IN JUNE, 1994 I chose the Llyndir Hall Hotel as the venue for P and I to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I remember the warm welcome at reception, after travelling from our then home in London; the light and airy bedroom we stayed in for two nights; and the rather swish food served and gratefully received in the restaurant that evening.
But what stuck in my mind most of all, as we sipped wine in the chintzy surroundings, was P's statement that 'if you think we're moving back to live up here, then you've got another think coming.'
And just to remind him of that, I thought we should celebrate ten years living 'up here' in Chester with Sunday lunch at Llyndir Hall, this time with the whole family.
It was a beautiful spring day; a day for celebrating Englishness - except that we were in Wales of course - in the village of Rossett, to be precise. The hawthorn was in flower, the breeze was just beginning to blow the blossom into pale pink drifts and the cows in the adjoining field were looking a little less mournful than cows usually do. I thought then, as I did ten years ago, what a lovely setting this is for a hotel.
'I wonder if it's changed much inside,' I said, recalling vague memories of flowered wallpaper and pastel emulsion.
Well, where shall I start?
Llyndir Hall hasn't so much changed, as metamorphosed into a boutique-style city hotel, smack bang in the middle of a pretty Welsh field. Whoever was responsible for the hotel's revamp can decorate my lounge any day of the week - in fact they can have free rein over the whole house.
The high ceilings, perfect proportions and airy conservatory are all shown off to great effect by the two colours of matt paint on the walls and woodwork - a rich cream and a soothing earthy green. There are polished floorboards, upholstered dining chairs and decorative touches, including specially commissioned modern paintings and two huge mirrors on the walls; one a gothic design in gold, the other a classy, simple art deco-style that had both me and the twelve-year-old pointing like Andy and saying in unison: 'I want that one.'
(And if you think this is stylish, you should see the drawing room. I got carried away and made a comment that: 'P's shirt was a lovely shade of blue, although not as deep as the blue of the walls.')
Well, perhaps the food would be terrible and I'd have to say something negative?
But it wasn't and I can't.
The Sunday lunch menu is £14 for three courses, £9.95 for two. At these prices was it any wonder that there were plenty of other families indulging mums like me, who'd rather eat out than cook?
We all chose the cheaper option and so passed on the starters: fresh pea soup, asparagus with egg and chive butter sauce, pressed tomato cake with goat's cheese, and terrine of ham and pickles.
The children both opted for roast topside of beef with Yorkshire pudding, which came with a rich onion gravy.
In our family, roast dinner is a rarity, as the perfect timing required to get vegetables and meat on the plate at the same time has always eluded me. P learned a long time ago that if we were going to have any happy memories at all of eating a festive meal at Christmas, he was going to have to cook it himself.
So, far be it from me to say that this was as good as his, but the way the children tucked in, I think he's got some serious competition.
I was allowed to taste the beef and I can report that it was tender, with a really dense flavour, but the Yorkshire pud was not going to be shared with anyone. I can only report therefore, that it looked delicious.
Llyndir Hall has not only undergone a new lease of life in a decorative sense, there is also a new general manager, a new restaurant manager and a new head chef who all seem to be pulling in the same direction - up. The very reasonable prices are in fact introductory offers, but from June onwards Mike Truelove, the general manager, will be keeping the three course option at the slightly higher price of £14.95.
Once again, both mine and P's main courses were fine examples of good home cooking, presented well.
His fillet of salmon with rocket and bacon salad was a new way of serving this ubiquitous pink fish and ringed the changes nicely. My duck and leek pudding was exactly that: a suet pudding filled with duck and leek. It came with the stylish nouvelle cuisine touch of braising jus dribbled all around the plate.
The only area I can report where corners may have been cut in order to justify the prices was the seasonal vegetables. No one in our family complained, but there was a distinct lack of greens, the kitchen opting instead for carrots and red cabbage - as well as a couple of roasted new potatoes apiece.
Of the four desserts on offer, we managed to sample three of them.
The rhubarb and custard tart was lighter than expected, with a crumbly biscuit top and a dollop of cream on the side; the terrine of butter chocolate with white chocolate sauce would have satisfied even the most fervent of chocaholics and the Cheshire cheeses with pickles and fruit cake would have satisfied half the cheese lovers in the room, it was such a generous portion.
The sun was shining, the Merlot was slipping down nicely, the conservatory door was opened and we could hear other people's children laughing as they played in the gardens outside. No one was forcing us to go home, so we lingered a bit longer and I wondered aloud why we didn't do this more often.
'What do you mean?' asked P, seriously. 'Twice in ten years isn't bad.'
Address: Llyndir Hall Hotel, Llyndir Lane, Rossett. Telephone 01244 571648.
Price: Sunday lunch, £9.95 for two courses, £14 for three. In June there will be just the three course option for £14.95.
Best thing: The decor takes some beating, but the food was more than a match.
Worst thing: I really couldn't think of anything.
Would suit: Anyone keen to preserve the tradition of Sunday lunch, without having to cook it.