This year, my dad's 60th birthday was one of the first of many big events we have coming up. It fell on a Sunday, and we thought long and hard about what to do for it. A big party was kind of out of the question, as most of his old friends live quite a distance away and they're all coming up soon for my brother's wedding, so we figured to do something really nice but with just a few of us, something he'd like to do but had never had the chance to. Mum came up with the idea, and told us that Dad has always wanted to go to The Mason's Arms in Knowstone, Devon, but has never had the chance. So, ignoring cost and sacrificing the wallet to give him a special day, six of us headed over to Knowstone for lunch. Dad was, of course, kept in the dark, and as the road is on the way to Exeter for us, we persuaded him we were going there. The look of happiness on his face when the car pulled up outside The Mason's Arms was worth it, and the weather was gorgeous to boot. We had already booked the table, and my wife and I had turned up half an hour early to decorate the table. The pub is in the small village of Knowstone, about 10 miles west of Tiverton in Devon, and is signposted from the main A road, the A361. The narrow lane approach is something we are used to, living in Devon, and the weather made it a pleasant trip, with the views from where we were sitting adding to the lovely feel. The building itself has parking just opposite for about 6 or 7 cars, and has two entrances. One will take you into the small bar, perhaps 6 or 8 foot long tended by a very polite gent that I had spoken to on the phone previously to check on timings, decoration and allergies (I am a nut allergy sufferer). The other entrance brings you into a little snug, a sort of lounge bar with a small and cosy fire and a couple of fires. We retired to there afterwards for coffee and cake. The two are linked by a small gap, and from there you make your way through the couple of metres or so past the kitchen door to the restaurant, probably big enough for about 20 covers. The room is light and pleasant, with a CD player handing out some soothing classical music (Dad's forte) and with some impressive artwork. The room is very simple, and it is a family run pub, with the hostesses and the chefs being very polite and easy to talk to, just as you feel it should be in such a place. Once we were in, they produced some menus for us all, with special ones without the prices on for my mum and dad, as the cost was going to be split between me and my brother (ouch!). The choices looked marvellous, and we had already decided to go for three courses. I repeated to them that I had a nut allergy, and asked what would be best for me to choose, and then made my choice of a starter of woodpigeon with chicken livers. No idea what possessed me to give it a go, especially seeing I knew my wife and my mother probably would give a loo of disgust at me (they don't like things like that!!) For mains, I chose Roast Beef, as did Dad, asking for extra Yorkies his mum was from Yorkshire!). Pud we chose later. The starters soon came out, and this is the only time they fell down on the day. I had taken a couple of mouthfuls and moved part of my woodpigeon, when I saw what looked suspiciously like pine nuts underneath it. Not wishing to cause a fuss on Dad's special day, I acted like it wasn't a big problem and told the hostess what had happened. She was extremely apologetic, and immediately came and took it away, offering me the choice of something else. I went for the same thing, but this time without any nuts, please, and it came out promptly. I have worked in catering for a number of years, and I know that mistakes do happen. It was handled very well, as was my mum, who wasn't too happy, but I assured her it was fine, a replacement was more than acceptable and it hadn't actually bothered me. Half an hour later, with a plate of gorgeous roast beef inside me, it had gone out of my mind. But we were still hungry. My wife had enjoyed her roast turkey and mum had enjoyed her fillet of sea bass, which looked and smelled heavenly. It must have tasted pretty damn good, too, because mum threatened us all with her fork if we came near! So, we chose pud. I don't know about the others, but I was thoroughly impressed with my pancetta. It was gorgeous, and really filled me up, and I realised that the menu had been put together vey well so as to fill up someone with a hearty appetite without going overboard. Afterwards, we headed into the snug/lounge, where they brought out the cake we had brought with us, candles and everything, and Dad blew them out, with the help of our 5 year old son. They catered for him very well, being very patient when he acted like a five year old (!) and giving him a decent sized meal which he completely polished off, something he rarely does. In terms of drinks, I had a pint of the local ale, which I forget the name of but which was very well served. It was clear and refreshing, and just the right temperature. Their wine list was extensive and impressive, with some high end prices and quality, but also some choices that are more affordable, which we went for with a bottle of nice and light red. It went down perfectly with the beef. Dad and I were the only ones drinking it, so we were well and truly ready for a nap after coffees! The facilities were very nice. The decor is in keeping with the old farmhouse type building it seems it may have been once upon a time. The toilets are spacious but cosy, with standards of cleanliness very high. There is even a small basket on the deep windowsill with rolled up hand towels to give you a nicer than usual way of drying your hands, and the hand soap is nicely scented without being too overbearing. Just like home! It wasn't cheap, with the bill coming in ataround the £200 mark for all 6 of us. However, it was an excellent lunch in a place that has a good reputation for a very good reason. The customer service was excellent, and the food fantastic. And the most important thing was that Dad had a brilliant time. It was a bit of a shame that they gave me nuts, but it didn't matter in the end and I spotted it early on. These things can and do happen. I'm not trying to be blase and flippant about allergies. Trust me: I know they're important, but the hostess was very apologetic and appreciated the seriousness of what could have happened, and the matter was dealt with very well. Overall, I'm giving The Mason's Arms a 5 star rating. Brilliant location with stunning scenery, a lovely atmosphere, gorgeous food and great service. No doubt it we could afford it we would be there a lot more often. If you want to find out more, or if indeed this is a place you would consider going to, they have a website: http://www.masonsarmsdevon.co.uk This gives you some wonderful pictures, some history and a brief on the pub's history. The current owners have been here since 2005 and know what they're doing. They're keeping it family-run and locally targeted, and it works. Thumbs up!
A village pub and restaurant with a comprehensive wine list.