Restaurant review: The Shoulder of MuttonBy Alan Bunce
February 15, 2012
For a hamlet with only 30 houses Playhatch's three pubs need to attract visitors.
So one, The Shoulder of Mutton, has taken its name literally and developed its food offer, largely based on around a specialist breed of Welsh Mountain sheep.
Over 10 years, Wendy and Alan Oxlade have somehow kept the pub's personality while carefullly putting memorable dishes centre stage.
On a cold February Friday, a chance to taste the mutton dishes is most welcome.
But first starters.
I sought the lightest on the menu. Leek and Potato was the day's 'Pantry Soup' (£5.25); thick, green and very nice.
My companion can't resist seafood and chose Kings and Queens (£7.25) – prawns and scallops – which looked a big starter. This didn't turn out to be a problem. Scallops in particular were 'just right' and in a 'lovely jus'.
The signature main course is the Shoulder of Mutton (£14.95), slow-roasted for seven hours in rosemary, red capsicum, onions and red wine. It had to be tried.
For any carnivore this goes beyond expectations.
You'll rarely encounter so much meat in one meal.
This celebrated dish lives up to its billing and that seven hours roasting is worthwhile when something tastes this good. I suggest a side order of veggies, such is the meat content.
Another stand-out dish has a story to tell. As Seen On TV is a mutton pie with root vegetables, first made to a recipe from the BBC. The pie was made and cooked here and secured by seat belt into its own chauffeur driven car and taken to the studios where it was enjoyed on The One Show.
Although good enough for the BBC but it was too bland for The Shoulder of Mutton and Mr Oxlade has since given the dish a makeover.
The verdict of my companion was the pie was lovely, the pastry just right and the gravy really rich. The makeover evidently succeeded.
With such attention to the menu, you tend to trust that the desserts will also be out of the ordinary. And they all come in at £5.35 each, with ice-cream at £1.85 a scoop. Cheese and biscuits are also available for £6.50.
And any restaurant that has a dessert du jour clearly takes this part of the experience adequately seriously. So I chose it: chocolate mud pie with coffee ice cream – incredible with coffee beans in the ice cream and warm chocolate sauce over mud pie chunks.
Sticky toffee pudding was set out similarly opposite me, but with fudge in the ice cream and hot toffee sauce. The only problem was my companion's reluctance to lick the dish. She wanted to though.
Although it's a tiny pub, a conservatory and garden can accommodate extra numbers in decent weather and while mutton sets the pub apart the menu goes way beyond that. It should be tried though.
The Leg of Mutton in the Sunday Roast (£10.95) is cooked for 30 hours!
The Shoulder of Mutton is the antidote to Reading's abundance of themed chain restaurants and their production-line meals. It's cosy, intimate and run by real people, not out to take over the world but to make their part of it the best it can be.
It's everything you would want from a country pub, but with menus that take pub food to a new level in quality.
- Telephone: 0118 947 3908
- Website: www.theshoulderplayhatch.co.uk
- Address: The Shoulder of Mutton