Eating Around: Maxims, Kensington, London

There’s something about west London that simply carries the air of luxury merely in the breeze; discreet wealth seems to exude from every store front and a highly polished veneer of sophistication drapes over every opulent building with that classic London panache. Therefore, when this east London lass won a recent Facebook competition for a three-course meal for two at high-class casino, hotel and restaurant Maxims, situated in Kensington, I literally couldn’t grab my husband fast enough as we hot-footed it there after work one Friday night for a date night like no other.

Upon arrival, my coat and spare bags were magicked away into a hidden cloakroom and I was gently ushered down a carpeted stairway into a glamorous bar area to await the other half. Large, bucket shaped armchairs in lush leather shades of cream and berry were artfully clustered around dark glass drinks tables, scatter cushions invitingly plumped and chandelier lighting atmospherically dimmed. The bar, tucked away in one corner, was like a golden beacon of alcohol, with multi-coloured bottles clustering together like a police line-up. A smartly dressed waiter presented me with a brown leather bound drinks menu, which showcased over 100 different types of whisky, stating that I could order whatever I wanted from the menu or even something not on the menu. I mentioned that I’d won the Facebook competition, and I was simply told “We know who you are”. Feeling rather like a fraudulent VIP, yet also absolutely loving the star treatment, I settled into an armchair and began grazing on the trio of nibbles that were brought over, including mixed olives, crunchy spiced corn balls and a mix of spices nuts. This, my friends, is the life.

When my husband arrived, he was presented with a matching menu and we both decided to order a cocktail, since we were going to have wine with dinner. I opted for a tequila-laced margarita while hubby chose a porn star martini. My drink arrived in its typically kitsch cocktail class, the rim smothered with salt, and a lime carefully spearheaded the left side of the glass. The pale green, cloudy cocktail was a refreshing and potent wake-up call that was just what the doctor ordered after a long week at work. While relaxing with our cocktails in the bar area, our friendly waiter gave us the main menus for us to peruse at our leisure. Flicking through the menu, I was really impressed by the fantastic array of cultures represented in just one menu. French and Italian European classics sat just a page away from Chinese and Indian delicacies, while turning another page led to a reel of Turkish and Moroccan specialties. There were both starters and main courses available in all these cuisines, and my stomach rumbled with the concentration of indecision.

In the end, I settled for a European pasta starter of aubergine and scamorza ravioli, dressed in a classic Italian Neapolitan sauce, while the other sauce hit the Chinese selection for some deep fried prawns. For main course, I skipped a few countries to select the lamb tagine, filled with fragrant dried prunes and apricots and served with cous cous. Husband chose the Turkish mixed grill on the other hand, a carnivore’s paradise laden with chicken, kofte and lamp chops galore. We ordered while still sat in the bar, the waiter dashing off to check our order was in stock before confirming with us; he also kindly recommended a side salad for the husband’s dinner too. A bottle of wine was included with our winning meal, and when I inquired, I was told it only applied to the house wines. Typically, this would be one white and one red however Maxims would not stoop to such poor choice. The waiter proceeded to reel off at least three different types of wines for each colour. I speedily chose the fruity sauvignon blanc. With our meals all ordered, the waiter then asked if we would like to be first into the dining room so we could pick our seats, adding that we had priority this evening. I gleefully hopped up, swiftly followed by the other half, polishing off the last of the nibbles as we sauntered into the dining room.

The dining room of Maxims is small but incredibly glamorous. Gorgeous horse-shoe shaped booths sat along one side of the restaurant while three roomy square tables were placed opposite, so there was only about five or six tables in total. This merely added to the incredibly air of luxury and seclusion. I spied a large booth at the back and made a beeline for it. It was far too big for two people, but very comfortable and I loved snuggling into the golden cushions lined up against the beige seating. The table presentation was also lovely, the plates adorned with lilac tones European building watercolour style paintings, numerous large cream cotton napkins waiting to clear any spillages and a small posy of fuchsia flowers adding a vibrancy to the otherwise neutral colour palate. Awash with gold and beige tones, scattered with pink floral decorations, the room felt peaceful, quiet, romantic and private. It felt like an actual escape from our hurried London lifestyles.

