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  1. Tea & Cakes
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My top 5 tea shops

16th September 2007

Berry's Coffee House, Shropshire

£5 each

What a find! Hope it matches up to expectation now. All very right-on. Menu of local this and that, locally sourced produce and a list of local suppliers on the table. History of the coffee house and a bit about them and their menu. All but bread and teacakes is homemade, weird diets catered for and they are licensed.

We were going to sit in the cute little courtyard with it's wrought iron furniture, but it was windy so we went in. The main house, built in 1700 is Queen Anne and has been a boarding house, and family hotel and in WW2 was used to billet soldiers wives. The front tea room (4 tables) may have been a school — it's dark, atmospheric and has a table with cakes in glass domed cake plates. The conservatory is next with it's glass ceiling (4 tables). We sit in the kitchen (4 tables) with giant fireplace, wood panels, Welsh dresser with china and copper, set of servants bells and red and black tiled floor.

So — teapot (loose leaf Berry's English Breakfast Blend — Indian/Sri Lankan/African), jug of hot water, cup and saucer, jug of skimmed milk which I asked for, and a strainer. Ramekins of Herefordshire clotted cream, and cherry jam. White matching china. Scones served at room temperature. There are 2 plain ones, they are big and very pale. I am nervous. No need, they are moist, tasty and, well, just right. Cherry jam is thick and homemade. Incredible clotted cream has the consistency of ice cream, soft and is rich and ample. I think I might cry. This is it. Mark this moment. Everything is perfect. Ok, if I'm being picky (which I am) there's no spoons and no pat of butter, but nothing can spoil this. I leave my comments in the visitors book. Anch said, "Mocha VERY good, just a hint of chocolate. Nice people." He left a bit of scone. Lightweight...

Coda: They emailed me in response to my comments! Crikey! They are going to try out my spoon idea. They can't make up pats of butter as they have no space to do so.

11th November 2007

Berry's Coffee House — 2nd visit

I went back again at the end of the "Alice" tour, with Tony, and we sat in the sofa area just inside the front of the cafe. Strange event of agony and ecstasy before I caught the train back to London. The spoons were in place...!

20th February 2007

Choccywoccydoodah, Brighton

£5.45 cake and tea

OH MY GODFATHERS!! It's ma-hoosive. I am terrified. I can't touch it. It's the biggest portion of cake I've ever been served. Chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, a strawberry or two, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Now that's value. Delicious moist chocolate sponge cake, soft dark chocolate filling, all in a hard shell of milk chocolate, topped with white chocolate buttons. Shame the ice cream wasn't chocolate — overkill maybe...? It tastes goooood and it's not too sickly. A couple opposite are struggling to eat theirs and get a 'doggy box' to take away the remains. Light weights. The bloke said, "Are you gonna eat all of that?". I explained that I was giving up everything for Lent, and going out in style (maybe in an ambulance...)

Order cake at the counter and they bring it to you. About 8 giant cakes to choose from in a cabinet by the counter. They look different but are all the same, chocolate with different decorations. I tell a lie, there's a Boozy Fruit and Nut Cake and a Chocolate Flapjack.

The cafe, or "Boudoir" is two rooms, 1 with clinical white stools and breakfast bars, the other has painted walls and ceilings, red with purple, cherubs and bulls and reclining nudes. Decadence. Red chaise longue, lots of different chairs, 2 tables all in Regency and Rococo styles. Wall lamps, gold beads strung around, and lots of solid-looking chocolate sculptures — white choc monkey in a cage (£425), boy Venus de milo, white poodle.

I'm trawling through my cake, embarrassed at my progress. I'm not gonna eat it all though. Nowhere close. Cancel Lent. Good as it is, I don't think I can face the rest of it tonight. Maybe I'll have it for lunch tomorrow. I get my take-away box and waddle out of the boudoir.

Also available for hire — £200 for 12 people for 2 hours where all things chocolatey will be served. I'm booking for my 40th...

16th February 2006

The Toby Jug Tea Room, Bridport, Dorset

Cream tea £3.80

WOW! Whisper it... this may well be the best cream tea ever. Wooden tables and chairs, kinda Scandinavian feel to the place. Matching blue and white china — pattern Burleigh "Felicity" Staffordshire Pottery. Bow-front window, very quaint with cakes on show. Very homemade feel, gluten and wheat-free cakes available. Today's cakes are Lemon and Blueberry Sponge, Apple Cake, Chocolate Muffins, Fruit Cake. There are also soups, toasties, breakfasts, chilli, vegetable and rice bake. I'm having a Cream Tea. Most moist scone I've ever tasted (although the second one was a lot dryer!). Jam and cream on little plates. Tasty, thick real jam. Huge breakfast cup but no hot water if I'm being picky. Only downside to the event — my Pied Piper theatre colleagues didn't notice, nor would probably understand my utter joy in those moments. A lonely kinda bliss.

