Tea for you and me

Join me on my epic quest to find the best tea ever


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Another wish list addition

I’ve admired the living wall on the outside of the Athenaeum Hotel before, but never been inside for the afternoon tea.

A colleague recently told me she had been and that I should try it because the afternoon tea included toasted crumpets. Crumpets are great, so that was enough for me to add it to the wish list. If it’s not enough of a reason for you then maybe the fact that in 2012 the Tea Guild named it London’s Top Afternoon Tea will be?

If you’ve been or are planning to go, let me know how you find it.


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Monkey Island Hotel

Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire, SL6 2EE.   (View on map)

Monkey Island Hotel is on an island, you drive into the car park and then cross a bridge to get to the hotel and grounds. The day we went there was a mini heatwave so it was baking hot and the cool breeze from the river as we crossed the bridge was most welcome.

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There was a private party in the grounds so it was busy outside, we sat inside in a room lined with wood panels. It wasn’t as hot as outside, but it was still very warm. We asked for some jugs of tap water as the journey had been long and hot. Though there were five of us, two of the party were too hot to eat much, so we ordered four afternoon teas between five.

There were four sandwiches per afternoon tea, one each of: ham; salmon; cream cheese and cucumber; and egg and cress. An odd touch was the crisps in between the sandwiches and my first reaction was that we were at a children’s party. They were ready salted and the day was so hot we did wonder if they had been added just to make sure no one keeled over from the heat. We enjoyed them – though I think we would have been less impressed if the weather had been colder.

The other strange twist were the scones. When the tiers of food were first brought there was some confusion as to why we had profiteroles instead of scones, or maybe we had both? On closer inspection we just had scones, but it looked like they had been backed in a shallow bun tin rather than a flat baking tray and so they were very round with a tin line across the side. It made them extremely crunchy.

The cakes made up for the scones and crisps as there were so many different ones and one of each variety for each afternoon tea: chocolate brownie; fruit tart; ginger cake with ginger snap on top; mini bakewell tart; cheesecake; chocolate eclair; and strawberries dipped in chocolate.

We had the usual problem of running out of milk and running out of jam (one tiny pot per afternoon tea, though there were four mini scones per afternoon tea).

SH noticed some more people enjoying afternoon tea as we left, only they had mini macaroons. We were jealous, especially as they were in many different colours, but were too full to go and ask for some.

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? No, but Twinings teabag. Very limited black tea choice of English Breakfast and Earl Grey, the rest were fruit or herbal.
Milk jug? Yes, but we had to ask for refills twice.
Price? £14.95 for each afternoon tea.
Cake? Yes! All tiny.
Go again? It’s a good place to go if you’re already relatively near, but the scones mean I wouldn’t make a special effort.


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The Lowry Hotel

50 Dearmans Place, Chapel Wharf, Manchester, M3 5LH   (View on map)


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This was a special afternoon tea tasting trip with the usual suspects of H, E and N. H and E had organised this visit and N and I had chosen not to be told where we were going, but instead it was going to be a surprise. This suited me fine (once I’d checked the dress code and the price) as I like surprises. Perhaps because I didn’t know beforehand, or just because it’s a very stylish hotel, I got a bit snap happy and took lots of photos.

Before heading to The Lowry Hotel we had looked round the craft and design gallery of the Manchester Art Gallery. This had dozens of beautiful teapots as well as other beautiful yet useful things. I appreciated the design care The Lowry Hotel had put into their afternoon tea surroundings and food all the more after seeing the gallery.

Stylish as it was, the lack of carpet and liking for chrome meant the room was very noisy and this meant we couldn’t hear each other properly at times, but never mind. The Ritz‘s love of plush upholstery and thick carpet is justified. And they had sugar cubes – The Lowry only had sugar packets.

The menu was already on the table when we sat down and our first thought was ‘this is not enough tea’. The menu gave of a choice of about seven types of tea and only three of those were black tea. The choices were Earl Grey, Breakfast blend and an Afternoon blend (described as 50% Assam, 50% Darjeeling). H prefers a lighter tea and would usually have a Darjeeling. She ordered the Afternoon blend and found it too strong.

We sometimes have trouble with an equal amount of sandwiches as H and N are vegetarians, E will eat fish but not meat and I eat everything. The Lowry coped without any trouble and presented us with ham, salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, Lancashire cheese and tomato and egg – all to the correct people. I think H and N also had a hummus sandwich.

