Saturday, 15 June 2013

Oxford Town Hall

Guest blog from the Cream Tea Doctor

Last weekend I went to The Oxford Vintage Fair in the Oxford Town Hall, which not only promised fabulous vintage fashion and homewares but vintage cream teas too! Now, normally the Cream Tea Queen would jump at the chance to combine some vintage treasure-finding with a delicious cream tea to top off the experience, but alas, the Cream Tea Queen was otherwise engaged and enlisted my help to do a guest review for her blog. I am a cream tea lover, though not a seasoned connoisseur like the Cream Tea Queen, and I LOVE to eat, so here goes.

Cream Tea Queen - Oxford Vintage Fair - Oxford Town Hall

After almost two hours of browsing the vast amount of beautiful vintage pieces everywhere I turned, three laps of all the stalls, one purchase (four glass dessert bowls) and a couple of stops at my friend’s stall, Madam Magpie Vintage, I was well and truly ready for my vintage cream tea. 

Madam Magpie Vintage - Cream Tea Queen - Oxford Vintage Fair - Oxford Town Hall

Madam Magpie Vintage - Cream Tea Queen - Oxford Vintage Fair - Oxford Town Hall

You need to understand how excited I was about this. My last cream tea was in November! I eagerly made my way down to the Town Hall Café and was immediately taken aback by the complete lack of any atmosphere at all, never mind a vintage one.

Cream Tea Queen - Oxford Town Hall

I didn’t let this deter me; after all I couldn’t let the Cream Tea Queen down. As I approached the till I was welcomed by some scones on lovely pink floral napkins (the only thing remotely vintage about this cream tea). They looked to be of average size, fruity and very cute with little flags on top saying “Take Your Pick”.  

I ordered my cream tea and picked my out my own scone and paid £2.75, yes £2.75! Wow, this was the cheapest cream tea I had ever heard off. I took a seat and eagerly awaited the arrival of my cream team whilst listening to the humming of the very large drinks fridge. As I said earlier, it wasn’t a very atmospheric café.

On its arrival I was immediately impressed by the size of the tea pot and the milk jug, there was enough tea (and milk) for two large cups, perfect. I was a bit disappointed that the scones were cold and by the fact that they definitely didn’t look homemade, but they were served nicely and with ample amounts of clotted cream and jam. Despite not being fresh out of the oven, the scones tasted rather good, not too dry or stodgy and had plenty of fruit. The clotted cream and jam were both fresh and delicious and the tea (English breakfast) was served at the perfect strength. I was impressed.

Based on the price/quality ratio alone, I would have rated this cream tea 9/10. However, for me the full cream tea experience is important, so taking into account the drab atmosphere of this café, my final rating is 7/10.

Overall, I was really impressed with the quality of this cream tea at such a bargain price and it was a lovely way end to afternoon of vintage shopping, but I won’t be returning to the Oxford Town Hall café anytime soon.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Harriet's cafe, Woodstock

Ye Ancient House door - Cream Tea Queen
After visiting Harriet's cafe (AKA Ye Ancient House) today, I started this blog by looking up their website, but I got sidetracked by review sites. I've pasted a few of my 'favourite' comments below, all of which were made in 2011:

"The smallest scone in town, microwaved and overpriced. When I checked to see if it really had been microwaved I was asked if I wanted it grilled instead" 

"When eating later in the day it was obvious that these were not made freshly as you would certainly expect from the outrageous price. They were instead, small, stale and fit only for the bin."

"I could have probably eaten it in one go. It took me all of five minutes to eat it and I left. I was served by two scruffy youths, one of whom swore at a colleague as he passed by my table."

Golly. It seems like the scones at Harriet's are a hot (albeit microwaved) topic!

I've been to Harriet's numerous times and, while it's by no means a gastronomic experience, I've always been lucky enough to get a seat (which I will put down to their efficient service). As any visitor to Woodstock knows, this is an achievement and automatically gives the cafe brownie points. Now to the infamous scones.

On this particular occasion I was hungry, and with good reason. I had just cycled 42 miles around the Cotswolds, with only a few Haribos and a limp packaged sandwich as fuel. At this point in the day, anything would have tasted good! The first bite of the scone - which arrived within a few minutes of us ordering - was therefore particularly welcome.

Cream Tea Queen scone review

Once my hunger had subsided I was able to assess to the cream tea experience based on its merit, rather than my blood sugar levels. Firstly, the tea wasn't loose leaf (which loses the cafe points) but it did come with an additional pot of hot water. This wasn't requested by us, but will delight my Welsh readers.

