I have to admit that I still occasionally cringe when I hear American (and some other) visitors describe England as “quaint.” It seems that the image of Bertie Wooster, Bowler hats, and Downton Abbey still prevail. But one area where this nostalgic England still does have a foothold is High Tea.
Okay, let’s get this straight the country does not stop at 3 pm and the entire populous settle down to crumpets and gooseberry jam. In fact, in the modern UK it is more likely that a ready-made supermarket sandwich will be wolfed down on the run, washed down with a Starbuck’s coffee. But sometimes, especially on special occasions it is nice to slow down and enjoy some luxury.
Afternoon tea, is a real treat, and in recent years we have marked my wife’s birthday with the indulgence.
The top photo is of a High Tea we enjoyed at the Cliff Hotel in Gorleston, Norfolk last year, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We booked the tea (and High Teas often need pre-bookings) there as we have stayed at this hotel before, and it is a favourite venue for us. We ate on the terrace overlooking the sea, and it made a pleasant back drop with a clear sunny sky, and the beach and sea below us.
The tea was well brewed, and came in a generous sized pot. It was accompanied by finger sandwiches (salmon and cream cheese, ham and cheese, prawn with mayonnaise, and cheese and pickle). A portion of sharp cress was provided that could be used to enhance the sandwiches as well. Two warm scones, with clotted cream and jam were next. This was followed by an assortment of macaroons, mini cream cakes, and a chocolate and an apple tart. The portions were sufficient to leave us both satisfied.
The price is reasonable for the experience at £15 per person with tea or coffee (2019 updated price) and a £10 booking fee is required. The service was very friendly and attentive, and it made for a lovely afternoon together.
Link: Cliff Hotel High Tea
Another nice venue is Harriets Cafe Tea Rooms in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. This venue offers a step back into time, with marble-topped tables, chandeliers, and big band music all to enjoy. The service was on our professional and friendly (and the retro uniforms helped the ambiance as well). There was no sense of rush, and it was a time to just savour the drinks and take in the experience.
When we arrived we were offered chilled water with lemon wedges (another blast from the past, as most places don’t offer this these days). We had ample time to review the menu and to take in the atmosphere. We ordered cream teas to our own tastes, a lovely chai blend for me, and Rooibos for my wife. The tea was loose leaf, and individual strainers, and additional hot water were provided to make the most of the brews. The scones were fairly large, and had a good balance of moistness without feeling underdone. I far prefer this to those that crumple at the first attempt to cut them. All in all is was a lovely spread with nice presentation. At about £21 per it is a bit more dear, but the nostalgia and atmosphere are worth the price for the experience.
This year we made our High Tea visit to The Swan in Lavenham, Suffolk. This Medieval Inn with its timber frame construction is wonderful to behold. Inside there are still the beams, but also modern luxury.
The Gallery dining room is overlooked by a grand piano, and the gardens are just beyond period windows. We sat near a huge inglenook fireplace, and the atmosphere was a perfect as the meal.
We had our choices of teas, which were served – “on fine Royal Worcester Crockery specifically created for The Swan by Walpole of Stoke-on-Trent, whose prestigious special commissions are found in many of Britain’s Royal palaces – the perfect crockery then upon which to savour our delicious treats (Swans’ quote).” I had the English breakfast tea and my wife, Redbush. Both were loose leaf, and served with strainers, and it was fitting with surrounding luxury.
Unlike some venues where the entire meal is served on a stacked “High Tea Tray”, the Swan served in courses, rather than all at once. The tray does make its appearance during the dessert course however.
The sandwiches, were a nice mix with salmon, egg, ham, and cucumber. The scones were light and flavourful. The cakes were luxurious and the chocolate one was absolutely rich.
The service was attentive, and the server even offered to take pictures for us.