The Freemasons in Wiswell has just been rated as one of the UK’s top 50 eateries. Diane Cooke discovers why.

CHEF Steven Smith is smiling a lot lately. And who can blame him, for Freemasons at Wiswell has been rated one of the best eateries in Britain just four years after he got the keys to this handsome country pub.

And what’s more he’s achieved the accolade – number 42 in the country’s top 50 in the Good Food Guide – without resorting to fancy fine dining. Pork pie sauce is as posh as it gets.

At just 30, Steven has acquired something most chefs never achieve in a lifetime. But it’s been down to hard work, determination and the backing of a great team. His Polish wife Aga, runs the front-of-house, so he’s confident his efforts in the kitchen are translated into top service for the punters.

Neither is this talented young man a product of a catering school. He had a “brief spell” at Blackburn College after starting in the trade from school at 15, but his skills have been honed – like celebrity chef Raymond Blanc – in good kitchens, starting as a breakfast chef at the Old Moathouse in Blackburn.

Some would say, that’s the best training there is. He was Head Chef at Stanley House in Mellor and he’s also worked at 3AA Rosette Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District and Michelin-starred The Box Tree in Ilkeley, which is also in the Good Food Guide’s top 50 British restaurants.

“It’s absolutely superb to get such a rating in the Good Food Guide, not just for me and the team, but for the area to have one of the best restaurants in the country on the doorstep. Last year, we achieved four points. This year we raised it to a six and there are not very many restaurants with higher scores. It’s also encouraging because it’s the public making the nominations.”

It is by no means the first accolade. Freemasons was the only Lancashire establishment of its kind to receive 3 AA rosettes last year. It has also retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand title for three years. Smith undoubtedly knows how to keep his customers happy.

Whether it be a chippy tea or a foie gras hot dog, he likes to keep it simple, wholesome and tastebud-tantalisingly tasty.

“Food has to be relevant and the fact we are a pub means that we are accessible. We appeal to everybody. Nobody feels intimidated coming here as they may going to a top notch restaurant. I also believe in seasonality and buying the very best ingredients.”

Smith’s mantra is ‘under-deliver, over-deliver’ which means that he allows the dishes to speak for themselves – no indulgent explanations using French words. Having under-sold it, when it arrives, it inevitably knocks ’em dead.

In his words: “It’s British pub food taken to a different level.” Which explains one speciality of Pan-dived Scallops with Gammon and Pineapple with Pork Pie Sauce.

Most restaurants stopped putting a soup on the menu in the nineties, but Smith asserts everyone loves a good soup and not only in winter. His char-grilled Sweetcorn with Roast Chicken Soup – served with a Foie Gras Hot Dog– is a hit with all ages.

“My food is becoming known as Steven Smith’s food. I’m happy with that,” he says.