HILTON may be one of the grandest and best-known names in the hotel world, but the latest addition to the group is very much a local concern.
The former Sheffield Park Hotel has an illustrious new branding, but it has actually been acquired by the Longrose Buccleuch group – run by Andrew Rouse of Bakewell and Garin Davies, former general manager of the city-centre St Paul’s Hotel.
As a Hilton franchise, it has the backing of a major group. But the ethos is local through and through: far from using a remote central supplier, the head chef regularly nips down to the local farm shop to stock up on home-grown ingredients.
And general manager Steve Whittaker is keen to get involved with charity work and the local community – one of his first moves was to donate all the old staff uniforms to Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the Salvation Army.
The hotel began life in 1987 as the Sheffield Moat House, later became the Park until owners Pedersen went into administration last year, and is now the DoubleTree by Hilton.
As part of the branding, every guest is greeted with a warm, gooey chocolate cookie on check-in – almost reason enough in itself for a visit, we discover!
The 95-bedroom hotel is set just off the Meadowhead roundabout at Sheffield’s southern gateway. The building is being given a stylish revamp and there’s no question that this latest incarnation is an improvement, not least to the aptly-renamed Piano Restaurant and Bar.
Once a somewhat soul-less dining hall, the space is now a symphony in lavender and beige, divided by mirrored panels and fretwork screens. Black wood tables contrast with white linen napkins; tripod lamps and square oil burners cast a soft glow across the room, while monochrome photos of Sheffield add points of interest around the walls.
The focal point, of course, is a grand piano – which is available to any competent pianist (Katie Melua was one recent performer).
But there’s no fear of arriving to find the lid closed and piped muzak in the air. This is one of those clever, do-it-yourself pianos that will entertain for hours on end as an invisible pianist tinkles the ivories. It’s a magical sound that somehow raises the tone of the whole experience.
The restaurant already has an AA rosette for its cooking, described as British and European cuisine ‘with a twist’. Newly-appointed head chef Joe Tomlinson heads a young team who are aiming to take that to the next level.
A daily table d’hôte offers a choice of four dishes for each course, with two courses for £15.50 or three for £18.50.
There’s also a comprehensive à la carte. Highlights include home-smoked pigeon breast with home-pickled vegetables; beef and oxtail cottage pie; and whole sea bass steamed with fresh ginger, coriander and red chilli.
The local provenance is evident – beef is 21-day aged and comes from just over the Derbyshire border.
One of Steve Whittaker’s specialities is the ‘eight-mile dinner’, with ingredients sourced entirely from within the locality.
The wine list is eclectic, offering nearly 30 different bottles from £14.95, a dozen available by the glass.
We order the house red, a fruity Spanish tempranillo, which is warmer than a Mediterranean rock pool when it arrives.
Restaurant manager Maggie Hill apologises and insists on replacing it. Service is good.
She’s back promptly with a choice of doughy bread rolls – and the offer of more to go with our starters.
We both order from the table d’hôte, which offers a decent selection.
Mushroom soup is creamy, well seasoned comes with a liberal sprinkling of crispy croutons.
Prawn and smoked haddock tian is a tad over-chilled, but loosely-bound layers of shrimps and smoked haddock are well balanced by a pool of lemony crème frâiche. Green leaves and grated carrot add the finishing touch.
My main course of salmon and leek tagliatelle is nicely presented. It’s not fancy food, but flavours and textures are good: pieces of salty fish, tangy leeks, fragrant fresh basil and al dente pasta bound in creamy cheese sauce. It’s a shame the promised parmesan shavings are missing, they would have added an extra depth.
My companion, meanwhile, is polishing off a generous bowl of beef and ale casserole. Chunks of meat are slow cooked in rich gravy to supreme tenderness and served with horseradish and thyme cream.
It comes with a bowl of veg: carrots, mangetout, cauliflower, broccoli and potatoes: altogether, comfort food at its best.
I’m beaten by this time, but my ever-obliging companion tests the chocolate, apple and almond tart. It’s unremarkable, but perfectly acceptable; a fluted sweet pastry case with a moist chocolate filling topped with flaked almonds.
We finish our meal with a cafétière of coffee and head home to enjoy our warm chocolate biscuits with a nightcap!
lVerdict: As hotel dining goes, the Piano Restaurant strikes a pleasing chord; the table d’hôte particularly is great value for money.
lOpen: Daily fom 6.30am – 10.30pm; dinner from 6.30pm
lDoubleTree by Hilton Sheffield Park, Chesterfield Road South, Sheffield (0114) 282 9988