The Masons at Hopperton is a 200-year-old village pub with an ambitiously sized car park. It dominates the tiny hamlet halfway between York and Harrogate just off the A59. The imposing pub has suffered the plight of many in recent years with owners coming and going. The latest incumbents, Iain Wilkinson and Kim Gillespie, took over earlier this year and opened in July.
They boast that with their fresh start for the Masons, you will experience a passion for food, excellent service, real ales and fires. They had had a few months to settle in and given that for dinner there was only one table left when I booked, I was hopeful that maybe this time it was working.
The original part of the pub is charming; less so is a disproportionate extension that is home to the restaurant. This large space, which so easily could be uninviting, is softened down on a dark autumnal night with oodles of lamps and candles. Disappointingly, there is no real fire – a break of their promise. It wasn’t the warmest night, and I believe the whole room would change for the better were there a few blazing logs in the grate.
Service is brisk, attentive and friendly. Reassuringly, the mainly young team are on the ball – and apparently well trained. They zip around offering drinks, but not water for the table, taking orders and the rest. There is little waiting time but neither do we feel pressured. I have no problem with their black jeans and T-shirts, but given the clear aspiration at the Masons, I did find it a touch odd that none of the waiting staff wore aprons.
The menu is right, with chef Iain managing a neat balance between creativity and pub classics without, if you will pardon the pun, over-egging it. There are five starters and four mains of imaginative combinations handled with just enough restraint to prevent them being quirky. Then, whip the menu over and be delighted with the classics that warm the heart and keep everything grounded – pies, fish and chips, steaks and burgers. Vegetarians don’t get too excited, a few more offerings for the non-carnivorous would be good, but otherwise excellent stuff.
What’s not to like about a plateful of heritage beetroot chunks and puree, sweet, crunchy, candied walnuts, herby cream and a punchy whipped goat’s cheese topped off with a sprinkling of edible flowers? A slow-cooked pig’s cheek with pan-fried black pudding, wild mushrooms and sticky chilli jam almost reached the same lofty heights of perfection. The balance, however, was just slightly off with the hefty black pudding overshadowing the cheek. Again, a beautifully presented dish with edible flowers making another appearance.
A chilli-fuelled deep dish of pan-fried sea bass came with arrabbiata-style linguine, plump, meaty Scottish mussels, spicy sausage and Parmesan. It was a pleasant change to have this greatly-used fish partnered with these weighty ingredients and together, they worked incredibly well.
Star dish of the night was, however, a slow-cooked rump of lamb, with a purple potato cake, LED tomatoes, a burnt onion puree and red wine sauce. The lamb was succulent, deep-flavoured and cooked to a point of tenderness where it melted rather than cut. Purple potatoes may be considered a touch gimmicky but they are not; they have a distinct flavour and one that lends itself well when made into a cake as here. LED tomatoes are no gimmick either, just sensationally flavoured little gems grown with the aid of high-spectrum light.
This technique has been perfected here in Yorkshire at Stockbridge, near Cawood. The use of LED lighting results in a deep flavour and also extends the availability of British tomatoes to practically year round. I think in this dish, though, it was time to ditch the edible flowers as by this point they were reaching overkill and losing impact.
With five puddings on offer, plus ice creams and cheeses, there was enough choice and once again, evenly spread. Sticky toffee, chocolate brownies and treacle tart were perfect for the heftier appetite, with creme brulée and rice pudding for a little lighter relief. An unusual dish of half a pint of chocolate brownie sundae was certainly the former and no mean feat to finish, delicious as it was.
Up to now I have not mentioned the price and I hesitate to because I feel they are almost underselling themselves. The whole dinner with a couple of glasses of wine each came to just over £70. Seriously, for food of this quality this is a steal.
With practically all promises kept, there was little to complain about at Masons – save perhaps a livelier wine list and lighting a fire. Given this is only a few months in for Iain, Kim and the team, this is without doubt one to watch and I for one wish them all the best. They deserve it.
• The Masons, Hopperton, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire HG5 8NX, 01423 330442. Open: Tuesday, 6-11pm; Wednesday to Friday, 12-3pm & 6-11pm; Saturday, 12-11pm; Sunday, 12-10.30pm.
Drinks selection 3/5