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

Monday, 4 June 2012

Cafe Loco, Oxford

Jubilee celebrations in Oxford
Union flag outside Christ Church
I'm thoroughly enjoying the 4-day Jubilee weekend. It's provided me with yet another excuse to go out for my second afternoon tea in as many days!

My friend Steve visited me today. He's from the USA so was keen to enjoy this English tradition. Having walked past a sign saying 'scones' earlier on in the day and hearing Steve utter this word with excitement, I was pleased to realise that no persuasion would be needed on my part. This is a dream situation for a Cream Tea Queen to find herself in.

I've learnt a lot from my afternoon tea excesses of yesterday (which - I think I forgot to mention at the time - were preceded by a rather large family lunch), so planned today's build-up accordingly. It's all about strategy! We therefore had a light lunch, followed by a stroll around Christ Church meadows. After an insightful trip to Christ Church college (a good tip for all Oxford residents: you can get in at a discounted rate if you provide proof of your address), we had worked up an appetite for scones.
Alice in Wonderland at Cafe Loco
Alice in Wonderland on the cafe wall

I decided to take Steve to Cafe Loco on St Aldates. Having been there a few times already, I knew this cafe and liked the handy location - in amongst the sights of Oxford, looking out at Christ Church college - as well as the drinks and food, which are reasonably priced. After the trip to the college I also understood the significance of the Alice in Wonderland paintings on the walls of the cafe.

Luckily for me, Matt arrived at the cafe a few minutes ahead of Steve and I and secured us a table. (Thinking about my blog from yesterday, I feel that I'm quite good at turning up fashionably late and not needing to queue. Other Cream Tea Queens should take note!) That said, the cafe wasn't too busy and there were a few other free tables.

Small scones at Cafe Loco
Small scones
We all ordered the scones with tea (£5.50). They didn't take long to arrive, although we felt slightly letdown when they did; the icing sugar dusting on the top did nothing to cover up the fact that they were small. Not as small as you'd expect scones to be when you order a high tea at an upper class establishment, but not nearly as big as my scone-loving nature would hope for. To make up for this fact they were warm. A delightful, non-soggy warmth that implies they have just come out of the oven. Things were looking up.

Upon cutting them we realised that they were slightly dry on the inside. As experts in the field, we came to the conclusion that they'd been overheated by approximately 30 seconds. I'm not sure if they were fruit scones or plain scones. They both had a few pieces of fruit in them, although I suspect they were plain scones masquerading as fruit scones.

The scones came with a pot of clotted cream and a pot of jam, just enough for the two scones. A good situation to find yourself in as I hate wasting food, but equally so it can be embarrassing when you have to ask for more. As with other cream teas I've had, the jam was slightly disappointing; not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly not homemade either.

Afternoon tea at Cafe Loco
Scones and tea
(Watching Matt having difficulty spread his cream on top of the jam, I realised that there is scope for further investigation into how people eat their scones. Watch this space blog readers.)

The only other thing that's left to comment on is the tea. Bags, not loose leaf, so no need for the rather fancy tea strainer that I enjoyed using so much yesterday. We didn't want for further cups of tea, but my Welsh friends should note that no extra hot water was provided.

I've been mulling over what score to give this afternoon tea. It's a tricky one. The scones weren't that great, but their freshness and relatively good price does also count for a lot. The cafe itself is nice too. After much deliberation I'm going to give it a 6/10. I would definitely go back, but perhaps I'd stick to my usual choice of lunch or a slice of cake as they have never disappointed.

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Grand Cafe, Oxford

I love walking past the Grand Cafe on Oxford's High Street and having a little peek through the windows. The blue and gold paint always catch my eyes, glistening away like an icon of sophistication.

Previously I'd only been here for cocktails (which I can thoroughly recommend), but today I was there for an entirely different reason: afternoon teas. What an ideal way to celebrate the Jubilee. More importantly, this would also be my first foray into the world of reviewing afternoon teas. I felt both excited and nervous at the prospect.

Grand high tea at the Grand Cafe
Grand high tea
The Cafe was buzzing as usual. Luckily for me, my friend Liz got there a few minutes early and snared us a table at the back. While we waited for our friends Anna and Sam to arrive I told Liz that today was the day I'd been talking about. I was going to start reviewing cream teas. Talk soon moved onto the fact that I'd need a notepad with a scone on the front to note my observations, but for now the back of a supermarket receipt would have to do.

We placed our orders. Sam and I were to have a cream tea (£7.50), while Anna and Liz outdid us and ordered the Grand high tea (£17.50). Our orders didn't take long to arrive, and soon our table was filled up with tea pots and two silver cake stands, each one brimming with edible delights.

I should have paid more attention to the Grand high tea, but I was drawn into my new job of reviewing cream teas. All I can tell you about the Grand high tea is that Liz was suitably impressed by the way the sandwich fillings spread to the edge of the bread (although I think that this came at the expense of the filling thickness).

Cream Tea Queen's cream tea at the Grand Cafe
Cream Tea (note the tea strainer)
Back to the main event: the cream teas. The English tea was very drinkable, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that it came with a tea strainer (plus stand). Extra pots of boiling water mean a lot to some of my friends, so I'll warn them now that this tea didn't come with it.

I love a good-sized scone, nothing too small, so these ones ticked all the right boxes. Each cream tea comes with a fruit scone and a plain scone. I dived in for the fruit scone. It was at this point that I forgot all about my new job of reviewing cream teas; a good sign as it shows just how tasty the scone was! Moist, not too fruity, everything a Cream Tea Queen could hope for. I wasn't as impressed with the plain scone and found it a bit dry. I also felt sick by the end and couldn't finish it all, but I think that's a reflection of how much I'd eaten rather than anything else!

I must also mention the cream and jam, both of which were equally tasty. The waitress also brought us another pot of cream and jam (at no extra charge) when we'd polished ours off. My only suggestion for improvement would be to have homemade jam. 

Cream Tea Queen gives the Grand Cafe a thumbs up!
Thumbs up to the Grand Cafe
Finally, I feel honoured to have been with you today Sam to see you have your first ever cream tea. (How have they managed to pass you by up to now?!)

So, how did the Grand Cafe do on the Cream Tea Queen rating? The cream tea itself was delicious, the fruit scone in particular. The only letdown for us was the overpowering heat in the Cafe which meant we actually appreciated the cold, wet English summer outside. With this in mind I'd give it a 7/10. Good work Grand Cafe, we'll be seeing you again!

Happy scone eating,

The Cream Tea Queen