Homeward Bound: Tiptree Visitor Centre and Tearoom, Essex

Let’s all get real here; Tiptree jams are a staple in any British cupboard, with their iconic little round labels and array of sticky, fruity flavours. Where better then to go when looking for a decent afternoon tea than the home of jam itself; the Tiptree Vistor Centre and Tearoom, out in the wilds of Essex towards Colchester. Driving there with my husband Dan, we were both looking forward to tucking into a delicious afternoon tea, using a voucher I’d been presented with at my last birthday, for a very civilised date.

First appearances didn’t disappoint, as the tearoom was full of quaint touches and rural old school charm that transported you instantly to days gone by and the old fashioned, homely charm of jam making. The quirky-shaped building was painted a pretty pale yellow, a large white emblem of the brand’s logo laying claim next to the tearoom’s glass door entrance. Once inside, it was a complete hive of activity, and extremely busy; always a good sign when trying somewhere for the first time and you see the locals flock there like bees to honey. An old-fashioned push bike complete with wicker basket hung jauntily from the ceiling as we queued for a table, and once seated, I enjoyed looking round at all the countryside-themed decor around me. This included plenty of country cottage inspired exposed wooden beams, accents of sage green paint, and farm-themed wall displays that harked to Tiptree’s jam making heritage, for example a display of horse shoes and the corresponding equipment. Sat on a rather snug wooden table for two, the bustling and bust atmosphere gave the tearoom a unique busybody and neighbourly style vibe that you simply don’t get when enjoying high tea up in London.

For our afternoon tea, we would be presented with the usual rounds of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, on the typical tiered stand. We both ordered breakfast tea, which came in a chunky plain white pot to share, the cups and saucers also a plain white. Our china plates were also white, however the edges were framed with a delicate navy floral pattern. For the bottom sandwich level, instead of just being presented with a random selection, we both got to choose a sandwich each from the tearoom’s main menu, as well as select what type of bread we wanted. We would then have a full sandwich each so to speak. I opted for one of my favourites, grated cheddar cheese with chutney, served in wholemeal bread. Dan on the other hand went for a prawn cocktail themed sarnie, paired with white bread. Our sandwiches were cut into neat triangles to be lined up neatly on the bottom plate of our stand, separated by token greenery. For some reasons, tearooms always seem to deliver delicious sandwiches, and these were no different. They were generously filled, the bread was nice and soft, and at the end of the day, you simply can’t go wrong with cheese and chutney!

Our next tier up was the scones. We were given one medium-sized fruit scone each, sultanas studding the exterior and icing sugar dusted gently on top. Naturally, we had a miniature pot of Tiptree strawberry jam each, as well as an individual plastic tub each of Cornish clotted cream. It’s always nice to have individual portions of everything as at times, sharing can be a complete nightmare unless you are completely coordinated. This way, we could both dress and tuck in to our scones in peace. I cut my scone in a rather wonky half, smothered each half with equal parts of the jam, and then layered each half with cream. This my friends, is the best way to eat scones in my opinion. The scones themselves were very nice. They had the classic crumbly buttery-ness that I always look for, and I much prefer a fruit scone to a plain one so that made me happy too. They were still soft in the centre, and they fell apart in a wonderful cascade of scone, fruit-filled jam and silky smooth cream when you bit into them. The jam was a rich colour, sticky, and had a deep strawberry flavour that I liked. The clotted cream was thick and luscious; I always feel that clotted cream has an air of the forbidden, as it feels like such an unctuous and rare treat! All in all, this three-way combo is always a delight, and each component married itself well to the next to create a very satisfying middle layer.

The last, top layer always pushes me to my dessert stomach boundaries when I enjoy afternoon tea with Dan. Although he can eat chewy sweets until the cows come home, he doesn’t have what I would typically call ‘a sweet tooth’, therefore it always falls to me to devour 99.9% of the final pastries round. A challenge I usually relish with greed in my eyes and a fork in my hand. I must say however, I loved the wide ranging treats Tiptree tearoom presented us with; it certainly wasn’t the typical array that you expect. Firstly, there was a mini trifle served in a dainty plastic shot glass, layered neatly with red strawberry scented jelly, a colourful yellow custard that still flowed eagerly onto your spoon when you mined for it underneath the decorative swirl of whipped cream on top, milk and white chocolate curls scattering the top. As a huge trifle fan, I was pleasantly surprised by this addition, and it was a child-like treat to enjoy the trifle in its classic flavour combination. All layers were lovely.

