After being eclipsed by trendy US-style coffee bars, the traditional teashop is on the rise and offering more than just tea and scones.
Like an infusion of freshly brewed tea slowly permeating through the pot, the question gradually took shape on a visit to one of Britain’s great cities… Is the party over for the tearoom? All we had wanted was afternoon tea yet we couldn’t find a single tearoom in the city centre. Eventually we had to settle for the café in a well-known department store, where the food – but not the atmosphere – was a reasonable substitute.
So is that great British institution, the traditional teashop, in terminal decline? Thankfully, the answer is no – though these days you have to go into the rural and coastal hinterlands to find the best.
When Thomas Twining opened the first tearoom in the Strand, London, in 1706 – it’s still there – he launched a tradition that has survived for more than 300 years, and in many rural areas historic tearooms – often in ancient buildings – still serve traditional teas with pride. The intoxicating deep-brown liquid is poured from ornate teapots; there are pristine lace doilies and gleaming silverware.
Afternoon tea itself is also enjoying a renaissance. Irene Gorman, head of the delightfully named Tea Guild, said: “Afternoon tea is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence. It is an increasingly fashionable way to catch up with friends, take a break from shopping, or conduct a business meeting. Modern life can be hectic; taking afternoon tea is the perfect way to slow down and relax.”
Tearooms strove for gentility. Elegant lace curtains hid the diners from the gaze of passers-by, and the name of the café was often written over the door or in the glass pane in a rounded, florid, copperplate hand. Waitresses wore white caps, well- laundered aprons and starched collar and cuffs. Inside were booths or tables, highly polished and with elaborate crockery to match. There was the gentle tinkle of silverware on plates and a low hum of restrained chat. Tea was served on three-decker stands, sandwiches at the top with scones below.
Today preserved railways, museums and galleries, cathedrals and stately homes are some of the best places to find a decent teashop. Indeed, there’s the famous description of one leading cultural centre as a ‘lovely café with gallery attached…’
The most unusual afternoon teas in the UK
Summer Not Afternoon Tea at OXO Tower, London.
Treat yourself to cocktails and cakes with the OXO Tower’s Not Afternoon Tea. Strictly NOT your standard afternoon tea, the delicious alternative to sandwiches and scones features modern chocolate desserts, summer fruit offerings and herby delights using bay leaf and thyme. The afternoon tea comes with unique tongue-in-cheek cocktails created by the OXO Tower Bar Team. £24.50 per person.
Tea at the Top at The Duke of Cornwall, Plymouth.
The Duke of Cornwall offers a unique tea for two at the top of the luxury hotel’s iconic watch tower, providing 360-degree views of Plymouth. The tower was originally built for decoration, although the hotel’s porters would often run up to the top to watch liners arriving in dock. They would then run down to greet the passengers, escorting them and their luggage to the hotel. Today, it makes for an unusual setting for traditional afternoon tea. Tea at the Top includes sandwiches, scones, a glass of champagne, teas and coffees and pastries, as well as your very own butler. £80 for two people.
The Countess Afternoon Gin Tea at Welcombe Hotel Spa and Golf Club, Warwickshire.
Ideal for making the most of the alfresco season, The Countess Afternoon Gin Tea at Welcombe Hotel Spa and Golf Club, in Stratford upon Avon, is a quirky twist on the English classic, swapping the traditional glass of high tea fizz for a refreshing Hendricks gin and tonic, presented in a china tea pot over ice and lemon. The gin is served with luxury finger sandwiches, miniature open rolls, freshly baked scones, the hotel’s finest jam, clotted cream, delicate pastries, petit fours and a macaron, as well as the obligatory endless loose leaf tea of your choice. Served overlooking the hotel’s landscaped gardens, fountains and water features, the grounds provide a picturesque backdrop to enjoy the quintessentially English tradition. £29.50 per person.
Suffolk High Tea Cruise on Sailing Barge Victor, River Orwell.