Instead of the typical bread basket that precedes a meal, Maxims pushed the boat out with a gloriously colourful and vibrant crudities dish. A deep, white, bucket-type china dish filled with ice acted as a planter for an array of raw vegetables, cut into neat spears for easy finger-food picking. Baby corn nestled against cucumber and lettuce, while whole baby carrots made a bed with asparagus, radishes and a variety of peppers. In the centre of this vegetable bouquet was a dip dish of thick and creamy blue cheese dip. I found this a fantastically different way to start the meal and I really loved the variety of vegetables. The bread basket was also brought round before our starters arrived, and I chose a multi-grain bread studded with raisins and nuts, which had a thick, chewy crust yet was wonderfully soft and flavoursome in the centre.

Starters arrived and our heavenly evening continued, our wine glasses never nearing empty and our utmost thoughts being attended to by the ever-present and attentive staff. My pasta was dreamy; I loved the filling of the aubergine with the cheese, it was creamy yet smoky and ideal to cut through the sweet tomato sauce that zinged across the palate with a rush of freshness. The pasta was smooth and soft and the portion size was also very decent for a starter. It was incredibly yummy and certainly set a high standard for the remainder of the food. My husband’s prawn dish arrived on an impressive platter, joined by two different dips for his deliberation too. We were both in food heaven.

Our main courses were also delectable. My tagine arrived in its traditional terracotta dish, the tender cubes of lamb absolutely bursting with flavour and infused with a fragrance and sweet spice that transported me across the globe. The squashy dried fruit added a richness and depth to the lamb which helped give the taste some punch and added to the succulent sweetness and permeated every mouthful. The lamb was served with a generous side dish of yellow cous cous, which was light and fluffy. The other half attacked his mixed grill with vigour, although I had to help out nearer the end. Served on a shiny silver platter, an array of chargrilled meats wafted their juicy scent across the table as the kebab-style meat lay next to spears of flatbread and peppers. The side salad featured crispy croutons made from this flatbread too, which I found very moreish and really unique too. A really delicious and decadent main meal, and I thought it was great that I could sample some different types of food that I wouldn’t ordinarily have. A decided treat for sure.

And it didn’t end there. Dessert started with a glass of dessert wine, honeysuckle sweet and the colour of syrup, my sweet tooth was sobbing in gratitude at its light drinkability yet smooth sweetness. I ordered the pistachio creme brulee as my afters, simply because I love green pistachios and I adore custard, so this dessert really was a lot of my favourite flavours combined. My creme brulee arrived on a blackboard plate, next to a neat pile of halved strawberries. Using my teaspoon to snap apart the crisp caramel top, this dessert was dreamy. The sharp shards of the topping were a complete contrast to the super silky green custard hidden beneath, the nuttiness really enhancing the flavour in a magical way to bring the whole dish to life. The strawberries added a nice accent as a compliment and the dessert wine’s honey tones tied it all together. The husband ordered ice cream as a nice palate cleanser.

Tea and coffee was also included in our win, and little did we know our hot beverages would also come with a fully-loaded plate of chocolates! I loved exploring the variety of truffles and treats hidden in the multi-toned metallic toned wrappers; I think we sampled every type of chocolate and combination under the sun. It was a fun guessing game to see what shape and size chocolate was what flavour. My cappuccino was also lovely, with a light-as-air frothy topping.

Despite our table being booked for 7pm, my husband and I stayed at Maxims until gone 11pm. We felt completely at ease, relaxed and away from everything. It felt like a calming slice of luxury, enveloping us in its opulence for one evening of extra-special attention. We felt like complete celebrities and cannot commend the Maxims team highly enough for the perfectionist waiting service and the high quality of the food, which was delectable. We had the most wonderful date night and it almost felt as if we had been spirited away from normality to a world we would never typically be able to afford. It was a slice of how the other half eat and we loved it. The variety of the menu alone is excellent and enables you to try a mix of different cuisines with ease as well as finding something suitable for everyone, so fussy eaters would have no problems here. Maxims, I salute you and thank you for the magical evening.

 

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Holiday Munchies: Castello Restaurant, Frome

No matter where I am in the country, Italian food seems to call to me; a siren signal that magnetically pulls me towards the nearest cheese-topped pizza, meatball-adorned pasta, or cocoa-covered tiramisu. Even when on a road trip recently for my two year wedding anniversary, I still managed to smuggle in a meal at an Italian restaurant; Castello. Clearly popular with the locals in Frome, my husband Dan and I visited on a busy Saturday evening to explore why nearby residents came in their droves.

