Oh Me Oh My, Liverpool
Liverpudlians will know LEAF, the hip Bold Street café and arts venue. Less well known is that it also runs a weekday grand café in a Grade-II former bank opposite the Liver Building. A bright, airy space of high-ceilings and enormous windows, nattily decked-out in vintage and modern furniture, Oh Me Oh My is a relaxing setting in which to enjoy head baker Matthew Rhodes’ sandwiches (the mini brioche croque monsieur is a favourite), scones and mini-desserts, which usually include his classy crème brûlée. Teas are presented at the table so guests can touch and smell them first. Try Tea Desire’s champagne cassis, a white tea flavoured with lemongrass and redcurrants. From £15.95pp.
For nearly a century, this tearoom and bakery – identified by its gorgeous, art deco wooden façade – has kept Cambridge in sticky pastries. Its squidgy Chelsea buns are legendary. In recent years, Fitzbillies has been given a spruce makeover by food writer Tim Hayward and his wife Alison Wright who, while retaining key talents (head baker Gill Abbs has been here for 40 years), have expanded its cake selection to include friands, florentines and the lesser-spotted Japonaise – a praline meringue sandwich (a bit like an XL macaron). Either drop in for cake and coffee or go for the full afternoon tea, which now features Fitzbillies’ own ceylon and earl grey blends. Bakery from £1.80, afternoon tea £18pp.
Sopwell House Hotel, St Albans
Sopwell House Hotel is a grand affair, with over 100 rooms, two restaurants, a spa and 12 acres of grounds to its name. But of it all, our favourite place to relax is where they serve afternoon tea – in the cocktail lounge.
It’s a long, breezy room that begins with a marble-topped bar and stretches all the way to an end fireplace and library, with little coves and floor-to-ceiling sash windows dotted along the way. Striped monochrome wallpaper, convex mirrors, fabric armchairs and lustre cushions make for a modern feel; but there’s also parquet flooring, a huge central marble fireplace and white linen tablecloths to create the kind of traditional afternoon tea ambience that most guests would want.
It’s a comfortable place to sit (there’s a soft, chunky armchair per guest), so you’ll likely be here for at least a couple of hours. Begin with a choice of Twinings loose-leaf tea or coffee – not a particularly long or fancy menu, but something for most tastes nonetheless – and plates of elegant finger sandwiches filled with the usual suspects. The bread was soft, the cucumber sliced to thin perfection and, best of all, a waiter makes the rounds with a silver tray of sandwich refills, which you’re free to indulge in as often as you like…
Click here to read our full review of afternoon tea at Sopwell House Hotel, St Albans
The Royal Crescent, Bath
Not only does The Royal Crescent define the term ‘Georgian splendour’, but its afternoon tea menus – taken in the Dower House restaurant or its handsome gardens – offer unusual flexibility. O editor Laura’s favourite is the Duke of York which eases back on the sweet treats and goes big on awesome savoury bites, including Bath chaps beignet; mushroom croquette with mushroom ketchup and aged parmesan; and hay-smoked salmon, horseradish yogurt and caviar. The smoked Chinese tea is a good earthy partner for such rich and meaty morsels. £34pp.
The Spiced Pear, Holmfirth, Yorkshire
Like its ingredients, this retro-modern tearoom has good provenance. It’s owned by accomplished chef Tim Bilton and run by his wife, Adele. We have Tim to thank for The Spiced Pear’s gentleman’s afternoon tea, a kind of Yorkshire tapas which, alongside the usual home-baked scones and pastries, comes with bread ‘n’ dripping, Yorkshire pudding filled with beef and gravy, a pork pie and scotch egg. “All the sins,” laughs Adele. While admiring the views over the West Yorkshire moors, you can sip a pot of Yorkshire Tea or a pint of Acorn’s Yorkshire Pride ale (£3.60). £16.95pp.
The Black Swan, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
A cluster of buildings, which date back to the Elizabethan era, this hotel also contains a tearoom where manager, Alison Souter, shares her love of, say, Ying Zhen Silver Needle white tea or the Cygnet blends she helped to develop. These are accompanied by chef Alan O’Kane’s sandwiches and patisserie. On sunny days, take tea in the gardens. From £19.95pp.
One Square, Edinburgh
Not only does the Sheraton Hotel’s bar-restaurant have a vast collection of gins – including the eponymous One Square, created in Edinburgh by artisan gin-maker Pickering’s – but, in summer, its afternoon tea menu is given a distinct juniper twist. Pastry chef Colin Hall uses gin-infused ingredients in his creations and designs them to pair with the botanicals in that season’s gin – this summer, it’s No.3. A No.3 cocktail (using cardamom and seville orange syrup, pink grapefruit
‘mist’ and coriander bitters) will be served with afternoon tea. You can also book a tutored tasting of four premium gins on
the side (£25pp). Designated drivers have a choice of 13 loose-leaf teas prepared in Russian samovars. £27pp.
Grand Hotel, York
The polished, modish Grand will suit all ages. Its tea menus range from a Hendrick’s gin special (including a teapot of gin ‘n’ tonic) to a kids’ tea menu that includes jam sandwiches and jelly (£17). Talking of the ankle-biters, the Grand hosts monthly Charlie & The Chocolate Factory-inspired and Mad Hatter tea parties. From £24.50pp.
Cherwell Boathouse, Oxford
On a fine day, this restaurant on the River Cherwell is positively idyllic. Afternoon tea must be booked in advance. Larger parties (eight plus) eat in the pretty tea hut in the leafy grounds, and individual guests can take tea in the conservatory or on the lower boathouse terrace (3.30pm-5.30pm). Afterwards, hire a punt (from £16/hour) and gently work off some of those calories navigating down the Cherwell towards to its confluence with the Thames. £12.50pp.
