WE were in dire need of a restorative pick-me-up.

After the debacle of the Potting Shed (D&S Times Sept 15), we were looking for an experience which renewed our faith in the ability of someone to put a decent plate of food in front of us, in congenial surroundings with a modicum of efficiency and, perhaps, even a smile.

That we found it in a small country pub in a small village in a backwater of North Yorkshire was only slightly surprising.

Nosterfield is really a hamlet surrounding by old quarry workings and more remarkably the ancient Thornborough Henges which lie just south of the village.

And there’s a pub – the Freemasons Arms – which from the outside is as unassuming as the rest of the village.

But what a little gem it is. It not only had the requisite restorative powers for two disillusioned diners, it might just be – even with three months to go - our fave for 2017.

Firstly, it gets all the basics right from the moment you cross the threshold. That it is still a pub where village people go to have a snifter and to put the world to rights after work was evidenced by the small group gathered round the bar.

The wood burning stove was lit even though it was T-shirt mild outside. There is nothing that sucks the soul from a pub more than an unlit fire, regardless of the season.

And there was an instant welcome from the lady behind the bar who efficiently ascertained whether we were in for a drink, had booked a table and whether we fancied a swift one at the bar before getting seated or just wanted to go straight to the table.

None of the above is remotely rocket science but so many places just can’t manage to do this basic hospitality stuff on a consistent basis.

The Freemasons unassuming exterior belies its interior which is refurbished contemporary country pub style but done in a way which looks like it has always been this way. Rich deep-red and cream walls set off the low beamed ceilings and rustic tables, chairs and pews look as if they might fall apart but are actually very solid and comfortable.

The evening menu, supplemented by a few blackboard specials, is cleverly constructed. There’s plenty for those with the most conservative of tastes but also for the foodies who want something a bit more adventurous.

So Sylvia went for the classic prawn cocktail which turned out to be every bit as good as the £7.95 price tag suggested it should be. Indeed, she said she thought the most generous pile of succulent and juicy prawns with Marie Rose sauce, iceberg lettuce and brown bread and butter was among the best she had ever tasted. And Sylvia has eaten a lot of prawn cocktail over the years.

My butternut squash, chervil root and tofu tortellini (£6.25) was as subtly flavoured a pasta dish could be without just being a bowl of flour and water. Which makes it sound flavourless which it certainly wasn’t. The pasta pillows were nestled on a bed of leaf spinach, courgette ribbons and parsnip. They might have been even better with a little more seasoning but chef was probably and rightly fearful that the gentler flavours might be overwhelmed.

Sylvia’s lamb rump (£14.95 from R & J butchers at nearby Kirkby Malzeard) was served meltingly pink with a red wine jus, hassleback potatoes on a bed of green beans. Lamby perfection she reckoned.

My sea bass fillets fresh that day from Hartlepool (Alan Hodgson we presumed) were very simply but beautifully fried in butter and folded over a bed of creamy, slightly nutty leek and garden pea risotto. The fish was top notch and the risotto superlative and somehow I managed to leave a little of it to ensure room for dessert. It required great self-control.

But it was certainly worth it for the silky smooth and ever-so-tart lemon posset topped with a little whipped cream, some soft fruit – particularly good raspberries – and accompanied by lovely, slightly chewy, pistachio-encrusted biscotti which are made at the Freemasons.

Service from Steph (at least it was her name on the till receipt) was simply very good. She was running the bar and restaurant service single-handedly and while it was relatively quiet night – there were only two other table occupied - she coped admirably and with a smile.

The bill of £61.15 included sparkling water and a 20cl bottle of rather lifeless Prosecco. Pricing was generally a bit above the average (50p-£1 on each dish we reckoned) but overall it was a superb meal. Faith is restored.


The Freemasons Arms, Nosterfield, Bedale, DL8 2QP

Tel: 01677 470548

Web: thefreemasonsarms.co.uk

Open for food: noon-2.30pm, 5.30-9pm, Sunday noon-8pm

Plenty of vegetarian and gluten/dairy-free options

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 10 Service 10 Surroundings 9 Value 8