Managing the social calendar of my badminton club is something I take great pride and pleasure in, not just because my organisation and nagging skills boarder on dictatorship, but also because I get to take my shuttlecock shooting pals to all the restaurants and venues that I have been secretly hankering to try out. For this month’s outing, I decided on something more refined and classy than our usual evening booze ups – a swanky afternoon tea at impressive 16th century Tudor manor house Marygreen Manor, now a popular hotel, restaurant and wedding venue.
Originally the home of Henry Roper, a servant to Catherine of Aragon, you feel like you have taken a wonderfully long step back in time as you walk up towards this Tudor nest. Brightly whitewashed, the dark oak beams straddling the house really stand out with a quintessential charm, the diamond shape leading on the windows and the ornate wooden carved doors and frames showcasing the glamour of the Tudor period beautifully. Marygreen Manor has a sophisticated polish with bags of historic charm, so you can’t help but be transported vividly to a different time and place.
The inside of the hotel is just as elegant, the ceilings low and covered in carved artwork, the walls smoothly wood panelled with more oak beams in abundance. You would have thought that the quantity of dark wood would make it feel claustrophobic or tiny but the layout has been really nicely done, so that it simply feels relaxed, cosy and like a family home of the Tudor period. Upon entering, the main reception is to the left of the door, a welcoming committee of patterned chairs and a coffee table to the right, encouraging you to lounge around. However, our afternoon tea was due to be served in the conservatory, a delightful sun trap with views of the small courtyard garden.
The conservatory was light and airy, although it needed to be since it was actually a rather tiny room, especially since we were a large group of ten people. We were sat at a round table tucked in the corner, on dark blue cushioned dining chairs. The elaborate black iron stand in the centre of the table was currently empty, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the plates of finger sandwiches, scones and cakes to fill up its numerous tiers. It almost reminded me of a fancy, intertwining candle holder. The only problem was that it was so tall, that I couldn’t really see the people who were sitting opposite me, which made it difficult to hold a conversation involving the entire table. Other than the traditional tiered stand, the table was simply dressed with a white tablecloth and domed white napkins, small white plates ready to receive our food, and cutlery was also set, although mainly for show, as we all know that afternoon tea is finger food.
Before the food could be brought out however, we had to decide on our hot beverages, and we had a nice selection of teas to choose from, as well as the option of coffee, brought to the table in a gold topped cafetiere. The tea was brought in a large, plain white teapot if two people were sharing the same kind of tea, or a smaller, individual teapot in the same style if only one person was opting for a specific tea. For me, tea has to be the classic English Breakfast, although some of the group went for perfumed Earl Grey and the detox champ green tea instead, although coffee was also popular. Matching white milk jugs and sugar bowls with white granulated sugar lumps were already placed on the table at regular intervals around the circumference, so we could get going with the condiments as soon as the hot drinks arrived.
Once we were all settled and slurping, the black plates piled with food were brought out to be placed on the battlements of our fortress style central stand. The finger sandwiches formed our bottom layer, the neat rectangles using white and wholemeal bread in squidgy, crust-less cubes that transported me back to my childhood lunches. Garnished with salad, nosy nibblers plucked the pencils of bread from the plates – we had the choice of grated cheddar cheese paired with tomato, ham with round of watery cucumber, swatches of smoked salmon with a thin layer of cream cheese and a chunky egg mayonnaise. There isn’t really too much to comment about sandwiches, but they were tasty, as I decided to dive into the cheddar and tomato and egg mayonnaise options. No one really went for the salmon except my mum so there were quite a few of those ones left.
Next on the afternoon tea agenda were the scones – my very favourite part of this tea time treat escape. One plate housed sultana studded versions, while the other offered plain scones, both dusted with decorative flour. The home baked beauties were still warm from the oven and broke apart when you cut them with an eager crumbling submission. Two white dishes held the scone accompaniments – the classic smooth strawberry jam which I smeared on first using the back of serving teaspoon, followed by an unhealthy dollop of the luxuriously thick and almost solid clotted cream, that stuck up in straight spears on top of my jam. The scones were perfect and some of the nicest I have eaten. The only trouble we encountered was that they didn’t really give us enough jam and cream to go with them, so we were a bit careful when building our scones as we wanted to make sure everyone had enough. In the end, we asked for extras but it would have been nice to just have enough in the first place.
After the wonderful scone layer, it was time for top deck where you really hit and indulge the sweet spot – the cakes and pastries. All of the delights on offer combined all of my favourite foods and flavours, so I really was in heaven with this thoughtful mix of Katie-friendly fodder. Around the edge of the plates were small circular shortcrust pastry tarts, filled with a wobbly yellow custard, proudly supporting an Arabian dome style strawberry. Succulently oozing once you bit into it, these were divine little morsels and I must have eaten at least three. Wedged neatly between the tarts were mini eclairs, puffed out choux pastry carefully containing lashing of softly whipped chocolate cream that quickly erupted from the opposite end once you bit into it. With a thick chocolate rectangle topping the eclairs there was a nice mix of textures in this light and fluffy munchies.
The centre of the plate had rows of neatly cut chocolate tiffins and sponge cake. The chocolate tiffins were quite simply sensational, and I lost count of how many of these decadently rich and dense treats I made my way through. The bulk of the tiffin was a layered mix of what looked and tasted like crunchy rich tea biscuits, paired with an almost sludge like, thick chocolate goo that stood solidly around the biscuit. A shiny and glossy chocolate ganache topped the tiffin, with a pearl of hazelnut placed atop this opulent chocolate mountain. A complete indulgence and despite being so heavy in chocolate, they were very moreish and addictive. Juxtaposed with this full on sweet was the simple lemon tinted sponge next to it, topped simply with grated coconut. The sponge was light and moist, although I rather fancied smothering it in leftover jam.
We were able to bask in the beautiful sunshine glowing down in to the conservatory for as long as we wanted, waiting staff popping up every now and again to ask us if we wanted any more drinks. For £15.50 per person, I think we got a really good deal. We couldn’t finish off all of the cakes (although not through lack of trying on my part), and everyone was really stuffed, so although it doesn’t always look like much when it is brought out to you, it really is filling. The sandwiches were a tad boring but that’s just because their sandwiches more than anything Marygreen Manor had done. The scones were the highlight but the cakes and pastries were both visually stunning and wonderful to eat. On the whole, I really enjoyed the food and would recommend it if you fancy trying something a little bit different.