January 1, 2013
2012 has been a busy year for Noveltea for all sorts of reasons. We visit dozens of tearooms over the course of the year and have reviewed plenty for you on our blog and website including Lahloo in Bristol, The Rose in Oxford, and Cup in Glasgow.
We’ve also been baking, of course in the THQ kitchen and look forward to sharing some of our better concoctions in the New Year as well as a special little expose we’ve been preparing about the ones which didn’t work so well. (On this note, one thread which attracted a lot of attention was The exploits and misadventures of Herman the German Friendship cake – a cautionary tale of the unexpected pitfalls which await the unwary).
Amongst other inervations we’ve introduced our new BlogWatch feature, which lets us bring to light other tea-related blogs like Afternoon Tea Total and Tea for You and Me. If you manage such a blog or website, or just know of one we might like then please do get in touch.
Noveltea was established – all those years ago – to help fellow tea lovers find great afternoon tearooms. What continues to delight and surprise us year on year, though, is the enthusiasm we get in return.Along the way, and among others, we’ve met Fanny, Sam and Jane from vintage tea party planners Nips and Crumpets, and the guys from The Attic, Bristol. This year we met TV presenter Maddie Moate, spent a week with Professor Robert Murphy in his beautiful cottage in Ireland and made contact the Chester Ladies Cycling Club and are very much looking forward to a project together in 2013.
Allow us to extend our warmest seasonal wishes to all the above, and of course you our loyal readership. 600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012 and in the same period we understand that this blog got about 3,500 views. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years. For more nerdy statistics and figures you can view our full annual report.
It only leaves us to iterate our thanks and best wishes and we look forward to seeing you back next year.
For what is fast approaching more years than we care to remember we have been reviewing afternoon tearooms across the UK, from trains to treehouses, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, from terrifically good to just terrific. We rate all establishments using our uniquely developed ‘Noveltea Teapot Rating’ system from 1 to 5 but It was put to us recently by the good ladies of the Chester Ladies’ Cycling Club that we have never formally published the criteria upon which we base our judgements… Until now.
Roughly how far
Dreadful. This is reserved for when somewhere is unhygienic or dangerous about the place.
Would travel >100 miles to avoid.
A notch below the average UK tearoom. Something wrong here.
Would to travel >50 miles to avoid.
Two and a half
Your average UK tearoom, that is: squirty cream, butter and jam from small plastic containers, microwaved scones, stale or mass produced cake, cheap tea bags etc.
If there were only two tearooms in town we’d pick the other one.
A notch above the average tearoom but again nothing too special. The majority or the places we visit seem to achieve 3 – 3.5 pots.
If there were only two tearooms in town we’d pick this one.
Now we’re talking. A great tearoom with no signs of any of the faux pas present in their poorer 2.5 pot relatives.
Would travel >50
Five potters are few and far between and we reserve the honour for the very best of the best. All the above is taken as read; it must possess something genuinely unique to well and truly blow your socks off.
Would travel >100 miles just to visit.
1. These ratings are subjective and depend on many factors, not least how we’re feeling at the time. We attempt to be honest and accurate above all things; some ratings are based on a single visit, however, so may be artifactually high or low. If you own a tearoom and find fault with our review then we would encourage you to get in touch with a view to us revisiting your establishment or removing it entirely and forthwith.
So there we have it. A list of tearooms in each category is available at our website and new ones are being added all the time. If there’s something special about your favourite tearoom, be it crisp linen napkins, fresh-from-the-oven cakes and scones, or the genuine smiles then please do get in touch.
November 2, 2012
12 Kings Road,
0117 329 2029
As the city of Bristol boomed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, largely thanks to industrialisation and the trade people and commodities, so the doomsday-book village of Clifton swelled in size and in opulence. Today it’s home to some of the smartest shops and addresses in the city and is a likely place as any to find the finest tearooms. Of all of these, Lahloo Pantry, named after a Chinese tea clipper, is perhaps the very finest of all.
