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Historical Dining Rooms, Bristol: afternoon tea review

We enjoy a time-hop back to the 19th century for a spot of afternoon tea. Who knew the 1840s were still alive and kicking above a pub in Totterdown?

In a nutshell

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.

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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.


Who’s cooking

While the dinner and breakfast menus here are inspired by British dishes from 1200 to the late 1800s, HDR’s afternoon tea harks back to the 1840s onwards, when the tradition of afternoon tea began.

Chef trio Leigh Pascoe, Tim Denny and Matt Duggan (the team also behind the Star and Dove, downstairs) work closely with food historians to ensure their dishes ring true to the era, while also being tailored to suit modern palates.

Their work felt particularly clever and authentic when I discovered that HDR have their own herb and flower garden on the roof (edible blooms included), keep their own bees and work with foraging experts to source just the right ingredients.


What’s the room like/atmosphere

The Regency-style dining room performed the subtle magic trick of feeling authentic, doffing a respectful cap to the past, without being stuffy or museum-y. Delicate classical piano played over hidden speakers. Pale green walls were lined with dark wooden panels and pretty period wallpaper. Simple black cloths kept the dining tables feeling crisp and unfussy.

We were seated by a stone mullion window, sweeps of heavy cream curtains tied back, looking out onto a rainy, ordinary road – which became a slightly surreal, futuristic sight, as we supped 19th-century-style tea and gossiped over squirrel pie.


Menu must-order and misfires

On recommendation, we sampled the Queen Mother Cocktail – a favourite of HRH herself, we were assured. It showed up looking glamorously regal – a mix of gin, Dubonnet and lemon, over ice – and tasted like it ought to be served at a lawn party, under a parasol (read: refreshing, sophisticated and moreishly boozy).

Also not to be missed is the mock crab served in a crab shell. Tender shreds of soft meat are mixed in with breadcrumbs, tomato salsa and cheese shavings. It’s a dish that offers surprisingly strong flavours and unexpected textures – the cheese brings tang, the bread crunch. We should add that this was the best of a great bunch – the menu was a roll call of intriguing, confidently executed beauties.

Bonus points for presentation: as a quirky alternative to a cake stand, the sandwich and ‘Sweet Poison’ pudding courses each arrived at our table nestled in a mini chest of drawers.


What else did you like/dislike

This is the best value for money afternoon tea that I’ve come across for a long time. The menu, which includes five courses (some courses involving multiple mini dishes) and a choice of teas, costs a double-take-worthy £15.95 each.


The verdict

The team at Historical Dining Rooms are passionate about bringing the past to life on your plate, and blimey, they do it well. This venue’s home to an unexpected combination of awesome value, pleasingly decadent surrounds and properly knock-out dishes.


Written June 2016, by Rosie Sharratt


Historical Dining Rooms

The Black Door (above Star and Dove tavern)

Windsor Terrace

Bristol

BS3 4RY


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