One of my particular favourites was a decadent chocolate stack, topped with a single rolo chocolate. This turned out to be a chocolate mousse cheesecake concoction, with a crumbly and buttery digestive biscuit base, a thick and creamy milk chocolate mousse stacked atop it, with a final smooth circle of dark chocolate ganache adding a decorative sheen to the top, accentuated by a zig-zag of heavy caramel sauce and the rolo. However, hidden in the centre of this wonderful chocolate haven, was a gooey caramel bomb, much like the rolo chocolate itself. This sticky, super sweet surprise filling helped to cut the potential stodgy-ness of the chocolate mousse, especially when eaten with the biscuit base too. This was just divine and so original too; needless to say, I loved it!

Also for my delight, there was a very generous square of carrot cake, decorated with a decent layer of cream cheese frosting that had been scattered with chopped walnuts. The sponge was soft, moist and light to eat, with a dreamy gently spiced flavour that I loved. There was also a meringue type treat, with two small meringue molehills sandwiched together with a sticky orange marmalade and presented in a paper cupcake shell. The meringue was the hard type that crumbles and flakes as soon as you bite into it, but the sweetness and blandness of the meringue was the ideal conduit for the flavourful orange that had been partnered with it, as it really allowed the Tiptree favourite to sing its flavours loud and proud. Last, but by no means least, was a miniature shortcrust pastry tart, filled with apple and topped with a custard type cream that had been speared by a round of chocolate. Dainty and delicious.

We steadily made our way through each layer, refusing to leave a crumb behind, as our waitress kept us topped up in tea. Granted, I could barely move afterwards, but I thoroughly enjoyed each stage of our afternoon tea. It just goes to prove that Tiptree really do know what they’re going on about! The good thing about enjoying our afternoon tea at the visitor centre however, is that there is also the Tiptree museum to peruse, as well as its gift shop. The museum houses lots of useful tidbits about the history of the Tiptree family, and how the business overall progressed and grew throughout the generations. You can also see original pieces of machinery from its old factories, as well as old advertising. The gift shop felt like a haven for a spendaholic like me, and I came away with numerous miniatures snatched in my grubby mitts as well as some of Tiptree’s fruity raspberry gin liqueur.

This was a really lovely afternoon tea. I liked the fact that we could tailor our sandwiches to our preferences, and the unusual mix of sweet treats at the end was a real delight, especially when first trying to work out what everything is. It is also reasonably priced which is always good news, and the fact that you can make a bit more of a trip out your visit thanks to the museum and gift shop is also a win in my book. A lovely afternoon out!






Eating Around: The Montcalm, Marble Arch, London

Afternoon tea is a classy affair, so if elegance is what you’re hunting for, then The Montcalm Hotel should be your final destination. Situated in London’s Marble Arch, this white pillar framed building sits proudly behind a personal crescent road, appearing both elusive yet intriguing all at once.

The interior simply oozed decadence and a sleek opulence that radiated luxury, polish and a lot of TLC. Gleaming marble floors echoed the sound of my heels as I clicked across the reception area, sidestepping impressive decorative glass tables and imposingly tall floral displays that were reaching up to brush dripping chandeliers. My work colleagues and I were booked in for a champagne afternoon tea as a treat for recent industry successes, so we bypassed the immaculate entranceway to head to the restaurant area at the back of the hotel, the air con a welcome and cooling blast against the oppressive heat burning away outside.

The restaurant was gorgeous and I felt ten times more classy just for sitting there. White marble floors gave a fantastic sensation of space, while dark blue accents and bushels of purple flowers added an intoxicating colour contrast, highlighted by interesting art pieces on the wall. Attending on a weekday lunch time, there was hardly anyone in there so it felt quiet, peaceful and far, far away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby London rush.

Tea wise, I decided to steer clear of my usual breakfast variety and instead pick something different. The tea menu was wonderfully extensive with plenty of choices under lots of different categories, so there really was something for everyone. I chose an almond flavoured black tea which I drank without milk. The black tea was a familiar and favoured taste however the almond element was brand new to me, and it was really lovely to enjoy the subtle hues of almond accompanying the tea taste. It was a gentle flavouring so not too in my face or too distant from my favoured breakfast classic. A couple of my colleagues also went for black tea but they chose one with a cherry accent, while my editor opted for a green flowering tea with fresh lychee undertones.

