Danesfield House
Henley Rd
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
SL7 2EY
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…

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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.

 

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