Time for Tea: 45 of Herts’ best afternoon teas
11:42 01 July 2014
Afternoon tea is a hallmark of British culture that these days comes in many varieties. With its green landscape, attractive towns and beautiful venues, Hertfordshire is a great location for this delight. Sarah Hammill finds 45 of the best places in the county to indulge
IN THE GRAND STYLE.
The Robert Adams designed Luton Hoo has a colourful history dating back to the 18th century, involving Russian royals, diamond magnates and movie stars. Visitors to today’s grand hotel, which straddles the Herts-Beds border near Harpenden, are served afternoon tea consisting of tiered plates of sandwiches, scones and cakes in the exquisite drawing room. Film buffs can bask in the knowledge that the room was used in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Eyes Wide Shut and War Horse.
For a mix of contemporary style and grandeur – think Victorian meets sleek design – Shendish Manor Hotel in Apsley near Hemel Hempstead is the place to visit. The hotel boasts 70 beautiful rooms and for afternoon tea diners there is a terrace facing formal gardens.
While many former aristocratic piles in the county are now open to the public, you won’t find many venues with a richer history than Pendley Manor Hotel. The house in Tring dates back as far as 1066, so there are almost a thousand years’ of stories locked away in its old bones. Today’s hotel has won numerous awards for excellence and the restaurant has a dedicated and enthusiastic head chef.
Keeping on the topic of manor houses, Letchworth Hall Hotel is another recommendable name. On the edge of the garden city next to Letchworth Golf Club, it offers guests an elegant afternoon tea in its magnificent Great Hall.
The Salisbury Arms holds travel site Trip Advisor’s title as the best hotel in Hertford. It is a cosy hotel, with a friendly and personal service that makes both local residents and guests feel relaxed while dining on clotted cream scones. The building has been a social hub in part of Hertford for more than 150 years and many of the staff have been here for 15 or more, so have a good understanding of customer’s needs. The hotel has remained true to its original structure, so you may hear the odd creak of a floorboard.
For a spread with a hint of elegance, a visit to Hanbury Manor in Ware is in order. The grand country house, which was built by Edmund Hanbury in 1890 with no expense spared, became a hotel and restaurant in the 1990s. Guests can enjoy afternoon tea sandwiches on an array of breads and can choose to dine in the Oak Room, the library or the cocktail bar. It’s advisable to book your afternoon tea to avoid disappointment.
The handsome 500-year-old St Michael’s Manor in St Albans provides homemade sandwiches and cakes from its excellent restaurant on the lake-view terrace overlooking five acres of immaculate gardens.
Aubrey Park Hotel in Hemel Hempstead has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment and has launched a Bellini Afternoon Tea in addition to its popular Traditional and Champagne Afternoon Teas. These can be enjoyed on the terrace, in the contemporary bar or stylish lounge. The home baked ham with seeded mustard and cress sandwiches are a delight as are its freshly baked scones with Cornish cream and jam. Top off with a glass of peach Bellini.
DELIGHTFUL TEA ROOMS.
Not only is Pearce’s Cafe purse-friendly, but its afternoon tea is created with homemade ingredients sourced from the family-run farm. While the Pearce family has been running Puckeridge Farm for over 45 years, the cafe on the farm in Buntingford is a new venture to complement its excellent farm shop. The contemporary venue does not disappoint and diners can choose from eight of the finest hand-picked teas.
A venue packed with history is The Old Post Office Tea Rooms in Datchworth. The traditional village tea room was once a post office, hence the name, and the building dates back to the 17th century. Rather than attempt to modernise the building, the owners have kept the original structure and have furnished the tea room with old fashioned tables and chairs. To add to the theme, diners are served locally-sourced and home baked goodies on vintage china. Friendly staff also cater to allergy sufferers requesting gluten-free ingredients and are happy for dogs and owners to stop for a rest.
A second, younger venue in Datchworth is We R Cakes, a delightful little 1940s-style vintage tea room in a converted barn surrounded by fields and an ancient bluebell wood. The barn also has a gallery with work by local artists. Eclectic, creative and scrummy.
For something in town, climb four flights of stairs to a rooftop treat in The Attic Café. Situated above an antiques emporium in Berkhamsted, the tea room keeps with the historic theme below by serving cakes and scones on vintage mismatched china. Due to its height, it’s worth getting a window seat for a birds eye view of the town.
It might not be possible to get a more at-home feeling when dining out than a visit to The Brewery Tea Room in Walkern. Once a lemonade factory, it is now owned and run by Sarah Parker, husband Nigel and Sarah’s mother, Mary. The family decided the house was so special they had to share it with the public. Now they serve a lovely afternoon tea including Mary’s home baked cakes, which she prepares each morning The family also supports good causes – all tips and proceeds from special events go to charity, including £10,000 for the Lister Hospital’s cancer ward to date.