Castello quite a modern appearance, taking style tips from the big chains such as Ask and Wildwood to feature condiment-covered shelves filled with containers of dried pasta and jars of oil, while the wine-filled bar across the left hand side of the restaurant backed on to a pale grey brickwork wall. The restaurant felt spacious with roomy high ceilings and an open second floor with additional seating. As tourists to Frome, I felt we were treated more brusquely than the regular crowd, who greeted waiting staff with handshakes, air kisses and manly claps on the back. We were clearly the interlopers here, and our tiny table of two situation right in front of the drafty main doors and a bit away from the other tables only served to emphasise this separation.

I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc and decided to go totally Italian with my starter, selecting the tricolore. This was basically a very simplistic salad featuring squidgy round slices of white buffalo mozzarella sandwiched next to slices of tomato and avocado, the strip of slices drizzled with olive oil for that Mediterranean zing. Decorated with an over-bearing basil leaf, this starter looked so simple and easy. I love buffalo mozzarella but rarely have it, which is the sole reason that I occasionally choose this staid and boring starter. However, I did like the addition of the avocado to Castello’s version, and I found the creaminess of this health fat laden veg provided a great accent to the similar creamy tones in the cheese. The tomato added a juicy wetness and the olive oil didn’t add much at all in all honesty.

I was feeling in a pasta mood, so I decided to pick the strozzpreti pugliese for my main course, making sure that I also got the trademark dusting of parmesan cheese on top from the passing waiter. This pasta dish, which was on the small side in my opinion, used hand twisted pasta shapes which I thought were great fun. It also included spicy and flavourful balls of luganica sausage, salty pieces of pancetta, wilted spinach leaves, red chilli butter and white wine, finished with a garlic oil. I really enjoyed the subtle heat and robust combinations used in this pasta dish. The sausage was the most dominant component in my opinion, and you could distinctly taste herb flavours coming through the sizzled meat. The oils added a real warmth to the overall dish which I liked, and although I didn’t find too many spinach leaves, I enjoyed them nonetheless as I don’t eat them much at home due to my husband not being a huge spinach fan. On the whole, again it was a simple meal but I liked the flavours and ingredients. Even though the portion was small, it still felt hearty because of the flavours. I knew I would still need dessert however.

For dessert, I actually steered clear of my usual tiramisu and opted for one of my favourite English desserts, but with a specific Italian twist; limoncello trifle. This featured Madeira sponge that was soaked in Italy’s pungent lemon liqueur, before being topped with lemon curd, amaretto biscuits, blueberries and whipped cream. Served in a glass desert dish, the blueberries were more on top of the dessert than in it, sitting like little eyes on top of the cream to stare me out. There was certainly lashings of the whipped cream – I’d say the majority of the dessert was cream – while the base of the dish was filled with the soaked sponge. The limoncello was potent and the violent zing of harsh lemon that excludes from the liqueur was certainly in effect for the trifle sponge, which was lovely and soggy. I denoted an absence of any lemon curd, which I suspect would have added a creamy and soft antidote to the limoncello’s vibrancy of flavour. It was a nice dessert and something different to try, especially as trifle is one of my favourites. I just wish the lemon curd could have made an appearance for an even better flavour.

The cocktail menu was sitting plaintively on our table, its pages ajar in invitation. Of course I had a glance and then felt compelled to try the cappuccino cocktail for the very reasonable price of £6.50. Served in a rounded martini style glass, the creamy concoction sounded right up my street, with amaretto, Tia Maria, fresh milk and coffee liqueur all shaken together before being poured out and topped with a dusting of cocoa. I adore creamy chocolate and coffee cocktails, so I was keen to sample this one. I found it distinctly average. It was thinner in texture than I was expecting, and the flavour was nice, but I think it could have done with a heftier kick of alcohol to really ramp up the flavour. It seemed to be a milder, dialled down version of what it should be.

Overall, I did enjoy my meal at Castello, although I think I would say a few tweaks would go a long way into raising both the food and drink to the next level. The menu covers all bases with a good selection of food and the prices were all very reasonable, which is a nice plus point. The service was ok, but I did think we were made to feel like outsiders, which contrasted so starkly to the warm welcome issued to Frome regulars. Tasty, but I’m not quite convinced I can see what all the fuss is about from the local folk.