There were two scones, both of which were a standard size (they have obviously bounced back from those notorious days of 2011). One scone was plain and one was fruit, with a good distribution of fruit I hasten to add. The egg glaze coating the scones caught the sunlight, making the scones give off a tempting golden hue. The scones themselves weren't anything to write home about, they were simply excellent jam and cream carriers; this was fortunate, given that they were served with a small pot of strawberry jam and a dish of clotted cream.

Cream Tea Queen - scone with jam and cream

Now to the "scruffy youths" serving us. The 'youth' serving us was very polite; I apologised for being last to leave, thereby making him stay past the 5pm closing time, but he was very accommodating and polite about it. (I feel very British for feeling the need to emphasise the fact that the waiter was well-mannered when he was well within his rights not to be!)

It's a shame we had our bicycles with us, otherwise we'd have taken advantage of the cafe's south-facing rear garden. But we enjoyed our seat outside on the pavement, which meant we could watch the world go by, and afforded us the best view in the house of the cafe's teapot collection. It isn't to be missed. My particular favourite is the teapot which looks like a bathroom cabinet.

Cream Tea Queen  Harriets Woodstock teapots

I rate the cream tea 6/10. At about £6 per person it wasn't overpriced, and although the scones themselves weren't delicious I would still go back (I just wouldn't go out of my way).

Thank you to Harriet's for this cream tea, which helped me on my way as I cycled the last six miles back to Oxford in the glorious sunshine.

Oxfordshire sunshine Cream Tea Queen

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Britchcombe Farm, Uffington

In a desperate attempt to grab what could well be the first - and last - week of the British summer, some friends and I cycled from Oxford to Uffington, in the Vale of the White Horse. I was looking forward to this trip as it'd mean I'd achieve a few firsts: seeing the White Horse up close and personal; cycling with all my camping gear; and eating cream teas at a campsite.

Firstly, I'd recommend the cycle ride. It's not far from the outskirts of Oxford - 18 miles - and there are a number of pretty villages and nice pubs en route. Take note though: if a friend is willing to drive behind you, Tour de France style, with all the camping gear don't turn them down! Sadly for me I didn't have that luxury, but using that extra energy gave me even more of an excuse to tuck into a cream tea. (We'll gloss over the pub stops and Haribo consumed along the way!)

As we cruised into the campsite at Britchcombe Farm we caught sight of the all important 'Teas this way' sign. As every camper knows, when there's cream teas to be had and pitching of tents to be done, there's only going to be one winner: cream teas. We were enticed into the outhouse-cum-cafe by a large banner of the Queen and a plentiful supply of Union flag bunting.

Cream Tea Queen Britchcombe Farm cafe

Cream Tea Queen jubilee flag

At first glance things looked good. We'd seen a fresh supply of scones being delivered from the kitchen. They were a good size and looked tasty. We therefore decided to opt for the large cream tea, complete with two plain scones. It was supplied with strawberry jam and cream (not clotted I hasten to add, although - on a positive note - additional cream and jam was supplied at no extra cost when requested).

I scoffed my way through the first half of my scone before realising how dry it was. In fact, upon cutting them the scones lost their majestic shape and fell apart. Undeterred, I piled on extra cream and strawberry jam, but I still ended up leaving half a scone; I just couldn't face it. My initial hunger/greed had been eclipsed by a realisation that I was eating a heavy, dry scone.

The only other thing left to comment on is the tea, which was your standard English breakfast brew. I liked the shiny silver teapots as the bunting reflected nicely in them. (Clearly I will not give extra marks for this fact.)

Cream Tea Queen Britchcombe Farm cream tea

So, what does this cream tea score? With each bite my score dropped and dropped, until I eventually decided to settle on a 4 / 10. The price was good (£4.80) as was the location, but the cream tea itself - the main event - just didn't live up to expectations. If I was passing by again I would carry on cycling until I got into Uffington village centre to enjoy the delicious food at the Fox and Hounds pub.

One tip: if you decide to do this trip, pitch your tent before eating the cream tea. The campsite's on a slope, so you may find yourself sleeping at 45 degrees if you don't bag a flat pitch! After a sleep-free night in the tents (which my friend quoted as "the worst night's sleep of my sleeping career") we were fresh as an old daisy, and decided to go for a little stroll up the hill to see the White Horse itself. The view was incredible, I hope you enjoy the photos!

Before that, a small and shameless plug for my friend's camping website; if you're planning a visit to a campsite then Camping Ninja is the website to visit!

