Friday 10 June 2016

Darlington's Tea Room, Heart of the Shires

Mr CTC and I often have to travel from Up North, where we live, to Down South, where our families live. One of our favourite ways of avoiding the hell of the M1 is travel on the A5 from Daventry to Towcester. Sometimes, we set off a little early, so that we can stop off at the little known oasis of The Heart of the Shires. This is a beautiful little shopping village housed in some renovated stable buildings around a sunny courtyard. The shops include clothing boutiques, a wedding outfitters, antiques, a gardener's paradise, a kitchenware shop where I could spend thousands, and Darlington's Tea Room.

Darlington's is one of those tea rooms where the menu includes everything you could ever dream of for lunch or tea. Baked potatoes, salads, quiches, soups, toasties, all sorts of tea, and even cocktails. And of course, they do a cream tea. And of course, that's what we had.

We sat outside in the sun with the dog, and very soon the tea (Earl Grey for me, Yorkshire for him) came...but, oh dear. Things were not off to a good start with the British Rail-style metal teapots. No matter how you pour them, they always spill half the tea on the table. And you always end up burning your hand if you accidentally touch them while reaching for something else. However, we were provided with a pot of spare hot water, which is always a welcome inclusion in a cream tea.

Then the scones came, and ah, what a relief! The scones were large, fruited and warm. Tick, tick, tick. And there were two of them. Double tick. They were freshly baked, and delicious. They had that slight-tinge-of-baking-powder taste that I think really makes scones taste homemade (in a good way). Also, we were delighted to see that the jam and cream (clotted, of course) were served in little open pots, just how we like it. The metal teapot mistake was forgiven.

The trouble with two scones and a finite amount of jam and cream is that you have to ration your spreads, in order to ensure that you have enough to cover four sides of scone, which sometimes means you start off being stingy on your first scone and then have too much for your second! I guess it just takes practice!

The lovely scones and the perfect jam and cream were a big hit, and Darlington's is rapidly becoming one of our 'lets just make a little detour there, even though it's 30 miles away' places, where you can rely on a high quality cream tea.

I hear that there's a special event there tomorrow for the Queen's 90th birthday. Maybe a little 150 mile round trip is in order...

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Inverawe Smokery, Argyll

Mr CTC and I ventured north a few weeks ago, on our (rapidly becoming annual) visit to the Highlands. We love to sample all sorts of delights that Scotland has to offer, and this visit was no different - we indulged in many a whisky, fish and chips more than once, and even a deep-fried Mars bar!

On one of our excursions, we visited the Inverawe Smokery, near Taynuilt, near Oban. I'm not sure we went to the right place, although we followed all the signs, because we didn't actually see the smoke house, and instead had to settle for the Café and Shop, and a little walk along the river. When we saw someone else being served a cream tea, our eyes lit up, and we thought 'Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn't it?', so we ordered one each. It was a 'scorchio' hot day, so we couldn't leave our dog in the car, so we chose an outside table in the shade, and they were kind enough to bring our teas out to us.

Any disappointment caused by inadvertently missing the smoke house was rectified by the cream tea. It certainly ticked a lot of boxes. The scones were pleasingly triangular, and fruited, and warm. They were soft and crumbly in the mouth, although maybe could have benefited from a little more baking soda, to give them that fresh-baked taste. The cream was clotted, and we chose raspberry jam (we were in Scotland, after all!) Both were served in little pots - lovely. Butter was provided in those horrible little foil packets, but we could overlook that little faux pas.

Oh, I should also mention the tea - served in stoneware pots, but these had pinched spouts, so they poured particularly well, and the Earl Grey tea (not Twinings for once), was rich and strong - how I like it. Not sure we'll make a bee-line for it next time we're in the area, but it certainly cheered up an otherwise slightly disappointing visit.  

Saturday 19 March 2016

Northern Tea House, Huddersfield

I have discovered a little gem of a teashop in, of all places, Huddersfield. While you might not expect it at first glance, Huddersfield is actually studded with lots of gorgeous little places to eat and drink, of a surprisingly high standard.

One of these is the Northern Tea House. It has a very welcoming atmosphere, edgy décor that mixes industrial chic with a traditional background, and absolutely delicious cakes. It is bright, clean and cosy. I've only been once, and didn't have time for a full on afternoon or cream tea, but I did indulge in a sumptuous, moist slice of carrot cake.

I like the crockery - vintage feeling glass plates and pretty bone china cups. I am not so keen on the industrial-looking teapots - I would prefer bone china ones - but I have to admit that they work with the fusion of industrial, New York loft/traditional Cath Kidston chintz style. And I love the little mini milk bottles!