With our teas chosen and steeping in matching white individual teapots, and our chilled champagne fizzing merrily in our flutes, it was time for the afternoon tea itself to be brought out, with one three-tiered stand to be shared between a pair of people. Wow, it looked divine. The sandwich layer alone unusually caught my eye as each bread was a different colour, and showcased a slightly different flavour. For example, a deep salmon pink coloured bread was flavoured with beetroot, a vibrant sunshine yellow bread was corn bread, while a dark chocolate brown bread was a form of rye bread. We also had the typical white bread to boot. The fillings were also gloriously colourful and very moreish, with egg mayonnaise snuggling in the rye bread for example, salmon layered in the white bread, chicken sat in the beetroot bread, while good old fashioned cucumber decorated the corn bread. We had one finger of each sandwich.

Next up was the scone layer, with both a fruit scone and a plain scone each. Each scone was dusted with a delicate sprinkle of icing sugar, the plate also carrying white ramekins of strawberry jam and a scoop of clotted cream, again to share between two. The fruit scones were a little flat, which made them more difficult to cut, however on the whole the scones were simply lovely, with just the right amount of crumble to them as well as that trademark buttery-ness that simply melts in the mouth. There was plenty of jam and cream to share too, which is an advantage for sure. My stand partner and I opted for one of each type of scone and we managed to share the accompaniments easily with no arguments over the sweet toppings. The cream was thick and shiny, landing with a satisfying dollop on top of my neatly spread jam. Very yummy indeed.

The top cake layer was very impressive with a really excellent variety of flavours and textures. Reassuringly, each nugget of sweetness was also a very decent portion so there was certainly no scrimping, especially as we all got to try every cake as we were provided with one each. The chocolate brownie style cake was calling to me, so I dove into that one first. The underneath cake layer had a full on chocolate flavour, the sponge itself being moist. A very thick ganache style topping formed the top half of the chocolate square, and although it was a tall topping and incredibly dense, it was also wonderful as it stuck in your teeth and hit you full on with a blast of chocolate brilliance. We also received a decent slab of a light apple and cinnamon pastry, as well as an angle layer cake, which consisted of multi-coloured layers of vanilla sponge separating baby pink coloured strawberry mousse and buttercream frosting. There was a certain level of childlike glee in eating such a colourful concoction. The final layer also had a cube of amoretti style biscuits, that crumbled as you bit into it. It had awesome chunks of different nuts and dried fruits, such as apricots, studded within in which gave it a really lovely almost festive flavour. The cube was topped with traditional thick white icing which I also liked. The last piece of the cake puzzle was a chocolate cupcake case that was filled with a stodgy vanilla cream pierced with blueberries. A small white and milk chocolate straw stuck happily out of the cream, which also balanced a strawberry half precariously on top. All in all, every cake was sheer perfection to munch on, and I devoured each and every one with gusto as I explored all of the available taste combinations and texture explosions. The chocolate cupcake case and vanilla cream was probably my least favourite as there wasn’t really much about it compared to the other exciting morsels, which all excelled. My favourite sweet treats were the chocolate cake and the festive biscuit cube; the flavours just really ticked my boxes but for very different reasons.

The champagne was absolutely delightful and certain needed on such a hot day as we had when we visited The Montcalm. It wasn’t too dry as to have me puckering, however it was refreshing and light with a welcome soothing chill. The service was prompt and polite, while the price was in the mid £30s, so what you would expect for an afternoon tea in the city. It was a very classy affair and certainly one I would be keen to repeat if I had the opportunity.

Homeward Bound: The White Napkin, The Kiln Hotel, Brentwood, Essex

The tradition of afternoon tea is steeped in history, and it has long stood the test of time to move from an aristocratic daily regime to a nicety treat for modern day folk. This is exactly what afternoon tea was for me when I attended The White Napkin, The Kiln Hotel’s restaurant, with my sister Jess as we took our grandma out for a lunchtime afternoon tea in our home county of Essex.

A simple 20 minute drive away from our homes in Gidea Park, The Kiln Hotel in Brentwood sits snuggled just off the A127, hidden behind an attractive cluster of trees. Once you turn into the small driveway, you can park in the small gravel-floored car park before heading into the red bricked townhouse and adjoining stable style building. We were shown into a casual bar area while we waited for our table to be ready, the waitress dashing off to pour us chilled fizzy glasses of Prosecco. The bar area had polished wooden floor and plain white walls, leather chairs and sofas in shades of bright green,  musky purple and muted browns for accents of colours. From this simple yet stylish room, we were shown into the main restaurant room for our tea, with the white theme continuing with plain whitewashed walls used to try and enhance the notion of space in the cosy room. Our square table was situated by the window, allowing lots of lovely springtime light to flood the white linen tablecloth, and reflect off the small white vase holding pretty pink flowers.