Scones were small and lovely with enough jam and cream to go round. The cake course had a raspberry and white chocolate cake, a passion fruit tart and a pistachio and chocolate mousse. They were all delicious, my only grumble was that the spoon we were given to eat the mousse with was too big to get all of the mousse out of the glass it was served in. A variety of methods were employed to try and get this last bit of extremely good mousse out and the favoured technique was turning the spoon upside down and using the handle. It’s not good table manners, but when there’s chocolate at stake…

All in all a reasonably good afternoon tea and the restaurant was decorated in my favourite colours so I was happy.

Teapot? Yes, but the three of us drinking the afternoon blend had to share a teapot that looked like a coffee pot. And we had to ask for hot water.
Leaf tea? Yes.
Milk jug? Yes, but only one between four so we had to ask for a refill.
Price? £19.95 each, but with service charge automatically added so it brought it to just under £22 each.
Cake? Yes.
Go again? Yes.


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The Petersham Hotel and Restaurant

Nightingale Lane, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 6UZ   (View on map)

The view from our table at The Petersham

I had never been to The Petersham before, but my Mum had and she recommended it as somewhere to go for my Dad’s birthday. S, R, Mum, Dad and I all met at The Petersham in order to have some afternoon tea. The hotel was hotel-like with squishy carpets and a big piano and grand staircase in the entrance hall.

We were squashed on two small tables put next to each other, in a corner, in fact everyone who was there for afternoon tea was in a corner area of the restaurant, with diners finishing off their Sunday lunches in the main section of the restaurant. We ordered our afternoon tea and chose the tea we wanted. The tea came about ten minutes later and then we waited another 35 minutes for the afternoon tea food to arrive. As we had specifically booked for afternoon tea and had eaten lunch a long time ago in order to fit the afternoon tea in, we were not that impressed.

The fake snow at The Petersham

The tea was Twinings teabags but I still thought mine tasted a bit odd. R had three teabags and the rest of us had one, or rather, R had three teabag strings and tags hanging out of his pot and the rest of us only had one. Later we discovered that we all had three, but only R had had the strings and tags taken out of the pot for all three teabags – the rest of us had the string and tag still wrapped round two of our three teabags. By the time we realised what had happened the cardboard tags were disintigrating and bits were floating around in our tea – so no wonder it tasted odd. We didn’t complain as we couldn’t get anyone’s attention in order to complain, so just gave up.

The jam came in tiny pots and the service was very slow; on the plus side there was a fake snow flurry just outside the window at one point (to keep with the festive theme) and the food was good. My Mum has been during the week and says it was much better then, but overall we were disappointed with The Petersham.

Afternoon tea at The Petersham - note the tiny jam pots and differing numbers of teabag tags.

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? No, Twinings teabags that hadn’t been unwound properly. Not nice.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? £19.50 each.
Cake? Yes, pastries and cake and scones.
Go again? No.


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More recommendations, hurrah!

I am shamefully behind with my posting on here, but there are such treats as an afternoon tea for £15 waiting to be posted about and I’ll get to them as soon as I can. (Update: this review is now done, read all about it here.)

I’ve had three (yes, count them again: one, two, three) recommendations since I lasted posted! This is an excellent new record for me.

Firstly, a recommendation for Stop the World in Leigh-on-Sea: ‘I thought you might be interested to know about my favourite cafe here in Leigh-on-Sea.  It’s called Stop The World and has an excellent selection of leaf tea – even a delicious decaf!!!, gorgeous food/brunch and a HUGE selection of homemade cakes and biscuits.  If you like your tea shops, this is a must try!’ I am definitely visiting this place when I can next get over that way, really looking forward to that one.

Secondly, one of you got in touch to say ‘I was watching Masterchef the professionals tonight and they did a dessert challenge in a hotel in London which apparently serves the best afternoon tea anywhere’. This was the Palm Court at the Langham, which won the Tea Guild’s ‘Top London Afternoon Tea 2010’ award. I have been before, with regular afternoon tea goers N, H and E, but that was almost four years ago now so the time probably has come to go again.