Given its unpropitious position (by the bins around the back of WH Smith) and demure frontage you could be forgiven for missing it entirely but in the year since it started trading in 2011 it has established an enviable reputation among the good folks of Bristol. Hopes raised, and bellies rumbling we were the first customers in on Saturday morning.
The décor is minimal but inviting: bare wood, warehouse lighting and casually stacked tea chests and paraphernalia, amongst which you perch on high stools. The menu is funky and economical. The service is sharp without being pushy. The anticipation is unbearable.
Many tearooms face the problem of how to enforce appropriate brewing times upon their impatient clientele. Some provide little egg timers and a strainer; others (like the Attic Tearoom) opt for ingenious mechanical gizmos which drain the liquor off the leaves at the appropriate juncture. At Lahloo they take the attitude ‘why risk it?’. After all when the tea is that damn good why not let the pros decide how and when to serve it? So tea comes served in a small cast iron pot, pre-infused and ready to roll – the coffee in rather scientific-looking conical flasks. Both were astoundingly good, in fact we’d put our necks on the line here and say possibly even The Best.
After that they could do no wrong. For Lily: delicious savoury scones with homemade chili jam. For Amos: a selection of cakes and patisseries that, days later, still send him into little reminiscent spasms of pleasure. It is very seldom we enjoy tea as much as we did in Lahloo, and unprecedented that we should order second helpings to go.
September 19, 2012
The Rose Tearoom,
Back as Oxford undergraduates, where we met, there weren’t that many serious contenders to the title of ‘Best Tea in Town’: it was between the Grand Café, the Randolph and the Old Parsonage (whose reviews can be found elsewhere) and of the three the former was a clear winner. Then one day a new tearoom opened up on the High which threatened to change everything. The Rose was chic and classy and offered a fabulous selection of loose leaf teas and an equally impressive variety of fresh cakes, scones and savouries with which to marry them. Although we made careful notes on the back of a napkin as we always do, we were let down by our filing system (that is to say the box under the desk in the spare room) and due to this gross oversight our review was never made public… until now.
Unfortunately the delay does not seem to have been in The Rose’s favour; it has not only lost out on the glory associated with such a prestigious review but in the intervening period it appears to have fallen in out estimations. The original napkin, although somewhat grubby does clearly say 4 pots out of a possible 5 but when we visited it today, try as we may, we felt physically unable to be so generous.
Where have they misplaced that all-crucial extra pot? The tea and cake is actually just as good as we remember; there remains an exciting assortment of fine teas and the scones practically grab you by the lapels and scream ‘fresh’ in your face. In fact we’ll put our necks on the line and say judged solely on this basis it could still be the best in Oxford. But please! What happened to the service? Call us stuck-in-the-mud old fuddy-duddies but:
1) A Gallic shrug is not a serviceable answer to a question, neither is pointing mutely at the cake display;
2) If you can be lured into conversation we’d rather have it with your face than your retreating behind;
3) The bill is the bill and as such not to be presented as if it were a pair of your soiled underpants
And since you’ve gone and got us in a complainy mood we also resented having to walk through the kitchen to get to a toilet which looked like it belonged on an Indian sleeper train. It doesn’t do to dwell on negatives and we do accept – indeed hope – that this may have been an unfortunate one-off but until we know we can be treated with the civility deserving of their (really rather good) tea, our hands are tied.
Go on say it: we’re stuck-in-the-mud old fuddy-duddies.
September 15, 2012
311 Byres Road
0141 357 2525
The stream of Lily’s eulogy was halted – but only briefly – by the tinkling of our electronic egg timer, which informed us that our Ceylon Ruhunu was good to go; if you’re in business of eulogising (or afternoon tea for that matter) you’ll find plenty to occupy you here.
‘Cup’ was a chance discovery and, like finding a twenty pound note in the pocket of a pair of trousers you haven’t worn for a while, a very welcome one indeed as we battled against the rain down in Glasgow’s “posh” West End. Once inside a ceiling-high glass frontage affords this quirky modernist tea room a light and airy demeanour, in despite of its compact size, and instantly banished our fears and demons of the wet and threatening Lothian streets. Seated efficiently yet with warmth we stared agog at the burgeoning tiered cake stands of our fellow diners, the weighty menu of teas and tisanes in front of us and the bar to our rear, constructed from an edible wall of fairy cakes.
