IT’S 20 years since we were last in the bar of Hassop Hall Hotel when owner Tom Chapman courteously worked the room greeting guests.
“Anniversary?” he said, sizing us up as we looked less than expensive while trying to act as if droppng into Hassop was normal.
Somewhere a peacock had called annoyingly, in between trying to attack cars (they particularly disliked blue ones) while Mr C told us that the room was not as olde worlde as it appeared. It had been the garage. Two decades have rolled by and we are back. I study the ceiling, fake beams and heraldic emblems on hardboard although the oak panelling is impressive. Legend claims it came from Sheffield Castle.
Mr Chapman sadly died in January but here is his son, Tom Junior, working the room with the same ease. He runs the place with identical twin Richard.
His father is not the only Hassop legend gone. So have the peacocks. “They were being naughty and dad took them home,” he says.
Hassop, owned by only five families since the Domesday Book, gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor from visitors who like the atmosphere, the elegance, the history, the style and the generosity – not always a word you associate with the restaurant trade.
Its food doesn’t get much of a mention in the guides, though. One once dismissed the place waspishly in three words: “Suitable for Americans.”
That is unfair but you do need the money to be here. Sunday lunch is £36.95 (oddly more expensive than dinner in the week) but is highly popular. Dinner on Saturdays is a stratospheric £49.50.
On Sundays they serve over 130 covers and we had to book a couple of weeks ahead.
The price includes free bottled water and coffee and, as we found, a lot of ambience.
From the moment you turn into the drive with its wrought iron archway you feel like a million dollars. Your first glimpse of the house, three-storey, bow windowed in honey coloured local stone, adds to the drama.
No footman opens the door but inside the panelled walls breathe history. The present building, if not the bar, was built in 1774.
One contributor to TripAdvisor was quite overcome. “It was like being transported back in time, as was the service. It was like being in an episode of Downton.” There’s no Carson the butler here but he would recognise the menu.
“Our market is traditional,” says Tom Chapman Junior. It certainly is. At Hassop it is still silver service, roasts during the week come under silver cloches and are carved at the table, and, gosh, there’s a sweets trolley.
The public dining room (there are three private ones) is large, bright and airy, with big tables set discreetly apart, one of the nicest we’ve eaten in. Sheffield cutlery sits on white cloths and there’s a trademark basket of fruit on each table.
Your money does not buy complexity of cooking but it is competently done. Sunday’s menu has 19 starters, almost all assembly jobs, so the kitchen can take it easy.
My wife’s Stilton and walnut tart is with puff pastry. “It is quite salty, offset by the sweetness of the dressing,” she reports, satisfied.
I start with the wonderfully named veloute of fish soup St Tropez, a new one on me and Larousse, that bible of gastronomy. According to Google, Hassop is the only place on earth which serves it. It is good although not velvety enough to be a veloute but appears to have a tomato and crustacean base, fragments of fish, some prawns and slices of apple. It works.
There are five traditional roasts and I have duckling in a salt crust. The salt concentrates the flavour and the meat is tender and I can see why it is the most popular dish.
My wife’s poached salmon with a hollandaise sauce is also a hit. “It doesn’t taste tinny like you sometimes get with farmed salmon,” she says.
The fashion for large plates has not reached Hassop. Silver service means you run the risk of your plate stacked carvery-style if you go large in the veg department.
The sweet trolley is a slight disappointment. The raspberry crème brulee is a little too solid and the banoffi pie tastes awfully confused. I chew on a date from the fruit basket to compensate.
Back in the bar over coffee (in with the price) I reflect our money has bought us pleasant food, excellent surroundings and service which is never snooty.
The bill with bar drinks and two generous glasses of wine for £8.70, came to £87.60.
“Diners are invited to keep this menu as a memento and to walk round the gardens,” the menu says chummily.
Sunday lunch rating 4
* Hassop, near Bakewell DE45 640 488. Tel: 01629 640 488. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Credit cards. Disabled access. Large car park. Web: Hassop Hall Hotel