While enjoying our very refreshing Prosecco, we chose our tea, with Grandma and I both opting for traditional breakfast tea, while Jess went for a fruitier option. When the afternoon tea stand arrived at the table, we all oohed and ahhed appreciatively at the cake-laden three-tiered stand, the pretty white china plates piled with delicious foodie goodies.

The base layer was our sandwiches, with four different sandwich filling flavours. Cut neatly into crust-less finger shapes, we each had one narrow sandwich of each flavour. In white bread, we had egg mayonnaise, which was creamy with soft eggy chunks, and ham and tomato. In brown bread, we had cucumber and cream cheese, while the last filling was tuna. The bread was your typical sandwich loaf so nothing over fancy there, the fillings too just classic combinations that are generally liked by all in order to ensure mass appeal. The finger sandwiches were well filled which is always nice.

The middle layer was our scones, and I was already pleased by the generous portions here. Our jam was served separately to the main stand on a little silver holder that carried numerous miniature jars of Tiptree jam, both strawberry and raspberry flavours. This meant that there was plenty of jam to go around as I think we had about six mini jars between the three of us. On the main scone plate, we had individual clotted cream portions too, presented just in their plastic tubs. With a cream tub each, we were each able to really load our scones to the max and not have to worry about scrimping. With regards to the scones, we had one fruit and one plain scone each; it’s such a bonus to get more than one scone, and especially if one is a fruit scone. Oddly enough, fruit scones seem to be dwindling in afternoon teas which I view as a massive shame, since they are the best in my opinion.  The scones were a decent medium-ish size, rough and rustic around the edges, a golden shade in colour. The inside of the scones were a soft, pale buttery colour, the buttery-ness also translating into the flavour of the scones. The texture on the inside of the scones was crumbly yet firm. The scones topped with their jam and cream was really delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I was really impressed by the top cake layer, not just because of the variety of sweet treats available, but also because there was three of everything, which enabled us each to try everything. So many times you go out for afternoon tea and then only get one of each cake, which you then have to attempt to cut into stupid portions just so you can all try some. This was certainly not a problem at The White Napkin, which I was sincerely pleased about.

We had three generous chunks of tall Victoria sponge, which was really lovely. The sponge was sweet and sugary, super soft and moist yet crispier on top. The middle was generously smothered with both jam and cream for extra luxury. We had clear shot glasses too which were filled with a set custard like panna cotta, the white wobbly dessert topped with a decent layer of fruity berry compote. This tart fruit really infiltrated the creamy silkiness of the panna cotta which was a great contrast. In addition, we each had a tall dark chocolate cupcake, with a decorative swirl of chocolate buttercream mounted atop the squidgy sponge. Bakewell tarts had been cut in half to give us half a tart each, which was still a good portion. The shortcrust pastry base was crisp and provided a nice buttery firmness underneath a cherry jammy layer. Topped with traditional sweet marzipan and flaked almonds, the nuttiness was subtle and gentle and really complimented the jam flavours within. We also had a macaroon each; I nabbed the coffee flavoured one, Grandma couldn’t resist the brownie like chocolate macaroon, while Jess enjoyed the passion fruit option.

I have to say, this tea was certainly one of the nicest that I have had. Although the sandwiches were pretty basic and nothing to write home about, they were still nice to eat. However, it was the scones followed by the cake that was the main attraction of this tea. The scones were tasty and such a treat, while I was really impressed and pleased by the wide array of cakes; they literally had every sweet flavour checked off, as well as every texture. Plus, it was really great to have one of each cake too so that we could all have one each. The waiting staff were all friendly, and although they were rushing around due to a busy Saturday service, they did still top up our tea pot, although it did take a lot longer to get service due to the weekend rush. The afternoon tea was very reasonably priced too, I think it was around £15 per person so bargainous too. The food was very tasty, so I’m interested to see what their other menus are like.

Academy Town House Hotel, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Academy Town House Hotel, 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6HG (nearest tube stations are Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 2nd April
  • Time of Table: 2pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £25 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This afternoon tea deal includes:

  • Selection of sandwiches
  • Scones with jam and cream
  • Selection of cakes
  • Unlimited tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What we drank…

  • English Breakfast tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What did we think?

