What inspired Mr Smith’s?
Two restaurants I had in mind when designing the concept were Atera and Momofuku Ko in New York. Mr Smith’s has elements of a chef’s table, but the set-up is a little different; more akin to a kitchen table. There’s no barrier, for example, between the diners and the kitchen, which allows the guests to be right at the heart of the action.
Tell us about the concept
The idea was to create a completely new space, far removed from what you’d usually expect to find at a pub. The Freemasons has been running for a decade now; it’s getting busier all the time, and we needed to create some extra room and evolve our revenue stream. So I decided to redevelop the two terrace cottages located next door to the pub. The downstairs has been used to create a multi-functional kitchen and restaurant area with a large 10-cover communal table in the centre; and the upstairs has been converted into a series of guest bedrooms. Guests can book the space for lunch or dinner, and we’ve also created a series of gastronomic experiences and chef masterclasses that will also be hosted there.
When did you first have the idea to expand?
I first thought about doing all this about six years ago, but it took a long time to get the planning permission in order. The delay hasn’t bothered me, though; it’s given me the time to refine every element of the experience.
Take the breakfast. I didn’t want it to appear as an afterthought, as can often be the case. The breakfast marks the end of our guest’s visit, so it’s important to ensure it is memorable. All the guests sit together around the communal table, and get served homemade breads and preserves; as well as cooked breakfasts that are prepared in front of them using locally sourced, top quality produce. I want it to feel like an event, and that’s what we’ve done.
Have you also made changes to the Freemasons?
We’re making modifications to the menu that have been informed by the work we’re doing in Mr Smith’s. As well as using the space to create a closer link between the guests and chefs, it’s allowed us the opportunity to be more experimental with the food we serve. Now when we receive a delivery of fresh game, we’ll use the Mr Smith’s kitchen to play around with different dishes that we’ll serve within that space. And sometimes those dishes will carry over to the pub menu too.
Has the opening of Mr Smith’s allowed you to develop your own cooking style?
Definitely. It’s allowed me to expand my understanding of cooking as a craft, which can get a little lost in restaurants these days. At Freemasons we use fantastic produce and the preparation is second to none, but this space allows us to put more time into refining our ideas and gives us the freedom to explore them. We can buy in whole animals, rather than just choice cuts, and work through the carcasses to create different dishes. Plus it’s allowed us to polish the process behind the scenes. The larger space helps us to maintain a tighter, slicker operation, which could sometimes be a struggle in the past. Now when guests visit either Freemasons or Mr Smith’s, they’re served a snack before the meal has begun, which helps complete the experience. Our motto is we want this pub to be the best it can be, and one day be regarded as one of the best pubs in the world. And when I look at the operation now, it’s how a kitchen should be; without restriction or compromise.
Have you ever found the Freemasons kitchen restrictive?
The pub setting often dictates what dishes we serve. We must have steak and chips on the menu, for example, but what we’ve done is elevate the offering by making sure it’s the prepared using the best quality steak, and great homemade chips, onion rings, and pepper sauce. I want guests to be able to notice and appreciate the craft that’s gone into preparing their meal, without it coming across as ostentatious.
Is this a play for a Michelin star?
It’s not a primary focus. I know the food we serve day in day out is great, and my attention is on maintaining that. I’ve always thought, though, that Freemasons is a brilliant establishment; one that’s on a level with many Michelin restaurants. And I hope Mr Smith’s can perhaps contribute towards Freemasons achieving such an accolade in the future.
Do you have further plans for either Freemasons or Mr Smith’s?
We’re going to keep growing the business. The competition around here is fierce; there’s an abundance of good eating pubs in the Ribble Valley, so for us it’s about continuing to push more and more. It’s all about concept and perception, and we don’t want to just be seen as just another posh pub. Next year we’ll be adding in a garden to help sustain both restaurant spaces, and we’re also going to be introducing a wine room. And we also have a number of regular events we’re going to launch, including a guest chef series and experimental cooking nights.
Steven Smith cooked at Lancashire Day London early this week. Organised by Marketing Lancashire, the Borough Market event showcased some of the county’s considerable cooking talent including Stosie Madi (The Parker’s Arms), Tom Parker (White Swan at Fence), and Mark Birchall (Moor Hall).