By Rose Shepherd
‘Under certain circumstances,’ wrote Henry James in The Portrait of a Lady, ‘there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’ And where better to enjoy that hour than in a ritzy or cosy hotel, by a roaring fire or in flower-filled garden? A really good tea is a rare treat, an affordable indulgence. Most hotels in the Guide will provide tea, but here are a few that make it feel really special.
‘Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors,’ remarked the African-American novelist Alice Walker. Well, not always. When the sun shines, we may well choose to ‘picnic’ alfresco, especially when the view is as sublime as at this hotel overlooking a great sweep of the Tamar Valley. For £25 you can have a cream tea with home-baked scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam, cakes/pastries (gluten-free if you prefer). A savoury alternative includes a crumpet, cheese scone, arancini, a tartlet, duck terrine and lemon tart.
You can drink in the sea views with your Assam, Early Grey or Darjeeling in a sub-tropical garden filled with playful sculptures at this quirky hotel. A cream tea with homemade strawberry jam costs just £10. For £24 it comes with sandwiches (brie and chutney, egg mayo, ham, smoked salmon), and a sausage roll. Or order sandwiches à la carte – maybe Looe Bay crab with lemon and dill mayonnaise, or, in this Platinum Jubilee year, Coronation chicken (‘Poulet Reine Elizabeth’, if you want to be posh).
From Thursday to Sunday, a slap-up tea is served at this former coaching inn, now a smart hotel, where breads and cakes are supplied by the Angel Bakery next door, and connoisseurs can browse a long list of speciality loose-leaf teas. The £40 feast runs the gamut from sandwiches and sausage roll to warm scones with jam and cream, via such savoury and sweet temptations as duck samosa, raspberry cheesecake, mini retro custard slice and cream horn, sticky date cake, profiterole, and Mandarin and Grand Marnier trifle. Gregory Peck dropped in for a meal in 1945 when filming Moby Dick in Fishguard – no doubt he was feeling Peckish.
There is an easy-going vibe at this 17th-century country house in its own farmland, with spa and golf course in rolling Teesdale countryside. From Monday to Saturday, afternoon tea is served in the main hall lounge, library bar and stable lounge, with sandwiches and pastries, for £24.50 per person. Dietary requirements can be accommodated with notice, and booking is essential.
They don’t do things by half at this flamboyant mansion in parkland under Arthur’s Seat, so why not go for the full Monty, a £50 champagne afternoon tea (£40 if you forgo the fizz)? Begin with savouries, including a haggis croquette and crowdie tart, move on through sandwiches (duck egg mayonnaise, cucumber and mint, smoked salmon, pulled gammon), before scones and array of cakes, such as pistachio financier and passionfruit tart. There is an equally lavish vegan alternative, to be enjoyed by the fire in the Tapestry Room, Leather Room, Yellow Room or Rhubarb restaurant, alfresco, or in the larky gothic tea house.
Family friendly, dog friendly and on the side of fun, this hotel occupies a Georgian manor house above Chesil Beach, with the South West Coast Path running past the end of the garden. While adults address themselves to a seasonally inspired tea with such treats as clementine and white chocolate choux bun, ginger and passionfruit cake and pear and hazelnut domes, (£27), G and Tea (£32) or Tea with Fizz (£35), a children’s tea, at £15, includes sandwiches, crudités, a cupcake, jam tartlet, scone and gingerbread man.
Afternoon tea is a time-honoured tradition at the former Fishers coaching inn, renamed after Queen Victoria took afternoon refreshment here. Served in the conservatory or brasserie, it includes finger sandwiches, savoury bites, cakes, scones and pastries, at £25 per person, £33 with a glass of bubbly. A half-price children’s tea comprises finger sandwiches, fruit scone with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream, very berry lemon sponge, and strawberry and pistachio tart.
Book ahead for afternoon tea in the opulent drawing room, morning room or library at this Jacobean manor house in landscaped pleasure grounds in the Vale of Aylesbury, 40 miles from London. For £35 you will be served finger sandwiches (smoked salmon, caper and dill cream cheese; roast beef and horseradish; heritage egg and cress…), sausage roll, pastries, dark chocolate and blood orange tart, plain and fruit scones with Cornish clotted cream, and more. Raise a glass of fizz for £14.50.
The Edwardian country-house ambience at this Relais & Château hotel is truly conducive to a relaxed afternoon tea, which is a house speciality. A choice of artisan teas, plain and fruit scones, clotted cream and local jam cost just £11.50, while the full works, at £29.50, brings finger sandwiches, raspberry and white chocolate macaron, miso caramel millionaire tart, blueberry financier and lime meringue pie choux bun. After that you’ll want to take a turn around the ten acres of manicured parkland.