When spring is attempting to make itself known, with peeks of sunshine and a glimmer of warmer weather, it appears to me to be the ideal time for a civilised afternoon tea. When my sister and I spotted an offer on Groupon for an afternoon tea with a glass of Prosecco for two people, for a mere £25 all in, we just had to snap it up; especially as the location was a simple 10 minute walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station, so really central and convenient location too.

When we stumbled across the Academy Town House Hotel, it wasn’t at all what we had envisioned. It was a terraced building, with a stone pillar framed doorway, leading to a small and classically decorated reception area. A brown leather sofa snuggled by a bay window while pale peach walls detracted from a busy patterned carpet. Glancing down the hall, it was clear to see the building was a traditional London townhouse, complete with poky narrow stairwells, lots of floors to navigate, and the slight dizzy feeling of being in a rabbit warren. It reminded me of Mary Poppins for some reason, feeling traditional and old school elegant.

Announcing ourselves at reception, we were shown downstairs into a basement restaurant after a short wait. It was a bit disappointing to be shoved in the deepest, darkest part of the hotel on such a beautiful day, especially as the décor was really nothing special. A brown, white and red colour theme did its best not to look worn, faded and tired as a TV blurted in the background playing, granted, some very decent tunes. As the only ones in the restaurant, we got our pick of the tables, so we picked one for two people that was near to a curtained window as possible in an attempt to catch some rays. The table was dressed very simply with a white linen tablecloth and a white dish of white and brown sugar lumps.

Our afternoon tea experience started with the waiter bringing over our starting glass of chilled Prosecco – light, bubbly and refreshing in every sip. He also poured us some iced tap water too from a jug he then left on the table – unusual for an afternoon tea but nice to have as we were pretty thirsty. Weirdly, we had no choice of tea whatsoever. Our waiter simply said did we want English Breakfast tea, without mentioning any alternatives or even if there were any. We both like English Breakfast – and I probably would have chosen that anyway – so it wasn’t a problem, but I know Jess is sometimes more adventurous in her tea tastes, and she will occasionally opt for a fruit or green tea instead. When the tea arrived at the table, it was in a large, plain white teapot, with matching plain white teacups sitting in their partnering saucers. The teapot was a very good size and we easily got three cups of tea each from it before the waiter refilled it for us.

The afternoon tea itself was brought on a standard tiered set-up, with sandwiches fanning out across the largest bottom plate; one plain and one fruit scone each stacked up neatly on the middle plate, while the top plate housed an array of miniature desserts in bite-sized morsels. We started at the bottom with the finger sandwiches, naturally crustless and featuring an array of, slightly dry, white and brown bread. We munched on cheddar paired with tomato, salmon spread with cream cheese, ham layered over mustard, and a new personal favourite, the egg mayonnaise. We were allowed one finger of each flavour. The sandwiches were very basic and bog standard, a tad dry and nothing to write home about.

The scone layer was next. The scones were still warm which was a very pleasant surprise, and there was a plain scone and then a sultana studded fruit scone each as well. Two scones each is always a bonus, and I was also pleased that we got variety in the type of scone and that the scones were full sized. Mini scones are just sheer disappointing in my opinion. It was also so refreshing to get jam and clotted cream dishes that contained enough of each condiment to actually complete your scones. Dressing your scones can be a battle with thin layers and patchy coverage as you are hardly ever given enough toppings. We luckily didn’t have this problem here, so we could top our scones perfectly. The jam was strawberry, so very classic there, and the clotted cream was lovely – very silky and smooth with the rustic top too. The scones were probably my favourite bit of the whole tea. They weren’t the best scones I’ve ever had or anything, but it was tasty.

Last up came our cake layer. We had a selection of absolutely tiny mouthfuls, and since they were all different items, we had to try and cut them in half so we could each try each one. It would have been more useful to have two of each mini cake, or larger cakes that could be more easily divided. The cakes themselves however were really lovely. I chowed down on a chocolate macaroon while Jess ate the raspberry one. Mine was gooey and dense like a brownie in a crunchy yet chewy meringue shell, whilst Jess’s had an interesting layer of jam hidden within. One was a mini custard tart topped with a jewelled segment of peach, whilst another mini portion had a eggy set custard in the middle, bookended by a slightly soggy bottom cake layer and an icing drizzled finish on top, the custard itself home to a few stray sultanas.  A hexagon shaped mini layer cake had a chocolate orange vibe going on with its flavourings, which was very tasty, however out favourite munchie was covered in cocoa powder, and turned out to be a chocolate and hazelnut concoction featuring cake yet also decadent chocolate mousse and crispy nut like sections too. It tasted a bit like a cakey Ferrero Rocher and really hit our spot.