Cream Tea Queen camping Britchcombe Farm

Cream Tea Queen Britchcombe Farm view

Cream Tea Queen White Horse Oxfordshire

Cream Tea Queen vale of the White Horse

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Reading Room, Great Coxwell, near Faringdon

I was overjoyed to go on an impromptu cream tea outing today, particularly as it came at the end of a long walk. I had hit a sugar low, so can only liken stumbling upon The Reading Room at Great Coxwell to seeing a cool oasis glimmering away in the desert.

The Reading Room is located in the centre of this beautiful village. It's open for teas and cakes on the first Sunday of each month between 2.30pm-5.30pm. We therefore struck gold with our unplanned trip!

Cream Tea Queen Great Coxwell Reading Room

Decked out with bunting together with a few tables covered with a floral tablecloth, The Reading Room is very quaint. I was beside myself to behold a table brimming with an array of homemade cakes, as well as scones.

Cream Tea Queen cakes

The cakes looked too good to be true, so my friend and I had two (did I mention that we'd just got back from a long walk?!): a carrot cake and a chocolate cake. Delicious, and only £2 for each generous slice.

We also forced ourselves to have a scone each. An arduous task you might well imagine, but as your Cream Tea Queen I couldn't let you down! They were smaller than I'd normally like, but having eaten the cakes beforehand their small size counted in their favour! My trademark prod verified that they were freshly baked. They were supplied with large pots of cream and jam, both of which complimented the scone delightfully. Although not clotted cream, the cream had been whipped to perfection.
Cream Tea Queen afternoon tea

Throughout this we kept ourselves hydrated with tea poured from a pot. The pot was brown, the mugs were floral. This was true retro village style.

So, how would I rate the outing? At £3.50 each for a cream tea (£1.50 for tea, £2 for scones with the trimmings) it was a complete bargain. The location was delightful, both the village and The Reading Room itself. I'm therefore going to give it a 9/10. The only thing holding me back from going more frequently is the fact that it's open once a month!

I'm sharing with you some photos that I took in Great Coxwell. For fear of being rude (and alerting Neighbourhood Watch) I had to stop myself taking too many photos of the houses in the village. Note the huge National Trust barn, which was built in c1200!

Cream Tea Queen classic English house

Cream Tea Queen thatched house

Cream Tea Queen English sign

Cream Tea Queen poppyCream Tea Queen Great Coxwell National Trust barn

Cream Tea Queen Great Coxwell National Trust barn

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen

Saturday, 30 June 2012

No. 1 Folly Bridge, Oxford

I'd not heard of No. 1 Folly Bridge before, but had been looking forward to going ever since my friends and I booked an afternoon tea offer on Groupon. This was my first foray into the world of Groupon, and at £9 for an afternoon tea with bubbly, sandwiches and scones it sounded too good to be true.

No. 1 Folly Bridge is located on Abingdon Road in Oxford, on the bank of the river Thames. We bagged a place outside on the 'patio', with the river lapping up all around us. (I'd have been equally pleased to sit inside as it's decorated like a museum with big windows looking out onto the river.)

We were given a choice of teas when we arrived. It look some time for them to be served, but the restaurant seemed very busy. The waitress told me that they were rushed off their feet, with a mixture of Groupon and walk-in customers. She was nice and friendly, and apologised for the delay when the teas arrived.

The tea bag was supplied in a cup of hot water (not of the fine bone China type). For obvious reasons, we were all rather disappointed that tea pots weren't provided as we found ourselves strategically sipping our way through the tea until it was lukewarm, to ensure it lasted throughout the meal.

Served in quick succession was the bubbly: prosecco. You can never go wrong with prosecco, particularly when you're sitting next to the river in the sunshine. I say no more!

Cream Tea Queen drinks at Folly Bridge

The food was then served. Disappointingly it wasn't on a nice cake stand as you'd expect for an afternoon tea. But to make up for that the side plates were rather fetching; patterned in purple with a gold trim. We were each to munch our way through three finger sandwiches, a scone and a brownie.

Cream Tea Queen afternoon tea at Folly Bridge

The finger sandwiches were salmon, egg with cress, and cheese with chives. The sandwich on top of the pile was a little dry, but the others underneath were very tasty. I particularly enjoyed the brown bread of the salmon sandwich.

Next on the list were the scones, all of which were plain (so no need to comment on the dissipation of the fruit). They were a good size and had a nice bounce to them, so were clearly fresh. My friend Lizzie's scone was burnt on the underside, but my other friend Anne said that she relished eating scones like that. I'm not sure about that myself, but each to their own!

