"It must be such fun filming Masterchef," people say. But it's tough, I tell you, damn tough. Long days sealed in a room with two other critics, being force-fed course after course of rich food as though we were juvenile cuckoos. The binge-eating is just about doable: eight or 10 dishes over a few hours, every other one a dessert. Just think of it as a tasting menu constructed by a particularly sadistic chef, and don't eat everything on the plate.
But the table-talk is the real challenge. Who has the most Twitter followers? Who has sold the most books? Who gets paid the most? Those brief, sweaty gaps between filming are a morale-sapping minefield. There's also the challenge of subtly trying to discover which restaurants your rivals are planning to review, without revealing your own hand.
My generous Masterchef colleague Charles Campion observes no such omerta: pubs are his main beat. And it was Charles who told me about the White Post. "Lovely spot. Clever chef. You should go," he murmured, while the other chap was distracted on the phone checking his latest ticket sales.
Charles knows his stuff, and so I went. Geographically, the White Post is a curiosity. Not far from Yeovil, it straddles the boundary between Dorset and Somerset. The county line runs straight through the bar; in bygone days, locals would just step across it at closing time to continue drinking for an extra hour.
These days, it's the food that's the draw. Under the ownership of chef Brett Sutton and wife Kelly, the White Post has become a restaurant with rooms, and the bar a footnote. There's a touch of new-build about the dining room, a low-ceilinged modern box butted on to the old inn. But the views are fantastic – a panoramic sweep across the rolling fields of Dorset, or possibly Somerset.
We rocked up for Sunday lunch – normally the day busy pubs put their creativity on hold and bang out a few roasts. Here, they do it in style, offering a sharing board piled high with the ultimate Sunday roast dinner, a show-stopping, no-choice meat feast. Rib of beef, sliced pink, comes crowned with enormous Yorkshire puds, each as big and puffy as an old-fashioned shower cap. There's fine-grained loin of Somerset pork, local lamb roasted to the point of fudginess with rosemary and garlic, and a pan of pot-roasted chicken legs in a spoonable, slippery red wine and mushroom sauce. The trimmings are abundant; potatoes and parsnips roasted in beef dripping, platters of braised red cabbage and cauliflower cheese. And a huge boat of proper gravy.
The trencherman Sunday lunch option isn't typical of Brett Sutton's broad-minded approach, which hops around with unusual agility. He might partner barbecued mackerel with minted labneh and pomegranate, or salt-aged steak with black garlic and mushroom ketchup, and there are the mandatory excursions into foraging and curing.
Local asparagus is swaddled in crisp sheets of fried pancetta, from Dorset charcutiers Capreolus. Fine-spun goat's curd with compressed watermelon and elderflower vinaigrette is a precise pastel sketch of a summer dish. A pearly slab of roast cod comes with a bushel of samphire napped with chive-speckled hollandaise. Fine dishes which showcase the quality of the ingredients, rather than the cleverness of the chef.
Sutton has been closely involved in the Great Taste Awards, which celebrate Britain's best artisan products, and there's a blackboard on one wall, crediting all his suppliers. The cheeseboard is a revelation; four well-kept beauties, including an oozy, pungent Tunworth and a ripe Isle of Wight blue, all of them finalists in the World Cheese Awards (Sutton judges that too). It's one of the finest I've ever sampled, and creditably, comes as part of the three-course menu at no extra charge.
A shimmering lemon panna cotta set with glass-like sheets of candied peel, and a crisp chocolate tart, oozy under its cocoa-dredged surface, are both great. The cocoa "soil" with the tart is something we're seeing a lot of now on Masterchef: soil is the new foam. (Oh God, that's the sort of thing I watch myself saying with a flush of horror when the show goes out.) In fact there are lots of things about the White Post that would raise eyebrows in the critics' room. Food on slates and square plates. Gels. Sea salt left on the table in a Kilner jar with a diddy spoon. But the quality of the cooking, and the friendliness of the enthusiastic young staff, means it never feels pretentious.
It's the kind of place you might find off the beaten track in France or Italy; unfancy, but deeply connected to local growers and suppliers, and doing ambitious and inventive things with their produce. The White Post may not know what county it's in, but it knows exactly what it's doing.
The White Post Rimpton Hill, Yeovil, Somerset/Dorset (01935 851525)
Around £35 a head for three courses before wine and service. Sunday lunch £19
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