The historic town of Bishop’s Stortford is blessed with two tea rooms on its High Street, and frankly, both are divine. Rosey Lea has beautiful English bone china along with smiley staff. Customers can escape from the bustling town centre and enjoy home made cakes either on the terrace overlooking the market or in the cosy indoor tea room with floral table cloth-clad wooden tables.
The other Stortford town centre tea room is South Street Pantry. With its shabby chic style and vintage crockery along with rich, mouthwatering home made cakes and friendly service, it has customers queuing round the corner at weekends. A new garden area is being created for the summer, offering 40 extra seats. Sample the highly-coveted blueberry and white chocolate cake with a cup of Masala Chai tea with vanilla.
A delicious scent wafts from Yummy Mummys Cakes, where cakes are baked in the parlour. Afternoon tea is by appointment only, as owner Maria is often hard at work making her award-winning cake creations. Those lucky enough to dine are seated in a pretty pink and cream tea room. Traditional afternoon tea is served, and, given the fabulous cakes on show, customers will not be disappointed by the sweet treats.
Since opening two years ago, Tea at Tapps in Baldock has become very popular, thanks to the owner’s attention to detail and quality of ingredients – cakes and scones are homemade from quality ingredients such as free range eggs and butter. There is a choice of 12 loose leaf teas, many of which have won a Great Taste Award. Try the Rosebud Gong Fu – the perfect accompaniment to a delicious cream tea.
The Old Swan Tea Shop near Buntingford prides itself on its home grown produce – you won’t find a chip or a coffee machine in sight. Their afternoon tea has proved such a hit that owners, Lynda and Bill, now sell their produce on local farmers’ markets. They also welcome children to enjoy the garden, complete with a duck pond.
Set in the village of Chapmore End, the sweetly-named Buttercup Tearooms offers guests not only a high standard afternoon tea, but a tranquil and peaceful dining setting. The tearoom is intimate, rustic and beautiful, with various trinkets, including an historic collection of perfume bottles, which stir much curiosity from diners.
Unlike many larger venues, owner Wendy is happy to serve at the front of house and mingle with guests, explaining her special ingredients with pride and adding a personal touch. The high tea is recommended, try the unusual but delicious cheese and mango sandwich.
Emily’s Tearoom is off the beaten track. Through a rustic livery yard and past little charming boutiques, visitors are then greeted by the tearoom’s lovely setting. The courtyard seating area is very popular, which may be because of the friendly ducks and rabbits waiting to greet guests. The Kimpton tearoom provides a spread complete with freshly baked Fairtrade brownies and encourages visitors to also explore the secret garden behind the next door farmhouse.
TEA WITH A DIFFERENCE.
. For those seeking an adventure with their sandwiches, the Tiger Treetops Cafè is hard to beat. Visitors to Tiger Tea at Paradise Wildlife Park begin their experience with a guide to the big cats at the Broxbourne venue, including snow leopards, tigers and cheetahs, from a walkway overlooking the enclosures. Afternoon tea is then served in a raised wooden café which faces on to the tigers’ enclosure and provides great photo opportunities. While dining, visitors are given a talk by a big cat expert. An afternoon tea experience ideal for children and adults.
For thrill-seekers looking for a sky-high afternoon tea-for-two, Panshanger Aerodrome is the appropriate choice. The North London Flying School offers visitors the chance to take the controls of a light plane for half an hour before touching down to visit the friendly Out of the Box café for all inclusive sandwiches and cakes.
A family experience amid historic grandeur, The Grove in Watford is as impressive as its afternoon tea, which boasts unlimited refills and is prepared and served by gold certified tea masters. Drop-in visitors for the tea service are treated to exquisite chocolate creations by the pastry chef, while those that choose to stay at the hotel can use bikes to explore the 300-acre grounds. Children are provided with their own afternoon tea and entertainment with giant trampolines and a wooden fortress.
Kept in the family for more than a century, Foxholes Farm in Hertford is dedicated to producing high quality home grown meats and delicatessens, both for its afternoon tea and produce shop. The farm is a great place to take the little ones for afternoon tea, as children can enjoy the play area and explore the pet’s corner.
Knebworth House provides cherished childhood memories. After all, not many afternoon tea venues can say they have a dinosaur trail and an adventure playground. The house caters for a more sedate experience too, with tours of the house and gardens. The Garden Terrace Tea Room offers a traditional tea spread to visitors, who can choose their own cake (and eat it).