Take to the water in the style and pace of a bygone era with a relaxing river cruise as you enjoy a Suffolk High Tea on sailing barge Victor. From her berth adjacent to the Old Custom House on Ipswich Waterfront, Victor sails the River Orwell, with areas of outstanding beauty and wildlife. The high tea, including freshly baked scones, clotted cream, jam, a selection of sandwiches, tea and coffee, takes place on Wednesday and Sunday afternoon cruises throughout the summer. Built in Ipswich in 1895 and superbly restored, the historic sailing barge comfortably accommodates up to 40 guests with an open-air top deck and a cosy polished wood saloon offering a memorable experience. £35 per person.
Picnic Afternoon Tea, Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, London.
Served from a wicker picnic hamper, Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane’s Picnic Afternoon Tea was designed to capture the changing seasons of the park-like setting and comprises vintage tins containing a range of sandwiches, cakes and scones with a British twist. To complete the classic affair, Head Pastry Chef Loic Carbonnet has created Pimm’s mousse, rhubarb and custard ice cream lolly, pistachio and strawberry tartlet, chocolate and raspberry macaron and a trifle made with seasonal fruit. The picnic hamper even includes a tea-brewing egg timer to ensure the accompanying tea served is just right to your preference, be it strong, medium or weak. £39 per person or £59 per person with a glass of Bollinger Rosé Champagne.
Stourport Manor Hotel’s Afternoon Tea, Worcestershire.
Inspired by our favourite floral nectar, Stourport Manor Hotel’s Afternoon Tea is designed for little ones and grown-ups, consisting of scones, honey, clotted cream and jam, classic sandwiches of salmon, cucumber and honey, of course, as well as teacakes and a choice of teas and bubbles to toast the wonderful bees! £12.95 for adults or £16 with Prosecco, £5 for children.
The London Royal Tea at Hotel Café Royal, London.
Hotel Café Royal’s take on the English afternoon tea tradition features a London theme playfully presented in its iconic Oscar Wilde Bar. A celebration of British history, The London Royal Tea (from 14 September 2015) allows you to learn about the origins of taking tea and the traditions associated with it. The menu includes the traditional Battenberg cake, supposedly created to celebrate the royal wedding of 1884 between Prince Louis of Battenberg and Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, through to macarons inspired by the icon of the London Underground. The afternoon tea experience begins when the toastmaster rings a bell from the historical entrance on Regent Street to signal the beginning and end of afternoon tea service. £42 per person.
Yang Sing’s Afternoon Tea, Manchester.
Master wok chef Harry Yeung MBE, dubbed one of the best Cantonese chefs outside of China, has created a Chinese-themed afternoon tea menu at his restaurant Yang Sing, Manchester. The extensive menu of rare and vintage loose leaf tea is handpicked by a master tea merchant in China, which Harry has dealt with for over 30 years. Teas include high grade Orange Tekoe, fermented dark Pu’er, white Shou Mee and Shui Xin. Harry’s menu includes Paper wrapped prawns with water chestnuts & shredded coriander, Cuttlefish bumblebee, Steamed creme patisserie bun ‘lai wong bau’ and Pan fried sticky water chestnut cake. £17.50 per person.
Seafood Afternoon Tea at The Jetty, Devon.
Love seafood? The Jetty at Salcombe Harbour Hotel & Spa offers an indulgent twist on the traditional British afternoon tea with the mouth-watering Seafood Afternoon Tea. Paying homage to the beautiful costal surroundings, guests can sample freshly sourced, decadent Salcombe shellfish treats overlooking the spectacular waterfront. The first stand features two oysters on crushed ice with lemon, tabasco and mignonette, a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, smoked prawns with mayonnaise, a crab sandwich and a lobster avocado wrap. The dessert stand comes with salted caramel ice cream dipped in white chocolate, traditional scones with organic Devon clotted cream and homemade jam, Devon strawberry meringue and lemon cake. £25 per person.
Afternoon tea at La Patisserie des Reves, London.
