The Mason’s Arms is a picture postcard 13th century cob and thatch inn in the tiny village of Knowstone on the edge of Exmoor, twenty minutes north of junction 27 on the M5, up the North Devon link road. It is well signposted on your right hand side. We returned here for our annual visit a couple of weeks ago.
On entering the bar, a low-ceilinged room with lots of exposed beams, there is a huge fireplace complete with bread oven and some scrubbed pine tables and benches. It still retains its pub atmosphere in the bar, with real ale on tap and real locals who come for a pint and a chat. It has a Michelin star, but is one of the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurants you will ever find. There are two menus and a Sunday lunchtime menu. The daily lunchtime menu is great value at £21 for two courses and £25 for three courses – this in a Michelin-starred restaurant! The Sunday lunch menu is a three course meal for £36, also terrific value. The à la carte menu has a selection of five starters, five main courses and five desserts, which might include pan-fried foie gras; Gin Cured Salmon, Salt Baked Beetroot and Cucumber; Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash, Pomegranate Dressing; Wild Mushroom Arancini with Thyme Oil; delicious seared peppered tuna with oriental salad, Devon crab with crème fraîche and a mango dressing, pork belly with braised red cabbage, fillet of beef with sweetbreads, halibut with a potato crust and a cider sauce, sea bass with aubergines. And to conclude Devon and Somerset Farmhouse Cheeses; Dark Chocolate Ganache with Yoghurt Sorbet and Passion Fruit Syrup; Honey Pannacotta with Blackcurrant Ice Cream and Brandy Snaps; Banoffee Mille Feuille with Pecan Praline; Chestnut Soufflé with Cinnamon Crème Anglaise and Mandarin Sorbet. And finally, good coffee followed with homemade petits fours. (seehttp://www.masonsarmsdevon.co.uk/resources/ALC-Autumn-16-rev1116.pdf for a current menu)
After 13 years as head chef at Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn and then a short spell at Cliveden, Mark Dodson, his wife Sarah (and their three young daughters) bought this pub in July 2005, in order to enjoy a less pressurised life with more of a family atmosphere. Sarah is a delightful hostess whilst Mark works his magic in the kitchen.
The small fifteen to twenty seater dining-room at the back is light and airy and looks on to some pleasing, rolling Exmoor countryside. There is a terrace where meals can be served on fine days, or where you can enjoy a drink before your meal. The tables are scrubbed oak, the service is friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed.
The wine list is small but interesting. We chose an old favourite of ours, Quiot’s Gigondas 2011, which was quite exceptional.
Excellent food and wine with first class service. This was another outstanding meal and well worth a special trip to Exmoor.