We placed our order and waited with a strange mixture of excitement should the food live up to our seventeen storey high expectations and apprehension in case it should not. When it arrived what little professional veneer we had continued to affect was replaced by undiluted, childlike glee: each cake was a work of art, each sandwich a celebration and the scones tasted like they’d been plucked from the oven only milliseconds beforehand. Needless to say in all the excitement our eyes and the size of our tummies lost track of one another and when the euphoria subsided we ended up gazing (Amos: wistfully, Lily: tearfully) at the remnants of our repast but we needn’t have worried as doggy bags – although nothing as vulgar as a bag, of course – were on hand and we clutched them tightly under our coats on the subway journey home lest we be mugged.
Justifying 4 and a half pots was the easiest decision we’ve ever had to make; justifying why it doesn’t earn the coveted 5 pots was probably the most difficult. Certainly if there’s a better tearoom in Scotland we should like to know about it.
December 21, 2011
It was a glorious morning. The silvery water of Loch Ard glistened in the early April sunshine. The birds were singing a chorus of merry tunes, accompanied by Amos, sweating and cursing at the oars of our little boat. Our destination: the highly recommended Wee Blether Tea Room, housed in an eggshell blue beach hut on the loch side in Kinlochard run by a group of cheery Scottish ladies.
Inside was packed to bursting with customers, cakes, treats and goodies that couldn’t fail to satisfy even the most discerning tea goer. We sat outside at cast iron tables on the wooden jetty and satisfied our sweet tooth on homemade Victoria sponge and freshly baked melt in the mouth scones served with small, hot pot of tea. It was all going so well until we went to settle the bill and discovered that we had been charged an extra £1.00 for asking for a pot of hot water to top up the tea. Bloody Scotts.
Verdict: a pot knocked off for being stingy 3 pots/5
For more Scottish tearooms check out Noveltea.co.uk
December 14, 2011
The Library Tea Rooms,
Finding the small glen of Balquhidder, nestled at the end of a long windy narrow road to nowhere was predictably tricky, especially as the local signposts pre-date the death of Rob Roy in 1734, who is buried in the local church. But the discovery of the Library tea rooms was well worth the inevitable petty tussles [and nearly £300 damage to the car – ehem sorry, Amos] that ensued on the way. The Library Tearooms are about as tiny as the glen itself, and even the crisp white wood panelled walls did little to create the illusion of space, but don’t let this put you off.
A log fire was burning in the corner, and the built-in bookshelves were piled high with quirky reading material and delicate floral-patterned gilt bone china cups and saucers. We sat at the only table large enough to accommodate our hungry appetites, and feasted on scones fresh from the oven, filled with bouncy, joyous currents and served with perfect homemade strawberry jam and frothy whipped cream.
Verdct: a splendid 4 pots/5
For more tearooms in Scotland visit Noveltea.co.uk
December 7, 2011
The Hampshire Hotel
0207 839 9399
Going up to London for a bout of Christmas shopping recently, we were stuck for somewhere for tea at very short notice. Many of our usual haunts were all booked up, and – looking for somewhere central – we stumbled upon the Hampshire Hotel, which occupies the South Eastern corner of Leicester square.
The building itself, with its redbrick facade and Oriel windows is very inviting, and we were ushered in with delightful obsequiousness by a footman in full livery. Alas by contrast, the interior is rather drab and impersonal – perhaps more suited to a middle-management business reception than an impromptu tea with friends. As part of the Radisson hotel group, the Hampshire prides itself on “contemporary elegance”. Purposeful flowers in striking vases, generic modern artwork and uncomfortable high-energy furniture are all par for the course.
Considering how empty it was, the service was leisurely to the point of being tedious. The tea arrived (bags, of course, not leaf) in chunky white china and the cakes, scones and petit fours on an ostentatious three tier stand. The quality was overall acceptable but we were disappointed by the freshness (or otherwise) of the sandwiches and the dry, chalky meringues.
