IT was almost definitely a case of fate stepping in when Johnny Ingui took over the Shoulder of Mutton pub just over a year ago.

He had been working most of his adult like in the hospitality industry in a career that had taken in spells at Butlins,, running pubs and then a successful catering franchise.

And it was while based in another part of Essex he was approached to bring his experience to the historic pub in the village of Fordham, just outside Colchester.

Bringing with him a determination to go back to traditional, home-cooked favourites, he and his head chef and manager Kristian Hamblion-Smith set about transforming the business.

"We wanted to make sure we were producing what the customers wanted and we then went through a period of making sure we found what worked and what didn't.

"Having come from a cheffing background myself I really wanted to make sure we were using as much fresh produce as possible and making it all from scratch where we could.

"People expect that," he adds.

During its time the Shoulder of Mutton has gone through a number of changes.

The Grade II building was originally a house back in the 1300s when it would have belonged to the local farm.

Johnny explains it got its current pub name from the fact it was once a butchers shop and then and inn.

"When I was offered the chance to take it on it did not take long to decided I wanted to do it.

"Who would turn down the opportunity to run a grade II listed pub ? I just love all the beams and the history it has to offer," he adds.

Since taking over he has used his entertainment experience to arrange a number of evening events which proved immediately popular.

He also held a summer festival for the village and has already booked acts for another next year.

"We did quite a low key one this year just to see how it went and even without lots of advertising we had about 80 people over the two days.

"Next year we will do a lot more to let people know and there will be a hog roast, beer tent and a Blondie and Abba tribute act.

"It is such a lovely community around here I really wanted to try and do something that would bring everyone together," he said.

A Motown dinner and cabaret evening later this month is already sold out and there are also various music evenings planned in the coming months.

And when everyone is in the mood Johnny will often get a sing song going around the piano.

Head chef and manager Kristian leads a small but extremely hardworking team of three which include his deputy and a dedicated sous chef who also specialises in patisserie.

All of the desserts are lovingly hand prepared, and the menu is altered from season to season.

Kristian says: "We realised fairly quickly that what our customers wanted was quite traditional dishes.

"And we knew if we did that properly using really high quality ingredients they would keep coming back.

"We try different things and some work and some don't but I love that about working in this industry.

"Everything is made from scratch so for example the lasagne is not from a packet - we are preparing and cooking that for eight hours with the best quality meat and a handmade ragu sauce.

"The only thing we do which has to be frozen is the scampi as it just would not work buying it in raw," he explains.

The Shoulder of Mutton, somewhat appropriately, has also gained itself a real name for its Sunday roasts which take days of preparation themselves.

"We are thinking about it and starting to get everything ready on Thursday or we would just not be ready for all the diners.

"When we first started we were probably doing 30 meals and now we will regularly do in excess of 100 and we even had to extend the hours we were serving which is just really good," he says.

Other popular dishes on the current winter menu include a chicken chasseur introduced by Kristian, who trained at Westminster College and lives in Chelmer Village, Chelmsford.

"It is quite a seventies dish but it is very hearty and warming and perfect for this time of the year.

"I like trying out new things and working here has been one of the best jobs I have ever had because I am able to try out new things and do things my way and the people that come in really respond to that," he adds.

He gets the vegetables, meat and fish from valued suppliers and prides himself on knowing it has all either been dug up just hours before or plucked fresh from the sea.

The entire team are now busy preparing for the busy festive season - which might just include a few sessions around the piano with Johnny at the helm.

* The Shoulder of Mutton is also hosting a charity event on Saturday November 18 from 1pm when Pete & Tim will be performing.