One thing I really did not like about the afternoon tea however was how a service charge was thrust upon us. As we were finishing our treats, the waiter arrived at our table with an envelope on a small silver dish, which he left on our table. As we opened it, we were shocked to see a note about how much service charge we owed. At the end of the day, the hotel composed the deal that was to go on Groupon and we paid our due for it, so to slyly add a charge in that manner felt wrong. Ironically, we most likely would have left a tip on our own accord as the waiter was a nice chap, however the manner of presenting the service charge in this staged way really grinded my gears and I felt it was rude to be honest.

At the end of the day, I would say that this was an average afternoon tea. It was nothing special, however the price point of £25 for two people made it a cheap afternoon treat that we could enjoy together while having a natter and a catch up. The food wasn’t top notch or anything, but it was edible with a few hidden gems among the sad looking finger sandwiches. The décor of the location needs a serious spruce up, as the basement restaurant looks fusty and old fashioned, however the bubbles of the glass of Prosecco was a nice added extra. It was a good deal, however I think to achieve the price you are compromising on the scenery and dazzle of the location.

Eating Around: Park Grand Lancaster Gate, Lancaster Gate, London

P1050521If there are two foodie treats in this world that make for a happy Katie, I would count afternoon tea and chocolate as two highly ranked, big hitting items. Imagine then my sheer delight when I spotted a very reasonably priced chocolate afternoon tea package for two people on Living Social, complete with a bubbling glass of refreshing Prosecco (certainly in the top 10 when it comes to treats). After frantically emailing the link to said offer to my sister, we purchased the deal and booked in for a lovely lunchtime delight. Opting for a weekend, I nabbed the central line into London to Lancaster Gate, where the Park Grand Lancaster Gate hotel is a mere 10 minute walk away if that.

P1050522The staff couldn’t be more attentive when we entered – we were offered hot towels to wipe our hands at reception which I thought was a bit strange but also oddly refreshing on a baking hot day. We were shown into the white tiled restaurant bar area and we were able to choose our own spot, with my sister Jess opting for an intimate table for two by the curtained window so we could grab some rays of sunshine while we ate.

The restaurant itself had a quite a modern feel with a white tiled floor, angular coloured sofas and white square tables adorned with polished silver cutlery, however the bauble of purple decorative flowers and the petal filled bubble vases on the tables hinted as a traditionalism too for a strange combination. When we arrives, it was really empty so it had a bit of an eerie feeling, but our waiter instantly P1050528put us at ease, showing us a box of different tea bags and offering to take pictures of us on our camera if we wanted.

I ordered a cappuccino and Jess went for a fruit tea while we waited for our Prosecco and food to arrive. When our tiered stand came to the table, I couldn’t help but do a bit of a double take. The white and blue patterned china was so sparsely populated, I wondered whether I would even be full afterwards – the top two plates were certainly more space than cake and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the portion size.

Started at the base layer though, the sandwiches certainly caused a stir when we spotted what looked like pink bread, P1050529which was filled with slices of cheese and a spicy, Indian inspired chutney.  I’m not sure what this bread was exactly but it reminded me a bit of the consistency of gluten free bread. Brown bread housed a thick lashing of egg mayonnaise which I loved and the white bread went nicely with the tuna filling. Baby brioche buns had a chicken style concoction inside which was also tasty, the bun offering a varying texture to get our teeth stuck in to.

Next up was the scones and to start off the chocolate theme, the usual vine fruits had been replaced with chocolate chips. Still served with a minute amount of strawberry jam and clotted cream, it was nice to have a scone with a difference, even though I wouldn’t say the chocolate chips were in abundance. The scones were small P1050530in size and there was only one each (which is always a poor show at afternoon tea, you want a minimum of two) however they were still slightly warm and had a nice, buttery flavour despite being a little too crisp on the outside for my taste.

The cakes on offer were traditional favourites, however there wasn’t two of everything, so we either had to share some items – which is a right nightmare with tiny cocktail sized cake – or just pick and mix what each of you are having. I do find this a bit annoying as both Jess and I like to try everything, so it makes life so much easier if there is two of each item so you can both try all there is on offer. The two macaroons we were given were two different flavours; I took the muted green pistachio while Jess was left with the near white P1050527vanilla – both were lovely and chewy on the inside with a creaminess due to the filling, with that lovely crisp bite on the edge of the shell too. The hazelnut sprinkled chocolate brownie was super soft and rich in flavour, giving a dense chocolate punch which you expect from a quality brownie. We were also given two tiny fruit tarts. This consisted of a shortcrust pastry case filled with a squirt of vanilla custard and topped with slivers of fruit. Nice but again, very impeccably small!

