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Tea shop reviews

I'm rather partial to afternoon tea and cakes. I don't have to partake EVERY day, but a day without, is simply a wasted opportunity. Don't you think? I'm writing a book of my experiences in tea shops, up and down the country. Here are some of my latest reviews...

February 2012

Stoke Place, Stoke Poges

Afternoon tea — Red Letter Days voucher

Stoke Place

It's a Sad Day, my last sugar fix before Lent begins, and it's all sugar-free for nearly SEVEN weeks. There's nothing like going out with a bang so I decide to use my Red Letter Days voucher, a gift from a dear friend who knows how I need to keep the sugar flowing through my veins. After trawling their website for days, I chose the venue — Stoke Place, a rather smart looking hotel in Stoke Poges.

Can I say this was one of the best hotel afternoon teas I've ever experienced? Well I'm going to. It was incredible, and a rival in an equally excellent Claridges in London.

Me and the Husbandman (giving up nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges AND coffee for Lent) were shown to The Garden Room — a bright, modern room overlooking the extensive grounds, and furnished with funky wallpaper and modern chairs and tables. Two other tables of Sunday-lunchers looked rather jealous when our tiered plates of fancies arrived. AWESOME!!! A caffetiere of coffee and one of loose-leaf Lapdog Shoe-snog and a pot of hot water, are served in glass tea cups and saucers — not my favourite choice of vessel. On the tiered cake stand – two plates of 4 finger sandwiches held together with a large cocktail stick (smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, ham and mustard, egg and cress). The top tier is 4 large scones, 2 plain, 3 fruit. Also a slate containing 2 of each miniature frosted chocolate brownies, lemon meringue pies, creme brulee and shot glasses of fruit trifle. There is of course pots of clotted cream and strawberry jam. It's all beautifully presented and served by two waiters.

Stoke Place

Everything is of a perfectly high stand, fresh sarnies, faultless scones, and the patisserie is tasty, moreish and we polish it all off (except for 2 scones, which are packaged up in a swan-shaped foil carry-out.

This is quite simply one of the best afternoon teas I've ever had, though I'm willing to concede it may be enhanced by the impending drought... We are the only people taking afternoon tea. I want to shout this place from the rooftops. I've already booked our table for an end of Lent celebration.

November 2011

Mr Miles, 3-4 High Street, Taunton, Somerset

Afternoon tea — £7.95

It's quite a posh tearoom with duck egg and gold coloured wallpaper, little wall lights, wicker furniture, glass on top of the tables, and vases of flowers. It's not stuffy though, and the staff are very friendly. There are tables upstairs and out on the pavement and a tiny shop attached, selling tea and coffee paraphenalia.

The menu is breakfasts, light lunches and set teas, and there are a selection of cakes on the dresser that are all homemade.

I order the set afternoon tea and a Redbush tea instead of the house blend, which is not a problem. It's my day off in Taunton before I do my evening show, so this is my main meal of the day. Naughty — hell, yeah. The incredibly friendly waitress takes my order and seems almost as excited as I am that I'm having a posh tea. She is very comical as she potters around singing "There is nuthin' loike a dayme. Nuthin' in the worrrrrld" in her lovely Somerset accent.

A three-tiered cake stand arrives. On the bottom, a savoury and sarnie selection. Middle, two scones and on the top are pots of jam and clotted cream. The china is all white and matching. The sandwiches are a little pre-made and ragged — one salmon mousse, one brie and cranberry and one ham. There is good quality butter on the bread, I notice. A bite sized wrap contains a bizarre combo of brie and a rather flowery chutney. Wrong. Finally there is a heavy filo pastry savoury fancy with a baked egg and cheese filling. It's like a piece of wet cardboard that has been forced into an egg cup. The idea of savouries are a good addition to sarnies but they haven't quite got it right.

The plain scone is good, very homemade flavour and texture. The fruit scone is even better, and is very funny because it looks like it's doing a drunken backflip the way it has cooked, all squashed over to one side. The jam and cream portions are a bit tight but I shan't complain. The whole thing costs £7.95 which is very reasonable. And now, the stage....

July 2011

The Bluebird Tearooms, 9 Church Street, Malvern, Worcestershire WR14 2AA

Afternoon tea — £4.50

Been aching to try this little place in Great Malvern, ever since I started rehearsals. Unfortunately, rehearsals finish at 4.30pm, and the tearooms at 5pm. Fortunately, I don't let that stop me and am quite partial to a dirty lunch, and a cream tea for lunch is well within my moral code of conduct.

A small entrance in the main street leads up some stairs to the upper floor, and the Bluebird Tearooms. The table in the hallway holds the very homemade cakes on plates, which are covered with cling film. At the end of the hall are two adjoining rooms with about ten mismatched dark wood tables. Carpet on the floor, one wall with modern wallpaper, and a fireplace. It's like a house. The bathroom is GIANT sized, and has a bath, complete with shower curtain. I felt very vulnerable sitting on the loo in such a big space, and the shower curtain was pulled across the bath...