Cream Tea Queen scone at Folly Bridge

The scone was very tasty in fact. It's a huge shame that the cream that was supplied with it was not. It was supplied in a small dish and didn't look very inviting. Judge for yourselves why when you see the photo below! It was also rather airy. To make spreading easier, Lizzie, a cream then jam girl, took the executive decision of spreading the cream on top of the jam. The cream was quite sweet with vanilla undertones. Anne concluded that it was Elmlea, a 'cream' that cats love (or so I've been told). I've since found that Elmlea is sold in a squirty variety, which could explain the unfortunate presentation. Needless to say, on the second half of my scone I forwent the cream! With all the cream talk, critiquing the jam somewhat passed me by.

Cream Tea Queen surveys the 'cream' at Folly Bridge

After that were the brownies. I rather enjoyed mine, but Lizzie wasn't so taken with it. She's quite particular when it comes to brownies.

As I mentioned, we paid £9 each for the afternoon tea. I'm not sure how much the restaurant normally charges as afternoon teas weren't listed on the menu and when I asked the waiter he quipped that it was "a million pounds". We made a speedy exit as black storm clouds rolled in and, feeling somewhat letdown by the lack of tea, decided to go for another tea in G&Ds cafe down the road. After a quick bit of maths en route (thank goodness that our other friend - will.i.sam - has a maths degree) we came to the conclusion that, without the Groupon offer, this would otherwise have cost us around £20 each. We were pretty shocked by this, especially Anne and Lizzie who could contrast it to their afternoon tea in the Grand Cafe earlier on this month. (I have since referred back to the Groupon offer and found out that the actual value should have been £21.70.)

Because this wasn't a cream tea I'm finding it hard to rate it out of 10 as I'd normally do. I feel that we got a fair price at £9, but I'd have been gutted to pay the asking rate of £21.70. Corners were clearly cut on the tea and cream which soured our opinion of the experience. Based on that alone it'd give it a 4/10. Would I go back? Maybe, but just for a drink. Would I do a Groupon deal again? I doubt it (unless it was somewhere I had been wanting to go to for a while and knew that the deal was worth it).

I'm including some pics below from Abingdon Road, an eclectic mix of beautiful old buildings and 1960s architecture.

Cream Tea Queen on Abingdon Road

Cream Tea Queen on Abingdon Road

Cream Tea Queen on Abingdon Road

Cream Tea Queen on Abingdon RoadCream Tea Queen on Abingdon Road

Cream Tea Queen on Abingdon Road

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Waterperry Gardens, near Oxford

Worried I may not have time for a cream tea today, I was relieved to arrive at Waterperry Gardens late this afternoon. I've worked in the cafe of a busy tourist attraction myself, so I knew that we were playing a risky game by arriving at 4pm and expecting a supply of scones to be readily available. I wasn't wrong either; there were a few cheese scones left but only one, rather sad looking, fruit scone (£1.85). My boyfriend commented that it looked as if a child had picked it up earlier in the day, dropped it, and then put it back in the basket. Not the most appealing proposition, but as your Cream Tea Queen it was my duty to try it!

Unfortunately they'd also run out of clotted cream. I declined the offer of whipped cream. (Does anyone have whipped cream on a scone?). Luckily there was a basket brimming with different miniature pots of delicious Wilkin & Sons of Tiptree jam (65p).

Cream Tea Queen at Waterperry at 4pm

Upon falling apart on my plate, the scone revealed itself to be nice and fresh, most certainly baked today. It was a good size, and the fruit was evenly dissipated. The base was a bit thicker than one would expect, suggesting that it'd been left on a hot tray for 30 seconds too long. I quite enjoyed the additional crunch that this gave the scone and delighted in munching my way through it, although afterwards I was struck by the telltale taste of slightly too much baking soda.

Cream Tea Queen tucks into Waterperry scone

Cream Tea Queen enjoys the delicious teaThe tea (£1.95) was loose leaf and delicious; an Oxford Brew by Jeeves & Jericho. A new brand to me, but one that I will be looking out for in the future. The lady I was with (an octogenarian who looks remarkably like the queen) kept commenting on how delicious the tea was, and how it was a shame that all tea is in bags nowadays. Another plus point is that an extra pot of hot water was supplied upon request. We would make those tea leaves work for their money!
Cream Tea Queen enjoying a tea strainer

The tea room itself isn't much to look at from the outside (a glorified cricket pavilion springs to mind), but it's tasteful on the inside and there are plenty of tables. The windows look out onto verdant grass, which - alfresco diners will be pleased to hear - is dotted with picnic benches.

