Wee Blether,
Kinlochard,
Scotland

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

Wee Blether, Kinlochard: always open, in fact more than always open...

Advertisements

The Hampshire Hotel

Leicester Square,

London,

WC2H 7LH,

0207 839 9399

reshamp@radisson.com

A view of the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel, occupying the south-eastern corner of London's Leicester square

The Hampshire Hotel: Looks nice on the outside

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

We received a question the other day by email:

***

“Hi, I have recently moved to the UK from Canada. Many things baffle me about this country, but nothing more so than the word, ‘tea’. What on earth does it mean, please?”  Jake, London.

***

Dear Jake,

Thank you for your question. It is one which troubles not only visitors to these shores, but many locals too. The word “tea” is used in different contexts. Confusingly it can refer to two things:

1) A drink (usually served with milk and a healthy dose of gossip, as in “let’s stop for a cup of tea”)

The word ‘tea’ on its own usually means a meal. Lower and lower-middle classes, and many people in the North of England traditionally refer to the meal eaten between 6-8 as “tea”, which originates from the practice of only eating 3 meals a day (breakfast, dinner – meaning lunch – and tea). If they wish to distinguish between “tea” (the meal) and “tea” (served between 4-6 with tea, bread, cakes etc.) they say “high tea”.

English upper and upper-middle classes tend to eat somewhat later, and refer to the meal served between 7-9 as “dinner” (formal) or “supper” (informal). The meal served between 3-5 is referred to as “afternoon tea” or sometimes just “tea”, as there is no risk of confusing it with any other meal.

Or 2) or a meal (as in, “I’m starving, what’s for tea?”).

People of all classes and backgrounds also enjoy tea as a standalone entity, but tend to distinguish it from a meal by quantifying it i.e.  “a cup of tea”, or just “a tea”.

The bottom line:

People get very worked up about this distinction. Indeed, even amongst the British, etiquette is a great source of stress (even fear). Allow me to impart the following advice:

1) Don’t worry! Take solace in Dr Seuss’ mantra that “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”. Any self-respecting English host will make clear their intentions on the invitation and will be graceful, kind and humorous should any mistakes arise.
2) If in doubt ask. There is such an acceptable variation in what is meant by “tea” that there is no shame in asking for clarification.
3) Enjoy! The English tea custom has fascinated me for many years. Wherever you go for tea, whatever you eat, and whoever you share it with, you will not only experience one of our most interesting social rituals, but one of our tastiest!

Debretts etiquette for girls book opf modern manners

Teatime etiquette in modern Britain: Minefield.

For more information have a look at my website www.noveltea.co.uk

Teabacks hung out to dry on a washing line to save money

What lengths will you go to to save money during a recession?

 

One of the best ways to enjoy all the frills of afternoon tea without the expense is DIY. We have been reviewing hotels and tearooms on our website for the last 3 years but still some of our best experiences have been in people’s homes:

Invite a few friends round, either informally over the phone, or make special invitation cards and post them with themed stamps, or tea-stained envelopes.

Dust off your old tea set from the attic or buy a mismatched assortment of pots and cups from a charity shop. Ask around and see if anyone has got three-tiered cake stands, silver sugar tongs, or fancy teapots.

Decorate the table imaginatively – don’t be afraid of the Kitsch, the Naff and the Downright Ridiculous. Gingham, flowers, bunting, silverware, portraits of the Queen. Anything goes.

Ask your friends to make or buy cakes, scones, sandwiches, strawberries, clotted cream, crumpets etc.

For more ideas, and some interesting recipes to try at home have a look at www.noveltea.co.uk.

Peacock’s, Ely.

April 13, 2011

Peacocks,

The Waterfront,

Ely,

Cambridgeshire,

CB7 4AU.

 

01353 661 100

http://www.peacockstearoom.co.uk/

Afternoon tea in Peacocks tearoom, Ely, Cambridgeshire

Lily still smiles in her sleep, thinking about those crumpets...

Natives of sleepy Ely, had they been casing the waterfront at 4 o’clock that late autumn afternoon, might have permitted a raised eyebrow or two at the sight of a pair of flustered tea-goers haring through the village in search of their last repast of the day. We rounded the final corner at a brisk trot, Amos in the lead and Lily – a few heads behind – bringing up a dignified rear. Arriving, slightly out of breath (Amos with just a hint of perspiration on his brow) it was clear that we were to be rewarded for our efforts in heavy coin.

The fame of Peacocks has gone before it. From the apple-pie cottage exterior to the homely plum-pudding welcome we received within, it was every bit the tea-time oasis we had been led to expect, and after our little canter earlier, felt vindicated in doing full justice to all they had to offer.