Those with hobbies of the green-fingered variety will enjoy a visit to the Great Amwell-based Van Hage Garden Centre. Not only does it cater for your horticultural needs, it also provide afternoon tea as well as an animal farm and a miniature steam railway – bound to cause excitement among family members both young and young at heart.
If you want to brush up on evolutionary theory and indulge in mid-afternoon delicacies, seek out the Zebra Café at the fabulous Natural History Museum in Tring. The Victorian collection has outdoor facilities too, including two play areas overlooking fine meadows. Bear in mind the cafe is only open on weekends and holidays.
What could be a more relaxing afternoon tea experience than drifting along the River Lee while tucking into sandwiches. River Lee Cruises invites diners aboard The Lady of Lee Valley where they can relax while enjoying a circular guided tour starting at Broxbourne and heading downstream through one of the prettiest river stretches in Hertfordshire.
Hertfordshire is blessed with lovely countryside, so it is important to have plenty of rural tea rooms on hand to replenish thirsty explorers. Westmill Tea Room is a family-run quaint venue on Westmill’s picturesque village green near Buntingford. Dating back to the 1800s, the tea room was once a post office and has been used in period dramas including Foyle’s War. Visitors can enjoy homemade afternoon tea while taking in the nostalgic décor. It’s also full to the brim with goodies to take home including jams and sweets.
A long-established country house, Down Hall, on the edge of Bishop’s Stortford, is situated within 110 acres of landscaped gardens, which guests can explore. Visitors to the grand stately home can enjoy afternoon tea on the terrace and test some of the finest fusions. In chillier weather, tables by the grand fireplace come highly recommended.
Great Hallingbury Manor is so popular, staff are already taking booking for Christmas. The Tudor-style grand building near Bishop’s Stortford has a stylish contemporary interior from which visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the lake while eating fine delicacies. The hotel has an emphasis on being eco-friendly.
The Inn on the Park is set in 100 acres of St Albans parkland. The tea room uses Fairtrade produce, and, where possible, goods sourced from local suppliers to provide customers with the freshest ingredients. Visitors to Verulamium Park can enjoy the river and Roman ruins as well as playgrounds, a splash park and crazy golf.
An ancient woodland with breathtaking bluebells and rare species of trees, Ashridge Estate is a feast for the eyes. A perfect destination for dog walkers and strollers, the Brownlow Café on the Berkhamsted estate provides a traditional afternoon tea. Make sure you wrap up warm on chillier days, though, as seating is all outdoors.
Just north of Royston in Melbourn, is a former mill house set in pretty landscaped gardens. A popular wedding venue, Sheene Mill also offers a delicious afternoon tea spread of sandwiches, scrumptious homemade scones and heavenly mini desserts with the option of upgrading to champagne (well, why not?). Booking is essential due to the fresh preparation of the items.
If you have an eye for interior design, stop for tea in The Manor Hotel in Elstree. The mansion is furnished by Laura Ashley to create a tasteful and relaxing atmosphere. Guests can enjoy a seasonally-themed afternoon tea, while the hill that the hotel is built on provides panoramic views as far as Canary Wharf.
Follow the carefully-crafted footpaths through National Trust woodland, while spotting a variety of wildlife on the way, to a final destination at The Forest Café. This small outlet in Hatfield Forest near Bishop’s Stortford provides tea and cake for walkers, who can relax on wooden tables overlooking a vast lake. Bear in mind there is no indoor shelter for diners and a fair stroll beforehand – but that’s the point.
Rigsby’s Piano Café in Herford has a laid-back stylish ambience helped by a pianist playing soothing music on a glossy black piano. Secluded gardens overlooking the church and a reliable service provide a peaceful afternoon tea experience. Owned by Harry Potter actor, Rupert Grint, Rigsby’s is a relatively new venture, which has had a big thumbs up from regulars.
While on the subject of Harry Potter, Sopwell House offers an interesting twist to its clotted cream and jam. Not only do diners have the choice of either the cocktail bar or the light, airy restaurant, if they stay at the hotel, staff will arrange a trip to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour as well. A must-have for all fans of the boy wizard.
Not only is Redcoats Farmhouse Hotel and Restaurant in Redcoats Green aesthetically pleasing – a combination of elegant red brick building, fine restaurant and lovely garden – the hotel is a family-run venture, and they pride themselves on a delivering a premium afternoon tea. Booking is advised.
Previously a dairy farm and now a popular tea room and hotel, Tewin Bury Farm is an idylic rural escape. Set in 490 acres of fine countryside in Tewin, there is still a working farm, from which the hotel sources many of its ingredients. While enjoying afternoon tea, it’s possible watch the farmer and his tractor at work.