Cream Tea Queen inside Waterperry tea room

So, how would I rate the cream (minus the cream) tea? Considering there was only one scone and no cream, I found it - coming in at a total cost of £4.45 - quite pricey. The scone itself was tasty though, and I am very much aware that I got the last one out of the basket, which at 4pm on a Sunday is never going to be the best of the bunch. The tea was delicious, as is the setting. With this in mind I'd give it a 6 / 10. I would go back but I'd have a cake instead (my fellow tea diners enjoyed their Bakewell tart and chocolate brownies immensely). 

We took a brief walk around the garden centre after tea. Not a place for me (I have a track record of killing most plants I come across), but I'd quite like to come back with my mum one day as I'm sure she'd appreciate it. There's also the gardens themselves of course, although we were too late in the day to visit those. I'd certainly leave a full day to soak the gardens up next time as they look quite large and you have to pay to visit them (£6.30 in the high season). We also took a trip into the (free) small museum of rural life which I found quite interesting. I hope that you like the photos!

Cream Tea Queen looking at Waterperry gardens
Cream Tea Queen outside the nursery
Cream Tea Queen in the museum
Cream Tea Queen with a fly trap

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Greys Court, near Henley-on-Thames

My friends and I have become National Trust (NT) members this year. It's an amazing excuse to go out "Trusting" - our new verb - with your friends and explore places that you may otherwise never know existed. My membership came into its own this weekend.

After an hour of unpleasant mountain biking in the (post-two weeks' solid rain) quagmire of Hambledon, we felt like we deserved a cream tea! I did my research beforehand and identified that it would be a short car ride to Greys Court, a NT property near Henley-on-Thames. Crucially, the NT guidebook stated that it had a tea room.

When we arrived in the early afternoon the car park was overflowing. Could all these people be there for the cream teas? More importantly, what if they ran out of cream teas?! As you can imagine, the situation was touch and go. (We found out later that there was a flower spectacular on this weekend.)

We had to queue for five minutes to enter the tea room, but the wait was well worth it. The imposing room is panelled in wood, complete with a huge hearth and reed-like ceiling. There were some amazing looking cakes on display. Please don't think less of me readers, but I was came very close to forgetting my Cream Tea Queen responsibilities and tucking into a carrot cake instead.

We were given the choice of plain and fruit scones. To ensure that my reviewing is fair, I went for one of each. They were supplied with a miniature pot of excellent strawberry jam: Wilkin & Sons of Tiptree, Essex. Amazingly, they also came with a petite tub of quality clotted cream: Rodda's of Cornwall.

Cream Tea Queen visits Greys Court

Cream Tea Queen soaks up the viewsThe sit-down area was next door in a marquee, looking out onto the mansion and gardens. We weren't able to find a seat in the marquee but not to fear, there were a few garden chairs outside from where we soaked up the surrounds and enjoyed the cream tea.

We sat back and poured out our tea (bags, not loose leaf). I have turned into somewhat of a mug snob over the last few months, preferring to drink from slender-rimmed mugs. I have no idea what's brought about this transformation in my personal taste, but readers of a similar disposition should note that the mugs were not the fine bone china that I now hanker to drink out of. My Welsh friends, however, will be pleased to hear that an extra pot of hot water was supplied when requested. As a result we pushed the tea bags to their limit and enjoyed every minute of it!

The scones themselves were delicious. Although they weren't straight out-of-the-oven warm, they were clearly recently baked. After I'd cut them open I gave them my, now signature, prod in the middle. A nice bounce, not dry. They were, what I'd consider to be, the perfect size; neither verging on the width of a £2 coin, nor so large that they could be considered daunting. Lovers of evenly dissipated fruit in their fruit scones should, however, note that the fruit clung to the edge of the scones.

Cream Tea Queen enjoyed these scones!

So, all in all a top-notch cream tea; the tea was in copious supply, the scones were bouncy and delicious, the jam and cream were high-quality, and the setting was stunning. To top it off, all of this came for only £4.90! The Cream Tea Queen therefore gives Greys Court a fantastic 9/10, the highest score yet!

As if that wasn't enough, after the excitement of a delicious cream tea we then got to enjoy the grounds of Greys Court itself. On this occasion, pictures speak louder than words:

Cream Tea Queen looks lovingly at Greys Court tea room areaQueen Tea Queen looking at Greys CourtCream Tea Queen enjoys a stroll in Greys Court
Cream Tea Queen soaks up the ha ha views
Cream Tea Queen enjoys the flower spectacular

Thank you Greys Court for a truly delightful afternoon. I now have even more of a reason to visit you and your fellow NT tea rooms in the near future.

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen