There’s a lot to explore at Castle Howard: an impressive stately home, 1,000 acres of land, and fragrant gardens filled with roses and rhododendrons, among other delights. So it’s worth arriving a couple of hours early before settling down to afternoon tea in the Grecian Hall.
Built in the 1750s, the hall was originally household staff quarters, but is now home to much grander affairs. Roaring fires, tables laid with crisp white linen and vases of fresh flowers created a welcoming environment. There was a quiet hum of music playing in the background when we arrived, but the room felt a little still. Slightly louder music might have been nice, and maybe a little colour in the furnishings.
The tea menu offered plenty of variety, including a few loose leaf options. Organic white tea (although not loose leaf) was refreshingly subtle in flavour, with slightly floral notes. Sandwiches were cut symmetrically and the bread was soft. Classics such as cream cheese and cucumber were pleasing, but the stand out had to be the coronation chicken: creamy and spicy, with a freshness from the added grated carrot and coriander. We’d have welcomed seconds.
Afternoon tea is often heavy on the sweet treats, but the second tier of our stand was a variety of savoury bites, including a light cheese scone topped with chive crème fraiche (clean and velvety), wild sea trout and pickled cucumber. The lentil and beetroot wellington was a veggie-friendly twist on the classic beef version, with crisp pastry and a slightly sweet filling from the roasted beetroot.
Scones make or break an afternoon tea, and the selection of one plain, one sultana didn’t disappoint – they were well risen and golden on top, with a crisp outside and light centre. Their sweet flavour was made even better with rich clotted cream and a simple strawberry jam. Although the jam wasn’t homemade, it was at least local, produced around 40 miles west of Castle Howard in Masham.
The top tier of cakes was delicate and enticing. A strawberry tart with dried strawberry meringue had crisp buttery pastry, a rich smooth custard filling and a meringue topping that added crunchy texture and gave the whole tart a perky peak.
As predicted, the Belgian chocolate and raspberry layered cake was rich and indulgent, but also managed to be light, with its delicate crunchy hazelnut base. Each one was topped with a raspberry and a piece of gold leaf for extra luxury. Another highlight was a glass of almond crumble, vanilla custard and Castle Howard Estate rhubarb that you can see growing in the gardens. The rhubarb was soft and slightly sweet, and candied pistachios added a splash of colour.
The food at Castle Howard is delicately presented, with a focus on using simple ingredients in creative ways. We took our tea at 3pm and the staff were polite and welcoming, talking you through the food and offering free tea top-ups throughout the sitting. What’s more, the cakes that defeated us were packaged up into a box for us to take home.
Star of the show: English strawberry tart topped with dried strawberry meringue
Scone rating: 9/10
Perfect for: A day out in the country with friends
Traditional afternoon tea with visit to house and gardens: £43.95 per person
Afternoon tea with gardens only: £36.95 per person
Written by Ellie Edwards
Images: Victoria Harley and Mike Kipling