SUNDAY’S LUNCHTIME service took them by surprise at the Sir William Hotel at Grindleford in North Derbyshire’s Hope Valley.
“We did 59 covers. I had to make Yorkshire puddings to order, something I’ve never done in my life,” says John Parsons.
He was the unnamed “new chef” mentioned laconically on the hotel’s Facebook page but somehow word had got out.
Now John’s cooking – a comfortable mix of French classical with British traditional and more than a dash of pub grub – has quite a following in Sheffield and North Derbyshire.
Diners may have eaten at the companionable long table at Sheffield’s Food and Fine Wine or enjoyed smoked eel with blood orange at tastings and at the Beer Engine, scoffed deep fried sheep’s brains or gizzards and intestines at still-remembered offal evenings or sampled his signature Three Little Pigs porkfest at any one of a number of venues.
Then again John can do high-end: The Kitchen on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield was one of the highest-rated local restaurants in the Good Food Guide until Joro came along. He helped put the Plough at Hathersage on the map. There was a restaurant in Cheshire’s gastro belt.
He was between kitchens after his last berth the Hathersage Social Club closed just before Christmas when he heard the Sir William, just up the road from his home in the village was looking for a chef.
The eight bedroomed former coaching inn, which dates from 1871 High up on the side of the Hope Valley, had seen better days.
But it was not quite moribund. Climber and trekker Chris Allewell, who runs the climbing and Outward Bound-style Beyond The Edge adventure business, already used the hotel as a base and for guests on courses.
He decided to make a go at revitalising the pub side of the business with, in keeping with the company ethos, having as little impact on the environment as possible.
John, aged 49, felt excited about buying into the idea. Besides, he had got to the point where, although he still lives to cook, he wanted to turn the regulo down.
“I am done with restaurants and high end food. I am not trying to compete with other places around here . . .We don’t want it to be polished, it’s very much a local boozer.”
So not so much a new mountain to climb, bearing in mind the boss’s day job, but a stroll in the foothills.
Looking at the new menu, not too many local boozers might have Thai-spiced sea bass in paper parcels nudging shoulders with miso noodles or meat and potato pie.
Or Gochujang sticky chicken wings along with a dipped beef sarni or 12 hour pork belly and sausage casserole.
Inevitably, much of the first menu is a remix of tried and tested old favourites although, conscious he needs to keep to a price point of around £15 for main courses, the far more complicated Three Little Pigs may have to wait its turn.
Sundays are completely traditional, a choice of three roasts or all three on a platter with a full array of vegetables.
Our beef and pork were supremely well done, a couple of accurately cooked tasty slices billowy puddings, proper gravy full of meat juices and a particularly silky mash the most notable components.
Both desserts, a treacle sponge and sticky toffee, impressed by their lightness of touch.
Looking back, he says, he was perhaps ahead of the curve with communal table eating or nose-to-tail offal days. And who could have imagined he could turn a staff canteen, as at Breedon Cement Works, into an open-to-all-comers eateries?
“I never thought I would get them off chips and into ramen bowls,” he chuckles.
Covid stopped all that but did spark off his country-themed £10 takeaways operated out of Hathersage swimming pool car park.
” It never made any money but was a lot of fun. We could do 110 meals on a night with people coming from as far as Sheffield and Castleton. “
John is not pretending to be a one-man band. He has sterling help in the kitchen from Maria McCaffrey while hotel manager Nick Dunn continues to keep the place running as he has the last few years.
The Sir William is open all week with food lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. TEL: 01433 631 167. WEB: http://www.thesirwilliam.co.uk