The Shoulder of Mutton, Fordham, Colchester

The Shoulder of Mutton is a true country pub that, under new ownership following closure under the Shepherd Neame portfolio, sells popular food at reasonable prices beneath a welter of very old beams in the snug bar. Nestling on the banks of the River Colne, the building and its surroundings are exactly the right sort of drop dead gorgeous location to attract punters from far and near.

That apart its main USP is an old-fashioned tearoom of the type rarely if ever associated with pubs but somehow fits well with the quintessential Englishness of the Mutton – and a few sandwiches, cakes and pots of tea are relatively easy to provide.

So, plenty of touches of quaintness without ever aspiring to the dizzy heights of gastropub grub or cheffy fussiness.  Indeed, the simplicity of the menus are the reason I am categorising the place among cafes rather than gastropubs. The dinner menu is not at the cutting edge, perhaps largely ordered via catalogue from catering companies, with lower price points to match.

However, it was noticeable that of the lunchtime specials several were off, perhaps indicative that the new ownership has yet to find its feet in provisioning. In hospitality they proved well-suited to the venue, starting with the cheery greeting from the barmaid and continuing through lunch.

Another good sign was the presence of well-kept Doom Bar, all the more apt given my companion’s Cornish origins.  Alas, I was driving or I might well have explored the small but select band ales on tap further. On this occasion we did not go for major dinners, but did between us sample two distinct elements of the lunch menu: from the sandwich listing I went for a bacon and brie panini, while companion selected from the “specials” scampi, chips and peas.

Given that scampi are harvested in Scottish waters it seems a gross shame that scampi (aka Norway lobster or langoustine) are so rarely enjoyed fresh, and even more of a travesty that they are sold to the food processing industry to be breadcrumbed and frozen, thence to a deep frier alongside frozen chips.  Shame it’s become a comfort food, when fresh langoustine is such a treat, sold mostly by top restaurants at a huge premium.

The panini was perfectly acceptable, accompanied as it was by a dressed salad garnish and a few crisps of unidentified flavour – but then paninis are not hard to do, and with a little more imagination and effort the lunch menu could be more imaginative and attractive – and maybe over time the new owners will venture out into uncharted territory.  Either way, I wish them luck at exploiting the site – and making it pay.

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