La Patisserie des Reves, or the Patisserie of Dreams, offers a French twist on the classic afternoon tea. Guests can relive the whimsical feelings of childhood with a pot of tea, sandwiches and a curated selection of the shop’s signature pastries, including delicious madeleines, financiers and viennoiseries. £20 per person.
Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea at Ballygally Castle, Co. Antrim.
Ballygally Castle’s Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea delights fans of the world-renowned series as well as those who love the indulgence of delicious afternoon tea. The tasty treats, inspired by the fantasy lands of Winterfell, Iron Islands, Kings Landing and Stormlands, include Lannister egg rolls, Baratheon Bread, Little Finger Chicken Caesar wraps, Jon Snow Cakes and Dothraki Trifle with mini Dragon’s eggs. £18 per person.
Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea at Laguna Kitchen & Bar, Cardiff.
This manly twist on the traditional at Cardiff restaurant Laguna Kitchen & Bar includes the Mini Brecon Venison burger with juniper berry & red currant mayonnaise and a Chorizo Scotch egg & Bloody Mary mayonnaise. The Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea also comes with Roast sirloin of Welsh Beef and horseradish stuffed Yorkshire pudding, Warm chocolate fondant with Clotted Cream and Rum Baba filled with Chantilly cream and raspberries. £19.50 per person.
Boating Lake Afternoon Tea on Southwold Boating Lake, Suffolk.
The quirky 1940s Southwold Boating Lake and Tearoom has taken the traditional cream tea experience one step further, by serving it on one of the lake’s several islands. Stood in the middle of the lake with its willow fencing and comfortable seating, the island is the ideal place to sit back and enjoy the scrumptious treat surrounded by wonderful wildlife and beautiful views. The Boating Lake Afternoon Tea is served on vintage stands with freshly prepared sandwiches, homemade scones and a pot of traditional tea. £10.50 per person.
His and Hers Afternoon Tea at Buckland Tout Saints Hotel, Devon.
A twist on the traditional, the His and Hers Afternoon Tea is designed with hearty treats and a pint of local real ale for him and a delicate selection of cakes and sandwiches for her… not forgetting a glass of bubbly. £29.95 each.
Street Food Afternoon Tea at The Arch London, London.
Embracing diverse, multicultural flavours found in London’s street food scene, The Arch London’s Street Food Afternoon Tea offers a taste of foods from around the world. Savoury delights include Mini Cheese Burgers with Onion Marmalade in Brioche Buns, Chicken Satay and Mini Fish & Chips with Tartar Sauce. Sweet treats include homemade Macarons, Mini Coffee Éclairs and Mini Raspberry Victoria Sponges. There is also a menu for veggie lovers with Grilled Vegetable Tortilla with Guacamole and Mini Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Red Pepper Marmalade in a Toasted Brioche Bun. £29 per person.
Vegan Afternoon Tea at La Suite West’s RAW, London.
Try the Vegan Afternoon Tea at La Suite West’s RAW, where a combination of designer finger sandwiches, home-made scones with coconut cream and fresh strawberries, and a delectable selection of home-made vegan pastries are served with your choice of loose leaf tea or coffee. The sandwiches in the Vegan Afternoon Tea include Scrambled Tofu Mustard Cress, Grilled Portobello Rocket Pesto Balsamic, Lemon & Thyme Tahini Cucumber, Grilled Aubergine Red Pepper Coleslaw and Courgette Semi Dried Tomatoes Parmesan Mayonnaise. £21 per person.
Afternoon Tea at The National Theatre, London.
In a theatrical twist on the quintessential British afternoon tea ceremony, The National Theatre’s offering is inspired by classic productions such as One Man, Two Guv’nors, Cat in the Hat and My Fair Lady, and includes two grand ‘Acts’, a ‘Curtain up’ introductory Bellini and an ‘Interval’ ice cream course alongside freshly-ground Mozzo coffee and organic herbal infusions. The theatre-themed Afternoon Tea features a really fun menu and offers a chance to add a behind the scenes tour before your tea is served. £26.50 per person, £35 with the tour.
Floral Afternoon Tea at Fawsley Hall Hotel & Spa, Northamptonshire.