Only the bill managed to surprise us. At £17 for two this represents fairly good value against some of London’s more celebrated establishments but the fact remains, we’d rather have tea at the Savoy once than twice here.
Verdict: 2.5 pots/5
For more London tearooms visit www.noveltea.co.uk/2London.html
October 31, 2011
01628 891 010 http://www.danesfieldhouse.co.uk/afternoon_tea
I feel sorry for anywhere that isn’t Danesfield House. Set in Buckinghamshire, amid the beautiful Chiltern Hills, and overlooking the river Thames – this once prehistoric hill fort, now luxury hotel and spa has it all. We had spent a chilly Autumnal day perusing the quaint riverside towns of Henley and Marlow. Lily flitted from shop to show, amassing an impressive collection of bags until by five o’clock she could no longer fit through doorways sidewards. With one last wistful look back at the shoes that might have been, even she was forced to admit defeat and together we set off to find tea.
During this time Amos had not been idle, and – in between paying for things – had solicited the advice of some friendly locals. Our options were twofold: retrace our steps to Henley or stop off outside Marlow at “the posh hotel on the hill”. Pulling up on the gravel drive of this stately home-cum-hotel, our excitement was twinged with a note of foreboding. We’ve had mixed experiences of country house conversions; the price is unanimously high, but the quality of the tea very variable, and many is the time Amos has got into furious rows with the management concerning the mark-up on a Twinings teabag. This white-faced mock Tudor castle doesn’t look beautiful, and it doesn’t look cheap either…
…And it wasn’t. But we’re pleased to report that the service and quality are up there with the very best. The orangery (funky old-fashioned flagstones meet modern metal and glass) houses a dozen or so tables, resplendent in white linen and silverware, creating a fresh, minimal setting whilst maintaining a convivial atmosphere. There is not a harpist in sight – instead faultless oven-fresh scones are accompanied by fine loose-leaf tea, the chinks of glasses and the crackle of an open fire.
The service is oily-slick and whisper quiet and the bill when it came was like receiving a massage. We lingered slightly longer than we deemed polite, and made a point of strolling leisurely though the formal gardens before retracing our way back to the car (which was easy to spot amongst the fleet of German executive saloon outside).
Reflecting back perhaps four and a half pots is mean, as it’s hard to know what could be improved upon. Maybe we’ll have to go back for a second opinion…
October 24, 2011
Henley is lovely, although it’s not – I must say – particularly lovable. Famed for being one of the most expensive, most snooty, most disingenuous of all the Thames villages, Henley is a place to for the weekend but we wouldn’t necessarily move there.
Although spoilt for good shops (and of course the ubiquitous farmer’s market on Saturdays…), tea-wise it’s a bit disappointing. You could opt for one of the riverside hotels, or there’s a perfectly nice-looking Maison Blanc near the bridge but we’d back the local’s choice: Hot Gossip on Friday Street.
We felt immediately at home amid the kitch clutter of this cosy ground-floor tearoom. The half-dozen or so tables are staffed (I would hesitate to say perhaps slightly over-staffed?) by 4 wonderfully ditsy, pinny-wearing waitresses who, after much to-ing and fro-ing and whoopsie-daisying, managed to take our order. The home-made cakes looked delicious but since we couldn’t decide which to go for, we opted for one slice of each and (for the sake of balance) a scone-a-piece.
The scones came with a generous scoop of clotted cream and blob of Wilkinson’s Jam. In their prime they must have been superb but I’d take some persuading that they were fresh today. The cakes, though, were faultless. Even we began to struggle a bit after our 4th slice, but we soldiered on regardless. The tea was ok, but the star of the show was undoubtedly the hot chocolate, which – although they seemed to have been prepared such that most of the liquid was on the outside – did much to lift our spirits on the cold journey home.
We would usually direct readers towards a website or some other source of information, but so far as we can see none exists… and to be honest perhaps this is the true source of Hot Gossip’s charm. For all the topsy-turvy service and the spilt hot chocolate, the homely lack of commercialism makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly British afternoon out.