My visit was short and sweet, but I am already hooked, and will definitely be back very soon. Of course, I'll have to try a cream tea and review it, won't I?

Vintage Cupcake Kitchen, Uppermill

The other day, Mr CTC and I were entertaining the parent-types. We decided on a walk, followed by - you've guessed it - a stop in a teashop. Imagine my excitement when I saw the Vintage Cupcake Kitchen in Uppermill! It is, I believe, quite a young eating establishment, but it is already thriving and extremely popular. We went on a busy Sunday afternoon, and it was heaving! Luckily, the lovely sunshine meant we could sit outside on the dog-friendly terrace, so our dog was included in the fun.

Unusually for me, I didn't fancy a cream tea (I must have been coming down with something), but Mr CTC didn't let the side down. There was a choice of a 'deconstructed' cream tea - i.e.: how we normally have it with scone, butter, cream and jam, that you assemble yourself, or a 'made-up' cream tea, where the scone was already loaded with cream and jam. The addition of fresh fruit (strawberries or raspberries) was a thoughtful and welcome extra.

When the food arrived, I was shocked at the size of the scones! They were ridiculously huge! The scones were freshly baked, but cold and un-fruited. But, they looked absolutely delicious. The cream was perfectly clotted with a crust, and the jam provided in cute little jars. The already constructed cream tea was also scrumptious. It had to be eaten in wedges like a cake. The cream was fresh not clotted, but nonetheless, got the thumbs up from Mr CTC.

I am a real sucker for the retro styling and pretty napkins. The crockery was beautiful vintage bone china, and I thought that if I ever run a tearoom, I would do it like this. In addition, the other food available on the innovative and interesting menu was very good too. My mum had a soup and I had a cupcake (I couldn't not), which was as good as it looked. It was soft and creamy with lots of sweet icing. I definitely couldn't have two.
The Vintage Cupcake Kitchen is now on our map of tearooms, and we will be making a detour there again, hopefully very soon!

Betty's in Harrogate

Last month, I was easily persuaded by my best friend S to visit the Queen of Tearooms, Betty's in Harrogate.

It was for a slightly special occasion - any excuse really - so, we splashed out on a five course 'Lady Betty Afternoon Tea' for £39.95 each in the Imperial Suite. Betty's is one of my favourite places on Earth - a shrine to my favourite meal in the beautiful surroundings of genteel Harrogate. As you step in the door, you know you're in for a treat. It is both unpretentious and extremely smart at the same time.

We were shown to our table by the window, overlooking the beautiful Montpellier Gardens outside, and immediately offered a glass of champagne. Perfect. My friend doesn't drink champagne, so I had to have hers...
I was very impressed by the menu - a mix of the exotic and the familiar, an imaginative twist on the traditional afternoon tea.

When it arrived, we weren't disappointed. It started with an amuse bouche - an avocado prawn cocktail for me and a tomato salsa for S. It was light, creamy and divine. I loved the delicate bone china too - a lovely little touch, and different to the crockery served in the Café Tearoom.

Then the 3 tiered cake stand came out with the afternoon tea. We were delighted to see thickly filled finger sandwiches, scones and beautifully-crafted artisan cakes. The only complaint we had about the sandwiches was that there weren't enough of them! We asked for more, naturally, so we each could taste each type. I was very impressed with the fillings - traditional egg mayonnaise and coronation chicken. They reminded me of childhood picnics.

The scone course was very good too. My friend hates dried fruit, so I ate the fruited scones and she had the Yorkshire lavender ones. The scones were a little on the small side, but in keeping with the delicate, gentrified nature of the Lady Betty afternoon tea. I guess not everybody wants as hearty an afternoon tea as I do! Also, the scones were cold, which again is only a personal niggle. However, the jam and cream were flawless. Beautiful clotted cream and raspberry jam.

The cakes were amazing. I avoid coffee flavoured cakes as a rule, so was a little nervous about trying the coffee cream religieuse, but it was delicious! Creamy, sweet with a hint of tanginess. It may have converted me to the way of the coffee bean... There was a pink cake shaped like a perfect cube, the fresh berry meringue, which was soft and sweet, but there was a slightly dubious edge to it - an added green garnish which had an odd taste - coriander or dill or something incongruous. But the chocolate and praline slice was absolutely gorgeous.

Suitably satisfied and not overfull, S and I perused the beautiful shop, bought some little cakes for everyone at home, and eyed up all the amazing Easter chocolate creations. I will be hinting quite strongly at Mr CTC for a Betty's Easter Egg this year!