Cloud 23, Manchester
The 23rd-storey view out to the Cheshire Plain is only one attraction of this plush cocktail lounge. Guests can take a glass of fizz with afternoon tea or, indeed, a four seasons tasting flight of Pommery champagnes. Alternatively, pair your candied pineapple scones with one of Cloud 23’s signature cocktails. The Japanese-influenced Mission To Manchester sees Hendrick’s gin combined with sake, genmaicha tea syrup, yuzu and rose water. Cream tea from £12.
Waterloo Gardens Teahouse, Cardiff
Love tea? You will be in heaven at Waterloo. It carries over 50, some from farms so tiny they only produce 100kg of that tea each year. The menu moves fluidly with the seasons, but its staff are as enthusiastic about the classics, such as jasmine pearl, as they are the freshest, most refined white teas (created from young leaves dried before they oxidise). Waterloo even purifies its water and brews at four different temperatures in its quest for perfection. Its food is similarly fastidious. Afternoon tea is served with homemade truffles and seasonal fruits, and includes scones and interesting sandwiches (green harissa chicken, Welsh cheddar and plum chutney), which are all made to order. Excellent cakes, too. £15pp.
The Merchant Hotel, Belfast
A dazzling display of gilding, plasterwork and chandeliers, dominated by its soaring Victorian glass cupola, the Merchant Hotel’s Great Room restaurant serves an afternoon tea that is similarly hi-spec. Warm scones arrive wrapped in linen and you get a box designed by local artist, Mark Reihill, to take home any yuzu crèmeux choux or honey pain d’épices macarons you cannot finish. At weekends, classical musicians serenade diners. For the ultimate blow-out, the hotel serves an afternoon tea that includes beluga caviar and a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée, a champagne in which multiple grapes, harvests and vintages are blended to create what the Krug family has dubbed its ‘symphony’. From £22.50.
Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham
As you follow the curve around Ellenborough Park’s long sweeping drive it’s easy to forget that you’re in the busy Cotswolds’ spa town. The golden stone of the Manor House and its modern extensions (including a spa and some 61 rooms and suites) sprawls across its 90 treasured acres of land, in a prime spot, overlooking the equally historic Cheltenham racecourse. A stone statue of a filly breaks the view from the drop off, outside reception.
Afternoon tea is to be taken in the tudor-inspired Great Hall. A double-height ceiling makes room for grand chandeliers, oil portraits and a deep-set fireplace that was still being lit even in late April when we visited.
Try and nab a seat in the nook if there are only two of you – this part of the building dates back to the 15th century – otherwise make yourself comfortable on one of the pristine sofas…
Click here to read our full review of afternoon tea at Ellenborough Park
Betty’s afternoon tea, Harrogate
Coffee and cake at Betty’s in Harrogate is always a treat; but the Lady Betty afternoon tea is even more so. Taken in the elegant Imperial Room upstairs, it begins with a glass of Hébrart Premier Cru champagne, Moutard Rosé champagne or a kir royale cocktail and, unusually for an afternoon tea, a savoury appetiser – prawn cocktail, served in a little shot glass and sprinkled with paprika.
Next, more miniature savouries including a Yorkshire pork and Bramely apple pie with golden pastry and an accomplished smoked salmon and dill roulade. Sandwiches are soft and pretty, with succulent roast Yorkshire ham and tomato pâté being the best, and are refreshed if needs be; try them with a pot of Betty’s own afternoon tea blend (Assam and Darjeeling with a delicate floral finish), served in bone china cups.
Everything is presented on a traditional silver cake stand, including aromatic Yorkshire lavender scones (a highlight of the afternoon) and a selection of beautiful pastries. Grand Cru chocolate mousse cloaked in cocoa butter and finished with sharp raspberry is utterly decadent; a sweet ‘n’ sticky toffee-apple macaron comes hand-decorated; the miniature Battenberg is covered in good, homemade marzipan; and a coffee religieuse is all light choux pastry, billowy whipped coffee cream and crisp sable biscuit.
Price: £32.95 without champagne; £39.95 with champagne
Historical Dining Rooms, Bristol
The phrase ‘hidden gem’ gets bandied about a bit sometimes, but in the case of the Historical Dining Rooms (HDR), I can use it with conviction. These guys only launched last summer, and have already garnered a gathering of loyal foodie fans. Tucked above the Star and Dove tavern, to enter you’ll need to ring an old-fashioned butler’s doorbell on a non-descript black door.
As you’re greeted by name and led upstairs, HDR claims to transport you and your tastebuds into the mists of the past. To me – thanks to the haunting memory of history documentaries about gruel and lard cake slabs – that felt more like a threat than a promise. Happily, such fears were swiftly banished by the expert service, unusual surrounds and truly beautiful food…
Click here for our full review of afternoon tea at the Historical Dining Rooms
The Royal Crescent Hotel has carved out a niche as one of the best afternoon tea stops in the city thanks to its range of five imaginative and decadent tea menus. From the classic Royal Crescent (largely sweet) to the Duke of York (largely savoury) and a vegetarian selection, most tastes are catered for.
It’s the nod to local flavours that takes the Royal Crescent’s afternoon tea up a level. Bath Chaps is a local delicacy – brine-pickled pork cheek that’s boiled and coated in breadcrumbs (think cooked ham) – and their bite-sized reworking of it is a triumph. Look out for the Royal Crescent’s perfectly sticky take on a Bath Bun (complete with ready-to-smear whipped cinnamon butter) and kaffir lime panna cotta topped with Bath Gin gel and a tiny crescent-shaped juniper biscuit.
Photographs: Mai Davidson, Ian Boys, David Chalmers, Simon Dewhurst, Sopwell House Hotel