As part of our mission to visit every Michelin Stared restaurant in Devon, we set off for The Masons Arms in Knowstone last week to sample some of the best pub grub the county has to offer.
The Masons Arms is an award winning pub, situated on the edge of Exmoor, that has earned a reputation over the past decade as a leader in its field. As family run business through and through, Mark and Sarah Dobson work together to create a friendly and relaxing environment for their guests; making us feel welcome from the get go as well as serving the highest quality food. Indeed, part of the restaurant’s appeal is its location and it’s undeniable home-from-home vibe. As you enter the cosy, low-beamed pub you come face to face with its many regulars and their dogs conversing over pints by the fireplace and groups of hikers, fresh from the moors, can be found enjoying a drink on the picnic tables outside.
We chose to visit The Masons Arms on a Saturday lunchtime and took advantage of their impressive 3 courses for £25 offer. After ordering our drinks at the bar we were escorted down the stairs (minding our heads) to a quiet little lounge beyond. Here we enjoyed an aperitif and took a gander at the menu while sinking into the impossibly comfortable sofa. Then we were politely ushered into the main dining room to the back of the building; a room that is modest in size (there’s only space for a few covers) but which boasts impressive views of the surrounding hills and a truly marvellous painted mural on the ceiling.
Head Chef, Mark Dobson, was the Head Chef of Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn in Bray for twelve years prior to setting up The Masons Arms. His food is self-described as a ‘modern take on British and French classics’ and the pub has held its Michelin Star since 2006. Needless to say, we came with high expectations about his food and we were not disappointed.
For starters we ordered two of the ‘Chicken Liver Parfait with Chilli Jam’ and one ‘Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Coriander Soup’. The parfait was beautifully presented, alongside dainty edible flowers, and had the perfect consistency – smooth and easy to spread. I like my parfait to be delicate in flavour and this one hit all the right marks. It did not overpower my palate, but it still maintained its flavour when paired with the homemade jam and poppyseed bread. The soup was equally delicious. It was smooth and silky in texture and full of seasonal flavour. Both starters were quickly polished off along with the selection of homemade breads that we were offered at the start, and I wouldn’t think twice about ordering the parfait again.
For mains, I went for the Confit of Duck with Curly Kale, Asparagus and a Ginger & Lime Glaze, while my fellow diners opted instead for the Duo of Cod and Fillet of Sea Bass with Crushed New Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables.
Given that the restaurant seems to specialise in European cooking, I was surprised to see these seemingly Asian flavours pared with the duck. However, an ‘East-meets-West’ take on a typically French dish sounded nothing short of delicious, so I was hopeful that I would like what I received. I wasn’t wrong. The duck was tender and perfectly cooked – falling off the bone and with enough crispy, salty skin to keep me happy. As I suspected, the ginger and lime glaze worked very well indeed, strong enough to be a dominating flavour, but not overpowering the taste of the bird. If you aren’t a fan of ginger then it will suffice to say that you won’t enjoy this, but if you are then you’re in for a real treat. The vegetables were also very well cooked and I felt that the portion size was just about right (in that it still left a little room for dessert).
The fish dish also went down very well. Both of my dining partners commented on how perfectly cooked it was – delicate and meaty, with just enough ‘bite’ to each mouthful. The tomato and basil sauce also helped tie the plate together and once again it allowed the main element of the plate (the fish) to shine, rather than attempting to compete against it. Oh and the Sauvignon Blanc that they suggested we pared with it worked beautifully.
For dessert I just had to try the cheese board. I’m more of a savoury person than a sweet lover and I was keen to see what local fare would be on the board. As expected, Quickes Cheddar made an appearance, alongside a local brie and a goats cheese. Unfortunately, the goats cheese was a little overpowering for me, but this can be forgiven thanks to the delicious jelly that it was served with. Few ingredients pare with cheese as well as figs and walnuts, so they get extra brownie points for that too!
Another member of the team was recommended a selection of sorbets by the waitress, which came in three flavours: yogurt, passionate fruit and cranberry. She remarked that it was the perfect way to end a meal – acting as a tasty palate cleanser before after dinner drinks. Although all three flavours were delicious (she wasn’t quite as keen on the yogurt but I loved it) it was the cranberry sorbet that really shone out thanks to its tangy flavour.
After lunch we returned to the cosy little snug where we had enjoyed our aperitifs and had tea and coffee, along with some homemade petit fours. Mark briefly popped in to say hello and find out what we thought of the meal and we got the lowdown of the menu from the man himself. One thing we quickly discovered over the course of our meal is that the entire Dobson family are very obliging and they make it their number one priority to ensure that their guests enjoy their visit. There’s absolutely no snobbery about the Masons Arms, yet they still manage to deliver the sort of service and quality food that you expect to receive at a Michelin Starred restaurant. Such an achievement is no mean feat and very few establishments can claim to be in the same league as this gem of a pub. We will certainly be back!
Next stop, The Elephant in Torquay…