And last but not least, the final recommendation was for Sally Lunn’s in Bath. The comment was ‘Tea and a Sally Lunn’s bun with cream and jam. Amazing. Addictive.’ The 100th review on this site was for Sally Lunn’s but I had my bun with soup and this is obviously where my mistake was made. I’ll try to head back soon for the cream and jam version.

I hope to head to the recommendation from the previous post, The Chocolate Teapot, next weekend and will keep you updated.

If you want to recommend somewhere, please stick some info down on the form here.


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Cerise

The Forbury Hotel, 26 The Forbury, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 3EJ

 

Teapots and sandwiches at Cerise

When KD said she wanted to go for afternoon tea in Reading and that it looked quite reasonable at £15 a head I was very impressed. When she mentioned it was in The Forbury I was astounded to realise I’d never thought of checking here before.

 

Cerise is the restaurant inside The Forbury Hotel and we headed there on a Sunday afternoon to sample the afternoon tea. They offer an afternoon tea for £15 – which includes a round of sandwiches each, two scones, a selection of patisserie cakes and tea. If you pay £20 then it includes a glass of champagne as well.

There was no room on the table for the cakes and the sandwiches, so we had a 'cakes in waiting' area.

All the food was extremely tasty and we had problems finishing off all the cakes (though we managed it in the end, naturally). There were some hiccups with the afternoon – bizarrely, we weren’t given any knives (though we each had a fork and a spoon). As we were in a private booth area we couldn’t easily attract the attention of the waiting staff so we improvised with the spoons and everything worked out fine. We also constantly ran out of milk – only two small jugs for six people didn’t seem like enough. The tea isn’t loose leaf but I’ll forgive it that as the food was good and it’s very reasonably priced. This place is more about the food than the tea, I feel.

Once the sandwiches were consumed the cakes made it onto the table. Take a look at the mini mound of scones as well.

I would recommend afternoon tea at Cerise as an end to a hard morning of shopping or a good place to meet friends when you need a proper catch up. The atmosphere is calm and private and the food was very tasty.

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? No, Twinings teabags.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? £15 for afternoon tea, £20 for champagne afternoon tea.
Cake? Yes – a selection including blackberry macaroon, fruitcake, strawberry tart, chocolate something, meringue and an eclair. Mini fruit and plain scones too, with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Go again? Yes, definitely. You should too.



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The Dorchester

Park Lane, Mayfair, London, W1K 1QA

An out of focus ballerina at the Dorchester

The Dorchester is another of the big name hotels in London that is famous for providing a good afternoon tea. We went there for Dad’s birthday and weren’t disappointed. I booked the tea well in advance so that we could get space and booked it earlier than Dad’s birthday so that we wouldn’t pay the very high price for Christmas Carol singers. When we arrived we were met by ballerinas in outfits relating to Alice in Wonderland. Apparently October was the month of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. This was all well and good, but sent me into a panic as I’d booked the standard afternoon tea which was considerably cheaper than the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea and we hadn’t allowed for an increase in price. My Mum took over and spoke to the MaÎtre d’ and they said we had booked before the special event was planned and that they would give us the normal price. As it was a birthday they also offered my Dad a complimentary glass of champagne.

Tea pots and cake stands at the Dorchester

We had our own waiter who was superb and served us tea and then a succession of waiters and waitresses served us sandwiches and scones followed by beautiful cakes all themed round Alice in Wonderland. The students from the school of ballet also gave a short performance/reading from Alice in Wonderland which we couldn’t see from where we were. We were near the pianist though who asked us for any requests and happily played them. My Dad was also presented with a glorious chocolate birthday cake and boxes of the cakes we couldn’t eat. The service was impeccable.

The Dorchester is well worth a visit but I was more impressed with the Ritz. The waiter there knew the tea by smell and didn’t have labels on the pots. And the messing up of the booking also took the shine off the Dorchester. There was also the glitz of the Ritz. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on afternoon tea it may as well be the most gilded afternoon tea you can find.

The Alice in Wonderland themed patisserie items at the Dorchester

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? Yes.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? £34.50 for afternoon tea.
Cake? Yes.
Go again? Not at the moment, I’d like to try some of the other big London hotels first or maybe the Ritz again.


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The Walk

12 Bridlesmith Walk, Nottingham, NG1 2GR

The view from the doorway of The Walk - look at the cake!