Homeward Bound: Osteria Due Fratelli, Hornchurch, Essex

I’d been meaning to visit Osteria Due Fratelli for quite a while before I finally got around to booking a table. It always looked so welcoming, the family-run restaurant painted an alluringly inviting shade of post box red. As an independent Italian restaurant amidst the sea of nearby chain eateries such as Ask, Wildwood and Prezzo, I was also interested to see what Osteria Due Fratelli could possibly bring to the plate that could successfully hold up against these big, pizza-swinging rivals.

Inside, Osteria Due Fratelli continues the family-run vibe, with the décor reminding me of a country style kitchen. The bold splashes of iconic red were still present and correct, paired with a bright white, and finished with photographs in both black and white as well as colour, the frames eclectic and in different shapes and sizes.  The chairs had a worn and rustic look with a muted whitewash, paired against a hodgepodge of different sized tables in a variety of shapes and wood shades. My friends from my badminton club and I visited on a Saturday evening, so the atmosphere was bustling with the majority of the tables taken, however there wasn’t a rushed feel at all. It had the ambience of enjoyment, of friends relaxing together and revelling in each other’s company, of stretching a meal out because conversation is flowing.

We sat down at a rectangular table for four and ordered a bottle of house red to share. Despite just being the house beverage, it was a lovely red wine with a smooth consistency and a medium body that was fruity and not too heavy to drink. While we were musing the menu, a basket of rustic ciabatta style bread was brought to the table, the loaf cut into medium thick slices. With olive oil and balsamic vinegar already sitting on our table with the other condiments, I saw it as very necessary to pool first the oil and then the vinegar on top on my bread plate, before dunking my slice decadently in the slick on my side plate. This is one of my favourite things to do so having the bread brought to the table without prompting or asking was a nice added extra. The bread itself was very Italian, with a dark, chewy crust and a spongey, hole-filled centre – perfect for absorbing all the lovely oil.

Having loaded up on bread, I decided to skip starter, and focus my attention instead on main courses. Feeling in a pasta mood, I opted for the rigatoni amatriciana, which featured wide, cylindrical white pasta in a tomato, Napoli based sauce, finished off with pancetta, onions, red wine, basil, parmesan and pecorino cheeses.

Firstly I was pleased by the portion size; sometimes pasta plates come up minutely small for a main meal and it can be very frustrating to fish around for your pieces of pasta while your companions are spearing a gutsy steak. So tick there for portion size. Next up, I liked the fact that the pancetta was cut into chunky cube-like strips. Pancetta can be served in niggly little cubes that aren’t worth the chasing in pasta sauces, however the pancetta in this meal was really something you could get your teeth stuck in to and enjoy. It was also nice and lean with a real gammon flavour, so that’s a thumbs up for me. The tomato sauce was pretty standard to be honest with you, and I wouldn’t say it had anything majorly different to traditional tomato sauces from other Italian restaurants. Combined, it was a really lovely pasta dish and I it certainly hit my pasta craving nicely.

Dessert couldn’t be anything else other than tiramisu to be honest with you. As we ordered more red wine, I got stuck in to my large, rectangular portion. Tiramisu is one of those desserts that will be completely different in every, single restaurant that you eat it in, and Osteria Due Fratelli’s version was very cakey, with the creamy mascarpone being quite dense. Sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with a sticky, dark chocolate sauce, this coffee dessert is always a nice conclusion to a meal, especially when you get a generous portion like this one.

Now, since I was out for a birthday meal with friends from my badminton club, we may have been a bit looser with the alcohol than normal. We completely indulged, ordering expresso martinis that arrived in unusually shaped cocktail glasses, the hard-hitting coffee flavoured cocktail delivering on expectations there. Furthermore, we also ordered liquor coffees, the rich black coffee underneath steeped in our alcohol of choice before being topped with a silky, flat layer of cold cream. I continued my coffee theme and opted for Tia Maria in mine. After another round of wine, the restaurant brought us over limoncello shots, this feisty, firepowered lemon flavoured liquor succeeding once more to blow my socks off!