Amos fell about devouring a couple of hearty fresh scones with his usual gusto while Lily opted for perfectly toasted crumpets – the butter from which is smeared in greasy fingermarks all over the original notes – and a pot of ‘Good Luck’ blended tea, which we can cheerfully recommend. We found it to be busy without being crowded, warm, softly lit and tastefully decorated. The selection of Tea is comprehensive to the point of bewilderment although not unreasonably priced. Yes, the service was ever-so slightly 4 o’clock and we wouldn’t choose lace tablecloths for our front rooms but it’s hard to find fault with hosts who have catered so perfectly to your needs and we left, refreshed, in fine fetter, another couple of satisfied punters.

 

See more tearooms in East Anglia

The Randolf Hotel

St Giles

Oxford

 

Afternoon tea at the Randolph Hotel, Oxford

The magnificent Gothic facade of supposedly Oxford's finest afternoon tea

Such is the reputation of the Randolf for ‘the best tea in Oxford’ we arrived with reservations made, and expectations high. To up the ante we’d agreed to wear Edwardian morning attire in keeping with the splendid Gothic facade and luxurious interior but Anna  – who was dubious from the outset –  “forgot” at the last minute so I couldn’t help feeling the effect was somewhat lost. I arrived first (uncomfortable and not a little self-consciously in starched wing collar and spats) and the most curious thing happened. I was informed that there had been a double booking. Someone with exactly the same name – although I flatter myself not as well dressed – had reserved the same table at the same time and the hotel, assuming there had been some mixup, had given him the spot. Sure enough when I entered the lounge there the blighter was eating my scones and drinking my tea.

I mention this incident for two reasons. Not only was it an amazing coincidence (I’ve never met another Amos Harris in my life) but as far as our enjoyment of the day went, it was by far and away more agreeable than anything which happened subsequently.

Impressive as this Ruskin-acclaimed five star mock gothic monster is from the outside and exorbitant as the prices are, these are no real reflection of what receive. Once they had somewhat ungraciously sorted out their own error, the scones didn’t taste particularly fresh, and the Twinnings tea bags dangled pathetically on string like a tampon, with not a loose leaf in site. Considering I’d gone to the effort of getting dressed up for the occasion [I do appreciate I must have looked a right prick – thanks for those kind words, Lily] one might have expected somewhat less perfunctory service. We left after thirty minutes shortly after a party of American tourists descended upon us and started taking photos of the sandwiches.

If you are looking for ‘the best tea in Oxford’ we would recommend you steer clear of the Randolph and head for The Rose, The Grand Cafe or The Old Parsonage which are all cheaper and better.

 

See more tearooms in the Midlands

Sally Lunn’s, Bath

February 23, 2011

4 North Parade Passage, Bath, BA1 1NX

www.sallylunns.co.uk

01225 461634

Sally Lunns Bath Buns on display

Sally Lunn's (in)famous Bath Buns.

Meeting celebrities is nearly always disappointing, as Lily discovered when she was chatted up by Hugh Jackman in a lift the other day.

Sally Lunn’s has become had become a bit an institution in Bath and has claim – apparently not undisputed – to being one of the oldest houses in the city. It seems to have built a reputation in the States too as a purveyor of “authenticity” and “olde worlde English charm” and so remains full, from the moment it opens to the moment it closes, with camera-wielding Americans couples in matching Regatta hiking boots and fleeces. In deference to the proprietors, they certainly know their market and give the masses what they want but the seemingly endless popularity says more about the low expectations of the clientele than the excellence of either the service of the food.

The tea – served in metal pots and drunk from generic china – arrived as Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ started on its second repeat. They rather cruelly dress up their waitresses in Victorian maid costumes (why, please?) so it was harldy surprising that ours couldn’t even muster a smile. Two buns, thick cream and Tiptree on a large plate, and knock us down with a feather if they don’t pull out all the presentation stops and land a slice of dry orange on the side of your paper doily!

The (in)famous bun-like scones are pretty heavy going; if you don’t like them (and we can’t see why you would when you’ve paid £3 for something that looks and tastes like it comes from Gregs the Bakers) then they can be put to better use clubbing to death anyone who describes the surroundings as “quaint” or “genuine”. In actual fact it’s neither and it killed us to hear people talking in foreign accents about being English when devouring perfectly ordinary fare at inflated prices.

See more tearooms in the South West

Good afternoon tea-lovers, and happy Friday! Nearly time to put the kettle on, your feet up and kick back till Monday.

We don’t know about you but this week has just seemed to draaag, so we’ve come up with a little poll to ponder over the weekend.

What annoys you most, come teatime?

Everyone knows that a cup of tea can be the most welcome, uplifting, joyous luxury in the world. So why is it some people just can’t see to get it right?

We’re interested to know what your pet hates are relating to tea. It could be something really naff about your local tearoom, like paper doilies, squirty cream or Victorian maid uniforms (that really bugs Lily). It could be the tea-making facilities in your office, like flakes of limescale, UHT milk, or having to fish out tea-bags with a chewed up biro. Maybe it’s when your friends give you cracked mugs, stale biscuits, or someone puts a wet teaspoon back in the sugar…

Whatever it is we’d love to hear all about it, so place your votes, or leave a comment below.