farrow & Ball Fawn corner, slow roasted mallard with salt baked salsify, rosehip wine jelly & artichoke.
So tough to call. The pheasant breast was pink and soft, the celeriac a creamy sliver of full flavour and the crispy pastry pie filled with cabbage & chestnuts an inspiration for any Christmas table. No a soggy bottom in sight for us #GBBO fans.
The Yorkshire mallard though, gorgeous, weighty with that unique moreish duck punch lightened by an aromatic rose hip jelly, and the artichoke toasted sprinkles had the foodie room murmuring. Simply because the salsify & cabbage leaves didn’t do it for me, the pheasant emerged winner.
The pudding courses caused a problem on our table for two reasons, 1) only one of us could vote on flavour as Mr M ‘doesn’t do dessert’ and 2) after eating all four puddings I could barely move.
Halloween on a plate was served first, set nutmeg cream, honey poached pumpkin, parkin crumble and popcorn ice-cream – it looked amazing, a true individual showstopper. For me something more crispy was needed to balance all the creaminess, I’d expected a pop of fireworks somewhere and didn’t get it.
The beetroot and chocolate cakes, carrot toffee and bee pollen foam blew me away. Both of them 😉 So clever to have such an autumn veg inspired pudding which still hit the necessary sweet button. The chocolate cake was rich and dense, the beetroot blancmange-like square fresh and light and the honey foam melt in the mouth heaven. Probably wouldn’t have coped if I hadn’t been able to have two.
Thank so much to the Freemasons for the invitation. We’ll be back, that Chippy Tea looks like a night not to miss 🙂