As we continued the evening drinking in the restaurant rather than moving on to a bar, our bill was obviously more expensive as a result. We ended up paying around £45 per person, which I don’t think was too bad in the grand scheme of things bearing in mind how much we had to drink overall! The food itself was very reasonably priced; one member of our group had a ribeye steak main course which was £16. After arriving at 7pm, we were the last to leave the restaurant at nearly midnight, almost being kicked out by staff as they finished stacking seats and taking off aprons. For a relaxed and uncomplicated evening out, give Osteria Due Fratelli a go. The food wasn’t mind-blowing and the service was patchy due to the restaurant being busy, however the food was nice and the atmosphere is really relaxed.

Holiday Munchies: The Olive Tree, Clacton on Sea, Essex

P1050188When my husband whisked me away for an impromptu weekend in Clacton, I had no idea where we would find for food. Arriving at just gone 12pm and not being able to check in to our hotel until 2pm, we decided to prowl the street for a nearby café to grab some lunch. Clustered with shops and a strong sea breeze, we meandered down one the high streets until we stumbled across The Olive Tree, its shiny black awning and bistro sets outside looking quirky and inviting. Attempting to peer through the glass, our hunger got the better of us and we decided to just go for it.

First impressions can certainly be deceiving. What looked like an artisan seafront café from the outside looked more like your grandma’s front room on the inside, the wallpapered walls complete with a dark varnished dido rail, plain white covering the top half and a blood red on the bottom. The dark wooden square tables did nothing to alleviate the slightly cramped space, however the matching brown leather dining chairs proved to be undeniably and surprisingly comfortable. It may look a little bland and homely, however this did put you at ease and create a rather relaxed atmosphere. It’s a casual and easy place, somewhere where you don’t have to worry about dressing up.

P1050189Tucked in a tiny corner away from the breeze of the front door, we started perusing the menu. It was full of your traditional café classics, featuring everything from all day breakfasts, omelettes and burgers, to paninis, sandwiches and pasta. I ordered a cappuccino and a jacket potato with cheese, while Dan ordered a tea to go alongside his ham and cheese omelette. First things first, the cappuccino was in no way, shape or form a coffee of any description. It was a weird grey colour of messed around with milk, hidden under an appetising and cocoa dusted froth on top. It didn’t taste like coffee in the slightest and I was severely disappointed in this lack of caffeine. On the plus side, Dan said his tea was top notch so at least one of us had something we could drink.

We waiting ages for our food, which was really odd considering it wasn’t anything too complex P1050185or time consuming. My food also came out quite a bit before Dan’s, which is always awkward when you want to eat together but also want your food to be warm. My lunch however really hit the nail on the head and I did enjoy it. I don’t have jacket potatoes often so it was great getting stuck into this. It was a decent size, the melted butter pooling slightly at the bottom of the potato skin, adding flavour but not swimming around the plate which was nice. The mountain of grated mature cheddar on top was also lovely and just the right amount. The potato was served with a side salad, which contained a mix of different salad leaves, raw red onion, peppers, olives, tomato slices and cucumber. After flinging my cucumber at Dan, I really enjoyed this salad, the onion in particular really working nicely with the cheese. It was simple but tasty and I polished my plate off nicely. The potato was fluffy and soft, the skin firm but not crispy, more of a case for the cheese topped innards rather than a component of the flavour or texture.

P1050186Dan’s omelette was served with the same style of salad as well as some of the largest chips I have ever seen, cut rustically from whole potatoes by the looks of things. Lovely and fluffy on the inside they certainly looked tasty. Dan’s omelette looked rather overcooked on the outside, however he said the flavour was nice and he still enjoyed his meal.

For our two hot drinks and two meals, we paid around £14. They only accept cash so that is something to bear in mind if you are going to pay The Olive Tree a visit too. Although our waitress was very friendly, I did find the service slow, and considering the style of meals available, there was no need for service to be in slow mo. A nice, tasty and unfussy meal, I would just say this was average. But please, don’t order a cappuccino! You’ll regret it!

Eating Around: Cote, Great Portland Street

P1040202When planning my London based hen party back in April, I knew an all singing and all dancing musical would be involved. Opting for the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic Cats, my partner in crime and maid of honour Jess also helped me arrange a slap up meal for our group of eight to enjoy before the evening performance. With the ladies in my family all having quite varied taste buds, it was quite a mission to pick a venue that would provide the exciting and adventurous cuisine some hankered for, whilst also offering traditional staples for others. In the end, we settled on Cote, serving delicious French dishes, pre booking for their pre theatre menu – designed to be quicker to plate up but still just as tasty. With three courses coming to P1040210under £15, this set menu is also a complete steal.

