PEOPLE who live in Ramsbottom - especially the older folk - and its surrounding villages can get a bit touchy about being labelled as living in 'Greater Manchester', the metropolitan county created 40 years ago, and when you arrive at the Shoulder of Mutton, you can see why.
The traditional pub, situated in Holcombe Village in the West Pennine Moors, was built 223 years before Greater Manchester existed and represents everything great that the historic county of Lancashire is famous for.
The welcome is warm, the views are stunning and the food is fantastic - while remaining unpretentious.
We'll get to the food in a minute. Firstly though, I must mention the beer. Co-owner and landlord Andrew Morris certainly knows his ales and stocks some of the best cask-conditioned specials from across the North and further afield.
I enjoyed a perfectly smooth pint of Timothy Taylor's 'Landlord', which is actually brewed across the border in West Yorkshire, which had a lovely hoppy dryness mixed with a hint of sweet caramel. The perfect reception when you get in from a brisk walk around the hills.
Now to the food. Co-owner and head chef Paulo Atalainha has brought years of experience and wonderful skill to the kitchen, creating a menu which shows off the best of his talents while remaining hearty and traditional.
Mr Atalainha, who once was head chef at celebrity chef Andrew Nutter's eponymous restaurant in Rochdale, helping to win two AA rosettes, manages to bring a contemporary feel to classic cuisine.
For my starter, I had the delicious seared wild wood pigeon breast and confit leg (£7.95), golden on the outside and delicately pink in the middle, with a black pudding and leek rosti and an apple puree offering a fruity accompaniment.
For my main course I had the delightful rump of English lamb (£15.95), served with creamed goat’s cheese and rosemary mash potato, roasted root vegetables, pea puree and a juniper berry and red wine jus. The jus complimented the lamb perfectly, without taking away from the flavour of the locally-sourced meat.
And despite being more than full from my first two courses, I thought it would have been rude not to try a dessert, so opted for the sticky toffee pudding (£5.95) with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream – all homemade – and was not disappointed. A perfect sweet treat at the end of a perfect meal.
It is obligatory when writing a review to balance your praise with a hint of criticism, but that is hard to do in the case of the Shoulder of Mutton.
The only thing that comes to mind is the restaurant often has too much of a ‘pub’ feel to it, and it is easy to think you are in a drinker’s setting first and a restaurant second.
But for many, that is only likely to add to the charm of the place.
And yes, some people may think the menu a little pricey. But it represents good value - this is not ‘pub grub’, it is fine dining for which a restaurant in Manchester city centre might charge you double the price.
And there are other, less expensive options available on the menu, such as British classics like fish and chips and cheese and onion pie (both £11.50), homemade burgers from the grill (£11.95), and a children’s menu.
All these options make the Shoulder of Mutton an ideal place for many occasions, popular with foodies, dog walkers and cyclists alike – the pub is a gem offering food and drink for various tastes and budgets.