Country house hotel Fawsley Hall Hotel & Spa offers a selection of quintessential afternoon teas as well as the Floral Afternoon Tea menu which comes with Orange Blossom & Chocolate Cardamom Dome, Lemon & Lavender Cake, Rose & Raspberry Macaron and Blueberry & Violet Cheesecake Tartlette, served with a Pimm’s cocktail. £32.50 per person.
L’Occitane afternoon tea at Royal Opera House, London.
The Royal Opera House has collaborated with beauty brand L’Occitane to create a limited edition floral afternoon tea to enjoy the gorgeous setting of Paul Hamlyn Hall inspired by L’Occitane’s La Collection de Grasse. Guests can choose from a selection of three of L’Occitane’s matching scents – Jasmin & Bergamote, Néroli & Orchidée or Thé Vert & Bigarade – as well as a selection of pastries and sandwiches to accompany their tea. The menu includes Salt beef, cornichon and sweet mustard sandwich, Opéra Gateau and Green tea and peach macaron. From £42 per person.
Hellys Tea Room, Helston, Cornwall, TR13 8AA.
This very friendly, charming and quaint Tearoom is located in the heart of Helston and has been newly rebranded and refurbished which was previously named ‘Cup and Cake’.
This family run business is owned by Lee and Lisa Spicer and offers speciality teas, Barista coffee, delicious breakfasts and lunches, light snacks, little appetites, sumptuous home-made cakes and traditional Cornish cream teas.
My favourite though, has got to be the ‘Proper Melted Cheese on Toast with Worcester Sauce… Simply delicious!
As well as delicious hot beverages and food, Hellys offer special cakes and hampers made to order and have local produce, gifts and artwork available to purchase.
You can also indulge yourself into a fantastic ‘Any Time Tea for Two’. The Savoury option includes; Smoked Salmon & Wasabi on white bread, Egg Mayonnaise & Cress on white bread, Ham & Mustard on brown bread, Coronation Chicken on brown bread and Home-made Quiche slices. This is accompanied by 2 cakes of your choice from their cake display, 2 Fruit or Plain Scones with Proper Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream, and tea or coffee.
The ‘Anytime Tea for Two’ costs only £12.50 per person!
With seating for 30 people, Hellys Tea Room is the perfect place to relax, or if you’re on the move, also offer a take-away service.
Lee and Lisa have also just recently opened a new establishment in Penzance, Cornwall – the fantastic ‘Hellys Deli Bar Cafe’!
They offer the same delicious delights on offer at Hellys Tea Room, but also; Traditional Sunday Lunches, Mediterranean and Meat Platters, Newlyn Dressed Crab, an extensive Wine List, Beers and Local Ciders.
Both Hellys Tea Room and Hellys Deli Bar Cafe are a ‘must visit’ whenever you are in Cornwall!
Classic-crime novelist Mary Tant writes, ‘I’ve never been able to resist a proper tea with home-made scones and cakes, in idyllic surroundings, so here is one of my favourite tea places’. She starts in her favoured West Country, the setting of her Rossington series of mysteries.
Hellys is tucked right into the side of Meneage Street, at the heart of Helston, and is a small house with large glass bay windows.
Three small rooms have been opened up to make one long open space. The walls are pale blue/grey and wooden tables and chairs fill the space. Local artists’ pictures colour the walls in a mixture of media – watercolours, glass, sculpted reliefs. And right by the door is the counter, with the display of home-made cakes, tempting as soon as you enter.
The range of cakes changes, but I’ve seen banoffee muffins, blueberry muffins, lumberjack slice, chocolate and caramel slice. There’s also a wide gluten-free selection, with sour cherry slice, fruit loaf, squidgy chocolate slice and the now ubiquitous lemon polenta cake.
The tea is good – and sugar cubes can be picked up with sugar tongs. How rare is that!
And the atmosphere hums – there’s a selection of papers to read, but people seem to come to meet friends and chat, as well as enjoy the food, so there’s a positive buzz to the place.
(Article source: Various)