Walking in to Cote’s Great Portland Street branch, situated near the incredibly central Oxford Circus tube station, it was bursting with classic French chic and an understated style that leaves you feeling positively Parisian. Spheres of light hung from the ceiling, while the polished dark wooden tables were neatly decorated with cutlery and crisp white napkins. I loved the chunky water bottles that reminded me of old fashioned beer bottles, heavy and with a rust coloured pottery style hue. Smart rectangular mirrors on the walls helped to accentuate the space of the rather long room, and as we settled into a long table near the back, I was looking forward to getting stuck in to my dinner!P1040212

Selecting a refreshing white wine to have with our meal, I began by picking my starters – chicken liver parfait paired with grilled strips of ciabatta and a ramekin of mini, knobbly gherkins. It may be a starter that crops up on many menus, but it does so for a reason – it’s versatile, tasty and each restaurant can put its own spin on the dish. Going for the parfait route, the chicken liver meat was served in a small Kilner style jar. I speared and flicked the traditional thick fat layer off and scooped up a large blob of the smooth pate to smear on my ciabatta. I loved the fact that there was plenty of bread with this dish – there is really nothing worse than having lots of delicious pate and then a meagre amount of bread or toast. It’s a make or break factor so in this respect, Cote gets the thumbs up. The parfait itself was really tasty, with a full bodied flavour that was wonderfully spreadable. I also really enjoyed the smooth creaminess of the parfait matched with the spicy little bitter pickles – they complemented each other perfectly and the gherkins added a great zing to the dish.  Presented on a wooden chopping board, it also P1040214had great impact on the table.

For my main course, you can’t get more French than Coq au Vin, or to you and me, chicken in a wine sauce. A juicy, fat chicken leg had been cooked up with a thin red wine sauce, and pooled delicately in a soup style bowl, the plate clustered with baby mushrooms, carrots and shallots, as well as a molehill of potato puree (aka mash). Really nice and light to eat, this definitely didn’t sit heavily in the tummy, which is nice when you know you’ve got to walk around later. The chicken was cooked beautifully, being nice and tender, the white meat falling off the bone, soft and juicy as I bit into it underneath the soggy skin. The red wine jus wasn’t overpowering in the slightest, and added more of an accompanying depth of the flavour soaking chicken, working to tie together the various ingredients. The veg was fine and the mash was really yummy – so creamy and the perfect sponge for the runny sauce and veg. Buttery and melt in the mouth, it was really great to have a dish like this that I don’t usually prepare at home.P1040209

Last on the agenda before leaving to hit the theatre was of course dessert. I chose the dark chocolate pot with crème fraiche, also ordering a cappuccino at the same time for speed. I was so impressed by this dessert; granted it doesn’t look like much. Served in a disappointingly small jug style ramekin, the appearance is definitely understated, as all you can see at first is the flat white top of the finishing crème fraiche layer. Digging a teaspoon in, the deep and dark chocolate soon revealed itself, and boy did it have flavour! Rich and luxurious, the texture was out of this world – it was almost a cross between a custard and a mousse, being wonderfully thick and gloopy, but also so silky and smooth. It really was a remarkably opulent texture that was sensational. The really dark, intense chocolate taste was instantly lightened by the bright P1040208crème fraiche, so the two worked together in a magical harmony. This dessert may look a little on the plain and bland side, but it is the taste that does the talking here.

Although we did have to wait longer than normal for our desserts (coffee ended up arriving before dessert – always a bad sign in my book), we managed to make our seats in time for the show, so it wasn’t disastrous fortunately. Food wise, I really liked the meals I chose. Casting a quick glance at the full menu, some of the dishes had my mouth watering at the thought, so I would love to try some of their a la carte items. Interestingly though, their set menu is seasonal, so you could simply visit at another time of year and have the same set menu for the same price, yet pick completely different meals, which means the food is never boring or repetitive. For that price as well, you can hardly knock it. This chain has plenty of venues, so I suggest you look up one near you soon!

 

Tillie’s Tearooms, Chelmsford, Essex

P1030564

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.’