The chocolate éclair was pretty standard, although to carry on the chocolate vein it was filled with a chocolate cream instead of the plain stuff, while the mini chocolate muffin had an impressive dome and a crumbly texture, again with a rich taste of dark chocolate. My favourite cake of the lot though had to be their take on the Victoria sponge. This mini version consisted of two typical soft and bouncy vanilla sponges, but instead of housing jam and cream, this one had lashings of lovely P1050520chocolate and nut spread which I thoroughly enjoyed. We washed down our desserts heartily with our refreshing glasses of chilled and sweet Prosecco.

Despite it not looking large on the plates, we were full afterwards although we also ended up having a two course meal again in the evening, proving that it certainly wasn’t as filling as other afternoon teas we have attended. The chocolate theme was a nice twist, however I feel they could have indulged in it a bit more to really make it unique; for example why not make chocolate scones and pair it with raspberry jam and clotted cream? The chocolate element seemed a little lacklustre but if that is your selling point, I thought it could have been bigger, along with the portion sizes.

I did enjoy my mini afternoon tea and the staff couldn’t have been more pleasant. Although I don’t think the venue has masses of atmosphere, it was a nice, calming room, clean and tidy although the tables are close together. Luckily this wasn’t a problem for us as we visited during a quiet spell. Enjoyable but needs to be supersized and thought through a little more.

Tillie’s Tearooms, Chelmsford, Essex


Set Menu:

  • Location: Tillie’s Tearooms, Marsh Farm Road, South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford, CM3 5WP
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 15th March 2015
  • Time of Table:00pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £14 for Two (we also bought two more at full price to up our table to four people. This cost £20 for the additional two)
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess, mother Tina and grandma Hazel.

P1030562Getting More for your Money?

This deal includes:

  • Afternoon tea for two people, featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and unlimited tea or coffee

What we ate…

  • Finger sandwiches, fillings included tuna, ham, egg mayonnaise, cheese and mayo combo on both white or wholegrain bread
  • Homemade scones with sultanas, served with blackcurrant jam and clotted cream or butter
  • Slices of Victoria sponge cake
  • Mini chocolate éclairs
  • Mini choux buns with coffee cream filling or custard cream filling
  • Selection of Danish pastries, including cinnamon swirls, apple turnovers and jam filled pastries

P1030566What we drank…

  • Numerous pots of tea
  • Numerous pots of coffee

What did we think?

Previous mother’s days have seen my sister and I treat our mum to a tasty Italian brunch out, an oriental Chinese meal and a slap up homemade tapas feast to name a few, so this year, we wanted to make sure we chose something different, yet delicious. We came up trumps when I stumbled across this afternoon tea deal on Groupon. Originally just buying it for two people, we then thought it would be the ideal group activity, so we booked a couple more spots at the table direct with the venue so that three generations could all cluster together for a tea time treat.

P1030569Part of the popular Marsh Farm complex, it doesn’t have the traditional glamour of an afternoon tea served in a swanky hotel. The airy open barn with large dark beams against the whitewashed walls hailed to a time gone by, further accentuated by the rustic wooden benches, a bit like old fashioned church pews, the large wooden tables simply adorned with a clear vase and some cheery fake flowers. With a distinct vintage feel, Tillie’s Tearoom is strung with pink patchwork bunting for feminine slashes across the imposing historical style building, the occasional mirror dotting the walls. It’s rustic charm and retro vibe was addictive as I slid into our chosen bench, admiring a white cabinet holding mismatched teapots, cups and saucers.

Ordering pots of tea for Jess and I, and coffee for the mums of the group, our drinks were quirkily presented in odd cups and saucers so that P1030570none of the sets matched. A large white teapot to share let our tea brew, while our mum and grandma were given a small white individual coffee pot each for their drinks. A dish on the table contained sugar sachets, as well as a jar of ketchup, which intrigued me as to the other food they serve at the tearooms. The china wear was decorated with an array of different painted flowers, the saucers arriving in a variety of colours. There wasn’t a choice of tea or coffee, it was pretty much your standard breakfast variety, with milk served in a small jug. There was only one jug between four of us, which wasn’t really enough, so we had to keep asking for this to be refilled, which took a while since the place was so busy.