All in all, Betty's was fantastic, yet again! The company was wonderful, and the occasion was made super-special by an (almost) flawless, sumptuous, luxurious (but not pretentious) afternoon tea at one of the best tearooms in the world. Betty's still reigns supreme in my book. 

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Carriages, Bellingham

I apologise for the lack of posts recently - cream tea activity has slowed due to the demands of a hectic festive period. I have been meaning to update you about a delightful experience of the cream tea variety we had last month.
Mr CTC and I took a well-earned break in the beautiful Kielder Water and Forest Park in November. It was cold, windy and wet, but we enjoyed long dog walks and wildlife spotting. Of course, our favourite type of dog walk is one that ends at a teashop and a slap up cream tea. And we found the perfect place for it, just near our little rented cottage, in the village of Bellingham. As some of my more faithful readers may know, my husband (Mr CTC) has a bit of a 'thing' about trains and railways. He loves the Mallard, and we visited York last year to see the Great Gathering of Britain's greatest steam engines, followed by a cream tea at the Earl Grey Tearooms, naturally. So, when we discovered that Bellingham is home to a tearoom *inside* a couple of old 1950's train carriages, we made a beeline for it immediately.

Carriages did not disappoint. We climbed aboard the stationary carriage and were greeted by the smell of hot toasted sandwiches and sweet cakes. The windows were steamed up, creating a cosy haven safe from the bitter cold and rain outside. We took a seat at a table, sinking into the blue hatched banquette railway seats. I felt like a child looking forward to an exciting train journey.


The cream tea was very nice. The scone was homemade, large and fruited - how I like it - but was cold. The jam was provided in a small bowl, not potted, which is always a bonus. Unfortunately, the cream was whipped not clotted, but I suppose, occasionally it makes a pleasant change. Maybe I was just in a good mood! It was also very good value for money, with cream tea for two coming to only £7.90. The minor cream and scone shortcomings were more than made up for by the wonderful, cosy atmosphere and the feeling of being transported back in time. Little games such as Happy Families or Connect Four were provided on the tables, adding to the nostalgic feel and the childlike wonder of the place. My husband loved the exhibit in the carriage next to the tearoom of a model railway layout and old railway paraphernalia. It was the perfect tearoom for the two of us. We will take a direct line there next time!

Wednesday 12 August 2015

T & Cake

To our great regret, it has been a while since Mr CTC and I indulged in our favourite pastime, having a cream tea. The other day, we were passing through Huddersfield, and I remembered a teashop that had been recommended to me by a colleague. It is charmingly called T & Cake, and sits on the high street in Almondbury. Almondbury is one of those parts of a larger town or city that has a real village feel, like Greenwich Village or those in London such as Twickenham or Walthamstow. Almondbury's high street has independent, local butchers, bakers and hairdressers, and you can see the rolling Yorkshire hills and green fields over the rooftops.

We popped in for lunch at about 12.30, and were told that we needed to wait for a table, on the comfy sofas provided. While this is a great sign, that the food is obviously popular, we  wondered if perhaps the owners could accommodate more tables where the large sofas were taking up room. Pretty soon, a table came free and we sat near some lovely mullioned windows and perused the menu.

I was pleased to see a delightful choice of teas, including some bespoke to T & Cake, that I had never heard of before. It was a hot day, however, so I chose an ice tea, and was pleased to discover that it was real, cooled tea, served with ice and lemon, rather than a highly sweetened Lipton-type variety.

Mr CTC ordered a club sandwich and I had an avocado, chicken and bacon sandwich. It was absolutely delicious, although the slices of avocado that I had been expecting seemed to have morphed into a slightly green-tinged mayonnaise. Ho hum. I, unusually for me, was not in the mood to complain, so I let it slide.

After this, we were quite full, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to sample the cream tea.

A single scone (I don't think we could have managed more) was served on a rustic wooden board, with earthenware pots for the jam and (phew!) clotted cream. The scone was warm, tall, and obviously home made. I love it when you can see the fluting from the cutter around the outside, and it had the perfect 'waist' which shows it has risen properly in the oven. For me, it lost a mark or two for being plain, as I do prefer a fruited scone. It was a lovely scone - just the right, fluffy texture, not too dense or short, and not too light.

The strawberry jam was clearly home made as well, with just a hint of tartness. Hubby said it should have had more fruit in it though. The cream was missing its crust, but no matter, because it was absolutely delicious - the creamiest clotted cream I have ever tasted!

All in all, T & Cake gets my vote, and is worth a stop off next time you're in Huddersfield. The ambiance in the shop is lively, as kids and well-behaved dogs are welcome. The decor is tasteful and funky, and generally very welcoming. There was a huge selection of cakes too - something we'll have to tackle next time...