THE jungle drums had been working well. Word reached us that the Shoulder of Mutton at Middleton Tyas had changed hands, the Hackings moving on after a good few years in charge.

They had put the Shoulder back on the map after a period when it had seriously lost its way and while I wasn’t great fan of what they did with the nearby Blacksmiths Arms at North Cowton, their Middleton Tyas flagship remained a cut above your average dining pub.

The rumour mill further suggested that the new landlord had come from the Wellington Heifer at Ainderby Steeple, near Northallerton, another dining pub which has consistently punched above its weight since being rescued from a crumbling reputation.

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So we were looking forward to what the new broom had accomplished when we called last Friday evening.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be not a lot. After two months under the new ownership of James Williamson there were few obvious outward signs of change.

The interior is still that dimly-lit collection of rooms on different levels that are always quintessentially cosy and fire-lit in deep winter but don’t have quite the same allure in summer.

And the slightly dog-eared menus were another sign that this is still the Shoulder on Mutton that the Hackings created. It was subsequently confirmed that not only has the menu not changed, the key people in the kitchen haven’t either.

That’s not intended to be criticism, We are sure the new landlord has good reasons for keeping the status quo, it’s just not good for reviewers’ constant quest for novelty.

The specials board did, however, suggest perhaps a sign of things to come. We haven’t see snails on a North Yorkshire pub menu and I almost opted for the snails bouguignon (£6.95) except I feared Sylvia’s reaction. I’m not saying she is especially squeamish but she would draw the line at sitting opposite me while tucking into a plateful of gastropod molluscs.

All credit to chef for putting it on the menu. I’ll have to go back on my own some time or with someone with a stronger stomach.

The specials (£6-7) also featured Scotch egg with baked beans (we are presuming not the Heinz 57 variety) and squid and sweet chilli mayo among the starters and pork snitzel, chips and veg and Korean BBQ rump on noodles among the mains (£12.50-15.95).

We selected our starter from the regular menu, a sharing platter of seafood – Surf – for £15 which brought to our table two mini-prawn cocktails, smoked salmon, two crevettes each, haddock goujons and brown bread and butter.

There was a sharp divergence of opinion over this platter. Sylvia thought it excellent, particularly the goujons and the fat and juicy crevettes, I compared it unfavourably with the version turned out by the Black Bull just down the road at Moulton. I didn’t think the crevettes were as fresh as they could be (and by that I’m not suggesting for a moment that they were off or on the turn).

We both ended up happy because Sylvia had three crevettes to my one and I helped myself to all of her sweetly-cured smoked salmon.

I stuck with fish for my main, another of the specials, poached brill with a white wine and mushroom sauce served with mashed potato (£17). This was cooked absolutely perfectly, the firm, sweet flesh flaking beautifully into the subtly seasoned sauce. The mash potato was creamy and buttery.

The only discordant note was the bed of samphire. It is the vogue-ish vegetable of the moment, especially with fish, but its saltiness can sometimes be overwhelming which I felt was the case here.

From the char-grill menu, Sylvia had gone for a butterflied breast of marinated chicken (£12.95) but without the béarnaise sauce and new potatoes in place of the proffered chips. Served with a rocket and red onion salad, it passed the moist and juicy test with flying colours.

There were also some perfectly good green vegetables (beans, broccoli, mange tout) served separately which I think were primarily for my benefit.

From an exceedingly dull and predictable dessert menu (STP, brulee, brownie etc - yawn.), I chose a rather lovely vanilla poached pear (£5.50) which came with a nicely tart blackcurrent sorbet, a fruit coulis and raspberries.

While it was by no means empty, the pub was by no means full. There were lots of staff who were slightly falling over themselves to please. Which was great but I did in the end get a little bit fed up of being asked if everything was OK with our food followed by the inevitable “can we get you any more drinks?”

At umpteenth time of asking I did ask a rather perplexed waitress to tell her colleagues that we really did have the all drinks we needed and to leave us alone.

Gratifyingly, they continued to be charming to the Grumpy Old Sod at table 5.

The bill was £54 with a soft drinks bar bill of just £3.90 so you can sort of understand why they were keen to “upsell” some margin-boosting alcohol to us.

FOOD FACTS

The Shoulder of Mutton, Middleton Tyas, Richmond, D10 6QX

Tel: 01325 377271

Web: www.shoulderofmuttonmiddletontyas.co.uk

Open: Tues to Sat noon-2pm and 6-9pm (9.30pm Fri and Sat); Sun noon-8.30pm

Vegetarian and gluten-free options

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8 Service 7 Surroundings 6 Value 7