P1030571When our afternoon tea arrived at the table, it definitely looked the part as my eyes instantly honed in on a massive homemade scone, peppered with large, juicy sultanas. As well as the sandwiches on the bottom tier, we were given an additional plate too, the sandwiches cut into fingers or quarters, served with soft white bread or seedy wholegrain, both of which tasted fresh and lovely. There was a really nice selection of sandwich fillings as well, in popular flavours to appeal to as many people as possible. Tinned tuna was one, classic ham slices in another, the chunky egg mayonnaise also yummy. My favourite was the cheese, which came up like the three cheese sandwich filler you can buy in supermarkets, so although the fillings may not have been that original or homemade, the sandwiches themselves were still nice to eat.

The next tier was the warm, freshly baked scones. At first, we were only given two scones – for some reason the staff seemed really confused P1030567and incapable of working out what food needed to be brought, how much food needed to be brought and, and who the food was for. Originally being given an afternoon tea stand for two people, I had to ask numerous times for the additional scones so we could all have one each, and although our waitress brought out more sandwiches, we still had to wait for the additional scones and cakes to complete our platter. This meant that the first two scones brought out had cooled completely by the time the second batch of fresh, warm scones arrived, which I don’t think was particularly fair. This also meant we had a large wait in between the sandwiches and eating the scones, as we felt rude if only two of us could eat the scones without the others having some too.

P1030572Despite their delayed appearance, the scones were delicious, not being dry in the slightest although they were really large and fat. Crumbling when cut, they were spot on. We were all given a tiny individual jar of blackcurrant jam each and I barely managed to get the jam to spread across each side, so a bit more would have been welcome, although I like the twist of using a different jam flavour to the normal strawberry. The blackcurrant jam itself was really tasty with that richer, darker berry flavour that was the perfect underbelly to the silky clotted cream. Again, we were given just one miniscule ramekin for the four of us, when really, it would only have served two, so a few of us had to be frugal here, with my mum even having one half of her scone with butter to be on the safe side to make sure we could all have enough cream to cover our scones. The scones are always my favourite part of afternoon tea, and this bad boys didn’t disappoint, I thoroughly enjoyed them.

There was a really nice selection of cakes, although again we had to wait a while for enough cakes to arrive at our table, and even then, I’m notP1030563 sure we had the right selection as there were only two slices of Victoria sponge. The cake itself was moist and crumbly – you could really tell that they do their own baking, and it does make all the difference with regards to the taste and texture. The soft vanilla hued cake was lovely paired with the sticky strawberry jam and thin layer of cream within. We were also given a selection of choux buns, which were super light to eat and a really lovely contrast to the heavier cake and scones. A mini éclair each was filled with cream, with a runway of chocolate pasted on top. Little round choux buns contained either dreamy coffee flavoured cream, or a custard version, both of which were heavenly, the creamy fillings so silky smooth and light yet packed full of flavour. I could have eaten them all day! We were also given a plate of hot Danish pastries, which is again, a nice spin on the traditional. They were smaller in size too so it wasn’t too overbearing to eat all of them! The cinnamon swirls fell apart endearingly as you bit in to them, whilst the jam centred one was really tasty when you smeared the raspberry filling across the hot, flaky pastry. Our mum and grandma also enjoyed an apple filled pastry each, licking their lips in appreciation.

P1030565Making a second reservation? As it was mother’s day, needless to say staff were rushed off their feet and unfortunately, this really hampered our experience. They seemed constantly confused, didn’t know how much food to bring out, or what they even needed to bring out, with long delays meaning we couldn’t really get stuck in to our afternoon tea. In a way, this is a great shame as the actual food itself, was really lovely, the quirky retro vibe really quaint and enjoyable, the homemade sweet treats providing good, old fashioned, delicious fun. If the service had been smoother and the staff were on their A game, it would have been a whole lot better. The scones were still out of this world though.

The dinner dates opinion:P1030573

My mum Tina said: ‘As it was Mothers’ Day, Tillies was unsurprisingly heaving with families out for the whole farm adventure.  The tea rooms were very busy and the lady looking after us quite simply didn’t have enough hands.  That being said, everything we had was lovely: the deliberately mismatched but beautiful crockery, the lovely crustless and really tasty sandwiches, the numerous little cake offerings including victoria sandwich and choux puffs, and the truly enormous home-made scones with clotted cream and jam.  All was washed down with as much tea and coffee as we could drink, and this particular Mum was thrilled with her special Mother’s Day treat.’