Now called 'Cafe Bean' — idiots.

9th October 2007

The Bridge Tea Rooms, Bradford-on-Avon

£13.90 total

The Bridge Tea Rooms

Beautiful Bradford-on-Avon. Even more beautiful, The Bridge Tea Rooms, next to the bridge curiously enough. C1675 Bathstone crooked building, which you go down a couple of steps to get in to. Mind your head. The tinkly bell announces your arrival to the child labour clad in black robes, white apron and mop cap.

Wooden furniture, fireplace, exposed Bathstone walls, old prints on the walls, and a staircase up to the facilities and upper floor of the tea rooms. Roughly 12-15 tables in all. It's very traditional and has awards of excellence from The Tea Guild. There's a rack of newspapers, a chiller cabinet with fresh cream gateaux and traditional cakes in covered cake plates on a sideboard. All matching china, covered sugar pots and menus with set teas, other cakes, sarnies, snacks, extensive tea list, wine list and evening meal menu. I'm here with Tony D, doing a mask workshop project at The Arc, Trowbridge.

There's an overwhelming array of set teas:

  1. Masters and Mistresses (with a milkshake) — £7.95
  2. The Bridge Cream Tea — £6.95 scones/jam/cream/tea
  3. Savoury — £8.95 cheese scone/cheese/grapes/celery. WHAT!?
  4. Victorian — £10.95 sarnies and scones
  5. Full tea — £14.95 (£26.95 for 2) sarnies/scones/cakes
  6. Champagne Cream Tea — £42 for 2
The Bridge Tea Rooms — Cakes

Heaven. I'm in heaven — even before the main attraction arrives. The surroundings and ambience are spot on. Then it arrives... we have Earl Grey/Jasmine tea, with pot of HW, strainer, jug of milk, tea cups and saucers. Plate with one fruit, one plain scone (good to have the choice). We each have our own ramekins of clotted cream, strawberry jam and spoons. The fruit scone is hideously deformed, like it's tried to climb out of the pan, but I'm very inclusive and love it all the more. The scones are deep and ample, their texture tends towards dry and crumbly, but they are warm and taste good. The cream is really thick and it's almost impossible to apply it to the scone. My cream doesn't seem to have any crust either, but now I'm just being picky. I am very happy. Not the best scones I've ever tasted, but almost certainly one of the best experiences. It's an expensive event, but I'm worth it! And as I sat there, little did I know that my life was about to change forever.

30th April 2008

Betty's, York

£29.90 total

Very grand. Betty's is an institution, all that's right and proper in an English afternoon tea. Always a queue, and 6.30pm on a Wednesday evening is no exception. The smart host seats us in the corner window of the tearooms. Tony is wearing a suit, hat, giant feather earring, and looks amazing. I am (not so) fresh from "Rabbit and Hedgehog" rehearsals. A pianist is playing everything from Cats to Nessun dormer.

It's light and airy in the tearoom due to the floor to ceiling windows, with stained glass borders at the very top. Tables are marble, chairs Lloyd Loom style. It's full of a mixture of clientele — young people, ancient people, posh WMC people — some having ice cream, some eating evening meals. There is a dessert trolley making it's way between the tables. Not sure what is under the glass domes. Have to explore that option another time.

We order the High Tea. A choice of 2 out of 4 sandwich fillings — egg mayo, smoked salmon ham, chicken. These are on the top tier of the tiered cake plates (one each, I'm beside myself!). Next tier down, a fruit scone, cut in half. I have the pot of clotted cream and a spoon, Tony has the jam. I tell him he can keep the jam 'coz I'm not sharing the cream. Bottom tier is a madeleine with lemon icing, a fruit tart and a chocolate cream-filled choux pastry. There's also a tray with a silver teapot, HW, milk, sugar, strainer. Two small finger sarnies isn't really enough, but I guess that's only my feelings of guilt that this is our dinner, and the savoury element is proportionally almost non-existent.

Everything is really good, flavoursome, fresh, perfectly presented. As good as The Ritz, but lacking the sparkle of Claridges. Good atmosphere — kinda posh yet relaxed. There's a brilliant adjoining bakery/shop selling bread, cakes, biscuits, tea, coffee, china and gifts. It's all terribly English. Love it!

Betty's has an events calendar — musical events, readings etc. Must try Little Betty's — a branch, and apparently an altogether different experience!

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