Afternoon tea has got to be one of my all time favourite things! Obviously I love the food (who doesn’t love warm scones with jam and cream and an endless supply of cakes!?) but it’s the whole experience that makes it so special to me. The best places make you feel as though you could sit there for hours, chatting and relaxing over endless pots of tea and delicious cakes. The food is so beautifully presented and so dainty that I actually savour every bite too rather than greedily gobbling it all down! I love how quintessentially British it is – it’s such an old-fashioned tradition and something which I always associate with good company and good service – the perfect way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon 🙂
This afternoon tea was actually a present from Marcus. He bought it for me as a present for Christmas last year but due to a combination of us being busy and the place being booked out for weddings a lot, we only just got round to going! We’re actually getting married here next year so we also looked around the grounds and some of the rooms and they’re so beautiful! If you don’t live locally I’d even recommend this hotel for a weekend break away.. it’s so pretty, relaxing and as well as afternoon tea, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner! I loved it from the moment we walked in – I felt so relaxed, and since we arrived early we were seated in the restaurant which I would definitely recommend if you have the choice. It’s like an open conservatory area, with perfectly crisp, white tablecloths, a beautiful view of the gardens and plenty of space whereas the bar area (where I think the afternoon tea is usually served) is a little darker and more cramped.
All of the staff were impeccably trained – incredibly friendly and polite, as if they genuinely love their job, with just the right balance of attention whilst feeling like we were left alone to chat and take our time.
The decor is perfect – a big manor house with big open rooms, pretty chandeliers and the cutest tea sets – little, simple and dainty. It was a very traditional-style afternoon tea. I’ve been to quite a few that have alternative options – mini brioche rolls or baguette-style sandwiches for example, but here it’s as traditional as you can get – finger sandwiches with classic fillings (chicken, egg mayo, smoked salmon and cucumber), fruit and plain scones and a selection of cakes. Although normal bread on sandwiches isn’t the most exciting thing to me, for once it wasn’t stale in the slightest and the fillings were simple but delicious. The chicken had a subtle smokiness, the egg was creamy, the smoked salmon spread generously with both cream cheese and butter and even the cucumber sandwiches (whose popularity will forever be a mystery to me) were good, with a thick layer of cream cheese.
They had a big selection of teas (and you could also get coffee) but we both went for their signature blend of black tea. I love different teas, but nothing beats a good black tea as an accompaniment to scones and cakes in my opinion! English breakfast tea is probably my number one choice, but usually when we go to a nice place, I’ll go for their signature blend since it’s unique and specially created. The ‘signature blend’ tea at St Michaels’ Manor was a little strong for me though – it had an almost smoky flavour and a bitter aftertaste, but honestly that’s the only criticism I could possibly think of for the entire afternoon.. and that’s just personal preference as Marcus loved it. We got unlimited refills of tea (with fresh leaves!) and we didn’t feel awkward in the slightest asking for extras of our favourite parts.
I absolutely loved the cakes! A lot of afternoon teas have patisserie-style cakes, and I can see why they’re popular because they’re so intricate and delicate which is synonymous with the whole afternoon tea experience. For me though, although they’re impressive and I fully appreciate the effort and time it takes to delicately create and decorate them so intricately, I wouldn’t choose them if I had the option. In my opinion nothing beats a good hearty cake – I’m not into light genoise sponges (it feels like I’m eating air!) or flaky pastry/choux pastry and the large amount of cream that is so common in French patisseries such as eclairs or mille-feuille — I love traditional cakes. This afternoon tea had my perfect mix of sweet stuff – a beautifully spiced carrot cake with a thin layer of sweet cream cheese frosting on top, a very seasonal pumpkin macaroon, a light and fluffy apple cake with elderflower jelly and the most rich and indulgent chocolate ganache with a passion fruit jelly. I couldn’t believe how good the carrot cake was. It actually looked a little dry but it was the complete opposite – so soft and moist (sorry!) with the perfect blend of spices.
The apple and elderflower cake was light and fluffy – there was a little too much mousse for me but the sponge was so soft that I don’t know how they cut it into such perfect squares without the whole thing collapsing! The dark chocolate ganache was the perfect finish – it was so smooth and creamy and the sharpness of the passion fruit was the perfect match, cutting right through the dark chocolate to stop it from being sickly.
My absolute favourite part (as always) though was the scones. The quality of the scones is probably the main thing I judge an afternoon tea on. They have to be soft, fluffy and slightly warm, with a glossy finish on the outside. Although fruit scones are more traditional, I love getting a mix of plain and fruit scones as I’m not sure which I prefer. As well as jam and clotted cream, we also got a lovely lemon curd. I’ve never had scones with lemon curd before and I have to say it was a great alternative even if jam and cream is the ultimate combination!
I left feeling relaxed, satisfied and so, so spoilt. I know it’s cheesy but I can’t believe that in less than a year I’m going to be lucky enough to be marrying the most incredible person I know at such a beautiful venue 🙂 Obviously I love this place – we’re choosing to get married here, but I really would recommend it for afternoon tea, dinner or even a lazy weekend lunch.
Link to their website: http://www.stmichaelsmanor.com