The Masons, Great Wyrley

The secret is out, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider. This formerly tired-looking boozer now offers fine food from an extensive menu.

The Masons, Great Wyrley
The Masons, Great Wyrley

The secret is out, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider. This formerly tired-looking boozer now offers fine food from an extensive menu.

A man was walking his dog through a park in the Midlands, when he spotted a strange ball game between two groups of men, one wearing aprons, the other with their trouser legs rolled up.

"What's going on?" inquired the passer by.

"It's the annual Freemasons' football match," replied the referee. "The Grand Provincial Lodge of Staffordshire against the Mark Master Masons of Worcestershire."

"Hmm," pondered the passer by. "What's the score?"

"We can't tell you that!" snapped the bemused referee. "It's a secret."

When you think about it, being The Insider is very much like being a Freemason. Most of the time, they look pretty much the same as the rest of us, and mingle unnoticed in many different walks of life. But, like The Insider, they perform secret tasks that only a select few are aware of.

The ordinary looking bloke on the table next to you? Is he a Freemason in disguise? It's possible. Or perhaps he's the Insider. You just don't know.

I'm pretty sure that Masons, the new pub restaurant which opened last year following the restoration of the old Freemasons Arms pub, has nothing to do with the mysterious brotherhood. Then again, I don't suppose they would tell me, would they?

It has to be said that the new owners have done a superb job in transforming what used to be a slightly tired, down-at-heel looking pub into a stylish, contemporary bar restaurant. The old beer garden at the front, which used to be draped with tacky plastic banners promoting offers on cheap lager, has now been transformed into a tastefully lit open terrace. The sort of look that pulls the punters in, rather than frightening them off.

There is plenty of parking, but the long, narrow layout of the car park means it can be a long walk if you are parking at the far end.

Masons is divided into two rooms, the bar at the front, and a restaurant at the back. And the bar was heaving: swish and slick, packed with the young and the affluent. Modern, minimalist furnishings, high tables with stools, ambient lighting, soft jazzy music in the background, this is where the trendy set come.

Inside The Masons, Great Wyrley
Inside The Masons, Great Wyrley

The restaurant, while still pretty cool, has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, which works well. It is quite a long room, and the temptation has been resisted to cram in too many tables, so it feels quite spacious. The tables are in three rows, with the larger ones along either wall, with tables at 45 degree angles along the middle of the room.

It is full of little touches that make somewhere seem special; the small red vases containing two tealight candles, the attractive, good quality cruet sets.

Lighting is soft and gentle, and the weathered brick fireplace is filled with neatly cut logs. The period-style advertisements on the crisp cream walls are a nice touch, but the obvious talking point is the fleur de lis artwork. Apparently, it something to do with the Freemasons, I must confess, my first thoughts were "Why are there so many Boy Scouts logos on the wall?" You've probably guessed by now that I am not a Brother.

While still youngish, there is a slightly broader mix of age groups in the restaurant, with a few older people tucking in as well as the young couples. It seemed to be doing a decent trade, but it was by no means full; there were probably for or five tables still available.

A young blonde waitress took us to our seats, and it has to be said that both she and her colleague were both extremely friendly and attentive. Given that the sign on the front proudly declared "Cask ales and free house", it was a little disappointing to find there was only one, strong-ish, cask ale available, although there was a choice of draught beers and quite a decent wine list.

It is hard to fault the food menu though. Not only was there a choice of 17 mains on offer, they were proper, home-cooked dishes which showed care and imagination too.

So much so, that I found it quite hard to choose. The medallions of beef fillet interleaved with stilton, and served on a bed of chive mash with a smoked bacon, wild mushroom and red wine jus sounded superb, but I thought I had settled on the lamb shank with minted red wine sauce until the waitress arrived at our table. And I went for the fillet steak.

A good fillet steak is a wondrous thing. A dish of simple beauty, luxurious but unpretentious, satisfying but not ostentatious. There is no hiding behind pretty garnish or exotic flavourings, a steak can only be as good as the quality of the meat and the skill of the chef. And this was a very good steak indeed.

A thick, meaty slab, it was moist and tender, but still substantial. The thick, creamy peppercorn sauce, an extra £1.95, was excellent, although I would have perhaps liked a little more of it, but the piece de resistance was the superb, chunky, hand-cut chips. It has long been my contention that it is the details like this that sorts out the men from the boys; chefs that take care of the little things usually get the bigger picture right too.

My dining companion went for the house speciality burger on a sour dough ciabatta bun, and again showed that even the simplest of dishes can be a thing of beauty if made with care.

For a dessert I decided to try the "rocky road" cheesecake, an excellent choice with an interesting filling that included pieces of biscuit, toffee and chocolate. My companion had creme caramel, which was also very good.

"It's been a great night," said a long-haired, middle aged man as he bid his friends farewell, and it seemed hard to argue. I wasn't sure what to make of this place, but it was far better than I was expecting.

Not only that, the prices are very reasonable too. The total bill for two courses each, a coffee and a couple of glasses of wine, was £39.25, very much in the middle of the market, then, but it felt much more expensive and the food was of a far higher standard than you normally get at this price. And the prices are even lower in the daytime.

Excellent service, excellent food, and excellent value.

And I promise you, it was not the result of any funny handshakes.

ADDRESS

The Masons, Stafford Road, Great Wyrley, Walsall, WS6 6AZ

Tel: 01922 406562

MENU SAMPLE

STARTERS

Creamy garlic mushrooms £4.25; Moules mariniere - steamed mussels in a garlic white wine and cream sauce with warm rustic bread £4.25/£8.50; Baked camembert, red onion comfit and warm rustic bread £4.95

MAIN COURSES

Oven-baked chicken supreme, served with bubble and squeak, potatoes and a white wine, bacon and asparagus cream sauce £10.95; Sea bass served on a bed of lemon-grass scented rice garnished with king prawns and mussels with a parsley cream sauce £11.95; Braised lamb shank on a bed of creamy herb mash with minted red-wine sauce £10.95

DESSERTS

New York cheesecake with wild berries £3.95; Chocolate lumpy bumpy £3.95

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