The customers are all oldies. It's a proper old-school tearooms. Hurrah. The menu is breakfasts, paninis, jackets, baguettes, soups, omelettes. I choose an afternoon tea, which is half a round of sandwiches, a scone with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The addition of half a sandwich makes me feel like I can easily justify the experience as "lunch". Excellent choice of sconeage — plain, sultana, cranberry and orange, gluten free, cheese, cheese and bacon, pepper and olive. I'm asked which jam I would like, and which tea. I go for sultana scone and a brie and ham sanger.

My table has a gradient like a technical drawing board but I manage to keep everything from sliding. The china is matching and floral, (no HW) and the food comes on a cute oblong sandwich plate with ramekins of jam and cream with spoons. Lovely fresh sandwich, and OMG! a large warm scone with a perfectly crusty outside and fluffy, soft and warm inside. Loads of cream and jam. It is heavenly, one of the best ever. WOW!

The only minus point is the rather miserable waitress, but I can cope with that for £4.50. Highly recommended.

9th March 2010 — before the Scottish premiere of "FIT"

Eteaket, Frederick Street, Edinburgh

Cream tea — £4.95

Just as well I'd done my research beforehand as Edinburgh seems to have a few posh hotel afternoon tea spots and not much in the way of quirky cafes. This boutique cafe is very contemporary, fresh and trendy with it's turquoise and white cafe front which is at a slightly lower level than the street, which meant I overlooked it at first. The counter at the entrance has cakes in domed platters, and posh sandwiches made up in a glass cabinet. Decor is minimal, white walls with Regency retro style hot pink and turquoise upholstered chairs. 10 tables in this room and an adjoining room to the rear. One double sofa seat and a low table.

The extensive tea menu includes leaf teas from around the world, categorized by Essential: £2.10, Select: £2.15 and Rare: £2.85. The menu lists breakfast, lunch, snacks and cakes.

An Afternoon Tea comes on a tiered cake plate with sandwiches, scones and cakes, but as I've given up bread for Lent (AAarrghhhh) I opt for the Cream Tea — 2 large scones, clotted cream, jam and an essential pot of tea. This is £4.95. Bargain! The china is old fashioned fine bone, and a real mixture of patterns. I have a pot of Earl Grey which had a fruity but light flavour (my monkey hat served as a perfect tea cosy). They mean business with the tea etiquette, and every customer is brought a sand timer for perfect brewing. Surely brewing strength is a personal taste? I did as I was told and waited the required amount of time before removing the basket of beautiful leaves, as instructed by the waitress. Sure enough — slightly too strong, but a jug of hot water was brought when asked. The scones (one lightly fruited, one plain) are bland and left a film of bicarb on my teeth. The plain one had a bit of egg shell in it, which spiced things up no end. So disappointing. There is a pot of thick strawberry jam and one of clotted cream which was only enough for one and a half, but had a goodly crust on it.

Hmm... not bad, but I reckon the homemade cakes might have been a better bet.

12th July 2009

Annie's Tea Rooms, Upper Godney

High tea — £25 total for 2

The immensely long drive off the A39 down winding lanes has you doubting yourself. Upper Godney is in the sticks, a little string of houses on a single track road. Annie's Tea Rooms, gardens and gallery is right on the banks of the River Sheppey, overlooking Glastonbury Tor. It is beautiful.

There are picnic tables on the grass and tables on the wooden deck area, 9 tables inside. The tea room is fronted with French windows which draw back to let the breeze in. We sit in the window to avoid a mad dash in the erratically changeable weather. Wood-burning stove, counter with kitchen behind, spacious country decor. Two large Velux skylights make it airy and modern. Duck egg coloured walls, and paintwork, light wood floors and chairs. Modern spotlights and fairy lights. Art on the walls for sale. Somerset Delphtware on the walls. The crockery is Royal Albert. Somehow they've managed a perfect harmony of traditional tea shop with a modern twist.

The menu proclaims local, organic and homemade fayre. Salads, soups, sandwiches, and half a dozen cakes on display on the counter. The sarnies are a bit pricey, but a substantial bite. Cheryl has Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese. I have Somerset Blue Cheese and Grape, which comes with a large leafy salad with pumpkin seeds and crisps. Afterwards we have a Somerset Cream Tea (choice of fruit, plain, dairy or wheat-free scones) with clotted cream and homemade jam. The large scone is perfect in shape and colour, density and taste. The strawberry jam comes in a glass and is more like a compote. Clotted cream is in a ramekin to share.

Everything is delicious and beautifully presented. The tea room is well populated even though they are seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Hardly surprising though — it's pretty special here.

Just as I thought we were done, the Wife sneaks in an order of Lemon, Lime and Coconut Drizzle Cake. I am allowed to nick a bit. WOW! Light and tangy. Amazing. Good move, Wife!

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