On the staircase, a figure crouches intriguingly. An old stone dog, its collar offering ‘free 02 wifi’, sits on the bar. Upstairs, in a large, ancient dining room, the walls hang with chisels and hammers: relics of a practice which, while hardly used know, has been the foundation of human civilisation for millennia. It is not stonemasonry, however, but another craft, equally ancient and integral, that we have come to witness at Fullers pub The Stonemason’s Arms, today.
We’re here to see Billy Owton: fourth generation butcher, owner of the Hampshire farm that has been in his family for 600 years or more. We’re here because it’s his meat – the pork, lamb, beef, poultry and wild game he so carefully sources – that the Stonemason’s award-winning chef Gavin Sinden uses in dishes which include Roasted whole partridge and pearl barley risotto with blackberries, Smoked duck with beetroot textures and Loin of pork, black pudding, pineapple and truffled mash.
He’s cooking the latter. The pork, pink and satiny as a rosebud, has just been delivered – as indeed it is, each morning, six days a week. It is testimony to just how much good, honest work lies behind this cut, and every other he gets from Billy, that Gavin will never know exactly when. The Fuller’s Chefs Scholarship scheme, on which Gavin has trained, and his chefs train too, sees visiting Owton’s as a key part of their education; now they are even sending their front of house staff. ‘I know what’s gone into the produce,’ he says. ‘I know it has been reared with respect to animal welfare, seen the meat hanging for twenty-eight days, I’ve seen the butchering. I know such a careful process may mean it won’t arrive at nine exactly, but I know the quality will always be the same.’