The Rose Tearoom,
The High,

01865 244429

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.

3/5 pots

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The Randolf Hotel

St Giles



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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