Warkworth has a very decent selection of places to eat these days, ranging from cafés and pubs to bistros and hotels.
I myself have reviewed two of them in recent years for these pages, awarding No.16 at Warkworth House Hotel eight-and-a-half in late 2014 and giving a nine to The Old Post Office Bistro, which I described as a real gem, in June 2015.
So how would the Mason’s Arms measure up?
Pretty well it turns out; it offers a different kind of experience to those listed above, but the quality of the food is just as good in its own way.
While dining is a big focus for the venue, as evidenced by its tagline – great times, great food, great company – it is very much a pub, not a restaurant, which means ordering at the bar, no table reservations for parties less than eight, no tabs and food having to be ordered by 8pm, Mondays to Saturdays (Food is also served on Sundays, noon to 6pm).
This is also reflected in the menu, which contains a relatively varied selection of pub grub and classic dishes as well as a few dishes which are a little different.
The Mason’s Arms reopened to the public in November last year, after being closed for three weeks for a £200,000 refurbishment.
The new lease of life followed the takeover by landlord Nik Spence, his cousin Neale Sander and their partners, Michelle Pollock and Lisa Bagnall, in July that year.
At the time, it was reported that, together with chef Neil Morrison, the team has helped revive the pub’s fortunes, seeing trade increase four-fold.
And it was certainly busy when we arrived around 7.30pm on Saturday; I think we managed to nab the last table as there were plenty of people in there eating.
With food service ending at 8pm, it did start to empty out later on, but it wasn’t empty by any means and while the earlier buzz died down a bit, the atmosphere remained comfortable all evening.
Having not been to the Mason’s for some years, when I first walked in to see the changed interior, I was flabbergasted.
Well, that’s not quite true, because I had looked on the website earlier in the day and seen pictures of the new look, but if I was going in blind, I would have been shocked. As it was, I was just impressed with the way it had been overhauled.
Onto the food. The menu is extensive, running to four pages for the savoury dishes alone, with a decent variety of options from burgers, steaks and pies to fish, curries and pasta dishes.
There is also a specials board, which advertised an intriguing wood-pigeon dish on the night we were there, one which I opted not to try in the end.
Despite the wide-ranging menu, there are only four standard appetisers on offer, but perhaps this again is a nod to their emphasis on being a pub with food rather than a restaurant.
I had the traditional prawn marie-rose (£6.95), a bowl full of plump, fresh-tasting prawns in a suitably tangy sauce on salad and served with a warm, crusty bread roll, which ticked all the boxes.
Mrs O chose the crispy potato skins (£4.95), which were more like thin, crispy shavings of potato than actual skins but very tasty nonetheless. They came with two dips – garlic mayo and sweet chilli – both of which were good.
I followed my prawns with the cock and bull (£13.95), which, as you may have guessed, was chicken and steak. Strips of each were served in a sauce containing onions, mushrooms, pepper, brandy, beef jus and cream, with rice and chips. The sauce was rich and delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Across the table was the chicken fillet burger (£10.95) with tomato, basil and mozzarella, served with sweet potato fries, salad garnish, homemade salsa and coleslaw.
The tomato, basil and mozzarella was one of three choices of topping with another three for the beef burger. These are included in the overall price which is a nice way of doing it.
It went down well, but the portion sizes defeated Mrs O before the end – and desserts were a step too far.
DOES EXACTLY WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN
The Mason’s Arms serves pub grub, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t done properly. I was very pleased to see the following across the top of the menu: ‘All our food is home-cooked and made to order from ingredients supplied locally’. It’s also worth pointing out that both starters were very decent-sized portions, meaning another option for a lunch or snack, although the menu also offers a choice of eight baguettes (£7.95) from noon to 6pm. In terms of desserts, as well as traditional options, the pub also has an ice-cream counter serving Northumbrian gelato – another nice touch.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Buffalo chicken wings......£5.95
Steak and ale pie......£10.95
Northumbrian game pudding......£11.95
Bangers ’n’ mash (also v)......£9.95
Chilli burritos (also v)......£10.95
Battered cod......£9.95 (small – £6.95, whale – £12.95)
Portobello burger (v)......£9.95
Linguine Provencal (v)......£10.95
12oz gammon steak......£12.95
8oz rump steak......£12.95
10oz prime steak......£16.95
16oz rump steak......£18.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Access for the disabled......7
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Verdict: Another string to the bow of food offerings in Warkworth.
Contact: 01665 711398 or www.the masonsarmswarkworth.co.uk/