They say we only remember the good bits when we look back on life, which is why the past so often has a rosy-tinted hue. I can’t say that works when it comes to recalling Sunday lunches.
A few stick in the memory like food welded by heat to the bottom of a roasting tray.
We will always remember the incinerated chipolata with our Sunday lunch at the now demised Middlewood Hall. It started on my daughter’s plate but she couldn’t get her fork into it so passed it on to mum. She, too, was beaten.
I guessed what was coming: it was Man versus Chipolata and the sausage won. Somehow that summed up our meal.
As did the dirt on the apron of the waiter at Sheffield’s Grosvenor house Hotel, also no more, which matched that on our barely cleaned potatoes. My mother always said we had to eat a peck of dirt before we died but nothing about paying for it.
There was nothing so horrid at the Double Tree by Hilton Sheffield Park Hotel although we’ll remember our Sunday lunch there for years. But we’ll come to that later.
I still think of the place, on Chesterfield Road South, as the old Moat House, which once had a manic French head chef who would froth at the sight of a vegetarian.
Hotel chains rise and fall. This has happened here where a private equity syndicate acquired the 95-bed complex from the receiver of the Pedersen Group two years ago and the franchise from Hilton.
It was relaunched last year as a four-star hotel with piano bar and restaurant. Since the restaurant has an AA rosette, we booked.
That rosette enables the Piano Bar to be trumpeted as an “award-winning restaurant” on the website. To be honest, it wouldn’t get any awards for the decor.
Think 50 Shades of Grey without the sex and that sums up the colours here. Even the pictures are monochrome. The only burst of colour came from three or four pots of green plastic topiary in a corner.
The place was mostly empty and we hung around a minute or two to be greeted, as a player piano tinkled quietly (and a little morosely) in the background.
Sunday lunch is a short three course menu for £15 with four choices at each course, the mains being a couple of roasts, a fish and a vegetarian dish, here a risotto.
It didn’t start well. A blue cheese and bacon tart and leek and potato soup were underwhelming, the soup thin and lacking in flavour.
Topside of beef, two thick, overcooked chewy slices without much taste, was a clear case of culinary murder. Yet the gravy was good so someone had been using meat juices well. It was topped by a skyscraper of a Yorkshire pudding.
Overcooking was also the root of the problem with my wife’s fish chowder. The fish had dissolved into a thick, stodgy mass.
My wife spooned through it glumly. “I feel like Jacques Cousteau because I’ve just found some fish in a corner.”
Then it happened.
The piano suddenly came alive. There was a real person at the keyboards.
A lively tune burst forth, sunlight streamed through the windows, bluebirds sang and the dining room echoed to applause. Well, the last thing happened.
I sidled over to the piano to discover the player was Peter “Anything Goes” Scruton, aged 71, of Totley Brook, as seen (possibly) on Breakfast TV’s Good Morning. A camera crew stayed here recently one Sunday while filming at Chatsworth and took some footage, yet to be seen of Peter playing.
Peter just loves to play and comes most Sundays to the hotel to tinkle the ivories for free (I think there may be a drink or two involved).
His playing put us in a happier mood. We liked a strawberry cheesecake but a chocolate sponge was dry.
When one of the pleasant waiting staff asked if we had enjoyed the meal I queried whether he wanted the tactful answer or the honest one. He opted for the latter.
He explained there had been a shift change in the kitchen and our meal was left in the hands of a trainee and offered to reduce the cost of the meal. I suspect that food is usually much better than what we had that Sunday. A less than careful eye was the cause of one of the dullest meals we have had for some time. So just two stars for our Sunday lunch experience and one is for Peter the pianist.
Sunday lunch rating 2