Though my cooking skills have come on leaps and bounds since my days of chewy pasta and mousetrap cheese, the thought of juggling meat, potatoes, veg and the all-important gravy makes me want to permanently bond with my duvet. But pile up a plate with the same fare in a cosy pub and I'll be out of my nest quicker than you can say good morning sunshine.
And when hungry tummies are rumbling, speed is of the essence. Luckily we had been blessed with one of those rare sunny days when my fella can take to the roads on his beloved motorbike. We made our chosen destination of the Shoulder of Mutton, Longhorsley, in a very respectable time – well within the confines of the law, of course. But, thanks to my lazy ways, it was still after 3pm when we entered the traditional pub, which thankfully serves food until 9pm.
The dining area near the bar was completely empty, with a few post-dinner drinkers propping up the bar, while families enjoyed the garden and play area. A pleasant, welcoming atmosphere greeted us, which my other half tells me is not always the way when you roll up on two-wheeled transport.
Smiling bar staff handed us a menu of what was on offer, which I was pleased to see included plenty of puddings, an essential of any Sunday scran session. The Shoulder of Mutton also has a separate restaurant area called The Boundary. This didn't seem to be open, which was fine by me. Nothing worse than staring at each other over an imposing dinner table. And I never know what to do with all my cutlery. Instead we were installed in comfy seats with a window view, perfect for post-dinner sprawling and people watching.
But that was still to come. First I decided to rev up my taste buds with a smoked salmon platter and Marie Rose sauce (£5.95). I don't know who Marie Rose was but her sauce is very tasty, especially when combined with balsamic vinegar, drizzled over smoked salmon. There was no indication on the menu whether the salmon was locally-sourced, which is a big trend in food circles at the moment. I didn't know if the cream of vegetable soup (£3.95) had been nurtured at the base of the Cheviots or if the smoked bacon and calf's liver terrine (£5.95) had once roamed the fields of Rothbury. The pineapple and melon gateaux with exotic fruits (£5.25) probably didn't come from an allotment in Amble. But my salmon was tasty, there was a decent portion, and it arrived quickly.
My dining companion pronounced himself in training for the main course, and adopted the pained expression of the avowed fish-hater as I wolfed down my starter alone. All main courses are a reasonable set price of £7.95 or £3.95 for kiddies, which could see you tucking into a steaming plate of roast topside of beef, roast turkey and stuffing or braised roulard of beef, chicken or pork, with mashed potato and vegetables. Those of a vegetarian persuasion can sample Mediterranean tagliatelle in a spicy tomato sauce and for the fish-lovers there is grilled Darne salmon in a peppercorn sauce. Turkey and stuffing was quickly nabbed by my partner, so in the interests of a wide-ranging review I chose beef, which is not usually a favourite of mine.
The food arrived quickly, topped with lots of gravy, Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. Unlike some diners, I'm not so fussy about what gravy goes with what meat. Big portions of home-cooking is what it's all about. My Yorkshire was just right – crisp on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle – but could have been a little bigger. The beef was melt-in-the-mouth, a far cry from the dry fare which often greets you at a late Sunday pub lunch. Roasties were plump and crisp and there was a decent side portion of cabbage, carrots and mash. What sounded like the hits of the 80s and 90s accompanied our munching, as we sat surrounded by local football memorabilia. No other diners came along, so we were able to stretch out, after clearing our plates, and survey the pudding menu.
Again, there was a very reasonable one price for all of £4.50, which led to much head scratching over the choice of banoffee crumble, chocolate orange torte, St Clements cheesecake, apricot almond tart, milk chocolate truffle, apricot and sultana bread and butter pudding, rasberry creme brulee and passion fruit cheesecake. My dithering threatened to take us outside Sunday closing hours, so I closed my eyes and took a stab in the dark for bread and butter pudding. The custard could have been warmer, but the comforting bulk of the pudding studded with sweet apricot and sultanas was an enjoyable end to a satisfying meal.
My dining partner unleashed his sweet tooth and went for the chocolate truffle, which was a shimmering heap of cocoa on a biscuit base, with no squirty cream in sight. I was forced to admit he had made the better choice, but he wasn't up for sharing, so I could only look longingly as the delicious pud disappeared like a speeding motorbike.
With two soft drinks, our bill came to just over £34. Service was prompt and efficient and the food was tasty and plentiful. It won't be long before we zoom back to the Shoulder of Mutton for another helping.