The Walk was the second stop on our tea tour of Nottingham and we weren’t disappointed. It has restaurant opening hours and opens for lunch onwards, on the Saturday we went we turned up 15 minutes after opening time and there was a queue. This cheered us no end – tea that causes queues must be good.

We didn’t have to queue for long, though had we wanted to sit outside we could have jumped the queue but we decided against it as it was a bit nippy.

Afternoon tea was on the menu but even we were tempted by the other things on there. Everything on the menu sounded excellent and the food on other tables smelt wonderful. I’d love to go back and eat more some other time.

There was no tea menu on the menu but we asked for our favourites and got them. We ordered an afternoon tea each which took a long time to arrive. We asked the waitress and she said they were putting the finishing touches to it. When it did arrive we understood why it had taken so long. Everything was fresh and tasted heavenly. The only problem is a familiar one – there were a range of cakes and pastries and none were the same. How to decide who gets what? How to decide what to eat if we’re not even sure what they are? In the end we took the honourable way of splitting every item into quarters and tasting each one. They were all lovely. My only negative point would be that the service was very slow, even drinks took a long time to arrive. It was very busy but perhaps more staff on a Saturday would be wise.

Afternoon tea at The Walk

Later we discovered that they will be introducing a tea menu and had tea sample boxes with vials of each type of tea to smell and choose from. We also spotted that the customers outside in the garden had blankets provided to keep out the chill. A momentary worry that we chose the wrong option was dispelled when we reassured ourselves our tea would have got cold if we had gone outside. On cue, a waitress came past with a tray of teapots in hand knitted tea cosies. Oh well, next time.

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? Yes.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? £15.95 for afternoon tea.
Cake? Yes, so much of it!
Go again? Yes.


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Woodlands Park Hotel

Woodlands Lane, Stoke D’Abernon, Cobham, Surrey, KT11 3QB

Cakes, scones, tea and Pimms sorbet galore at the Woodlands Park Hotel

Cakes, scones, tea and Pimms sorbet galore at the Woodlands Park Hotel

For my Mum’s birthday (no, I’m not telling you which one) we all went to the Woodlands Park Hotel for afternoon tea. Drinking tea and eating cake is part of the family tradition, it’s no wonder that I blog about it too.

You have to give the hotel 24 hours notice if you want afternoon tea and we found out why. All the food was excellent and fresh. Sandwiches, amazing scones, fruit cake, cherry cake, chocolate and coffee eclairs, mini pavlovas, strawberry tarts and Pimms sorbet. Yum!

The tea wasn’t so good, I’m afraid. We each had a pot to ourselves but we had to ask for hot water and I lost count of the amount of times we ran out of milk. Two medium sized milk jugs for 9 people, who are all taking their tea with milk, is not enough. Tea bags too.

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? No.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? £18 per person.
Cake? Yes.
Go again? Yes.


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The Polly Tearooms, Marlborough

27 High Street, Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 1LW

The cakes at The Polly Tearooms

The cakes at The Polly Tearooms

The photo here isn’t doing the large array of cakes and scones justice. Or the table full of Winnie the Pooh style pots of jam. The Polly Tearooms is an old fashioned, bay windowed place that was established in 1932 by two women, one of whom was one of the original suffragettes. D recommended this tearoom and we made a special trip to visit it. It was more than worth it and I’m going to go again before the month is out.

I had ‘English Plantation Tea’ which I had never heard of before and was listed on the menu with the fruit teas. I asked if it was a black tea and the waitress went to find out. She came back and said nobody knew what it was made of, but it was served with milk. I took a chance and ordered it. It was a smooth and tasty black tea. I kept the teabag label and googled the name on it: Tregothnan. It turns out it’s a company who have their own tea plantation in Kent and Cornwall! Now the name makes perfect sense. It’s not open for visitors yet, but when it is I’ll be there.

Tea at The Polly Tearooms

Tea at The Polly Tearooms

D had treacle and ginger cake (sounds an odd combination but works wonderfully) and I had a fruit scone. The scone was fresh and light and the jam was succulent.

Next time I visit I’ll make sure I’ve got more of an appetite and will try the cream tea.

Teapot? Yes and a pot of hot water.
Leaf tea? Teabag.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? About £1.60.
Cake? Yes and lots of it!
Go again? As soon as possible.