Caroline Bingham visited Doddington Hall as they launch their new season Afternoon Tea menu.
Anticipating Afternoon Tea is enjoyable all year round but I still associate this very British treat with the summer months of my childhood. My grandmother was an excellent cook, after all it was her profession and Sunday tea with my grandparents was the real deal. It is the benchmark against which I think I have compared every Afternoon Tea since.
We had only just sat down in the Restaurant when we spotted a couple we know who told us they had booked Afternoon Tea to celebrate their wedding anniversary – and it does always feel like a special occasion with the pretty cake stand, indulgent cakes and ritual of pouring perfectly brewed tea.
There were two menus for us to consider; a description of the food with a choice of sandwiches on either white or brown bread and also a two-page tea menu. The sandwich choice was relatively easy: we opted for a selection so the bottom level of our stand arrived with finger sandwiches of honey roast ham with farmhouse pickle on white; egg mayonnaise with cress on brown; tuna mayonnaise with dill and lemon on white; and cucumber and cream cheese on brown. A mixed, dressed salad was part of the presentation. Making our tea choices took a while longer. Doddington Hall has worked with local supplier, the Lincoln Tea and Coffee Company, to produce this new comprehensive choice of special blends, single leaf and fruit teas. There are also low and decaffeinated choices.
The very friendly member of staff who was our server offered to guide me through the list, which ranges from Darjeeling, the Indian black tea which is known as the Champagne of Afternoon Tea, to a delicately scented, floral tea from eastern China known as Rose Congou. I love fruit and botanical flavoured teas so I took up the recommendation to try White Tea with Mango, which had a gentle and fresh palate with a subtle mango flavour. A beautifully refreshing tea which I am sure would be equally good iced on a hot day. I will have to try that. Tea drinking is definitely on trend again after the coffee boom and rediscovering the variety and ‘terroir’ of tea is very satisfying.
We thoroughly enjoyed our freshly made sandwiches and next contemplated whether to move on to scones or cakes. Afternoon Tea needs to be taken at a leisurely pace, which again is part of its beauty so we decided we would pace ourselves with a couple of cakes and then move on. Doddington’s kitchens make all their cakes and desserts for the Café and Restaurant, so our stand included a range of bite-sized treats including macarons, lemon drizzle cake, tea loaf, deliciously rich brownie, Bakewell tart and flapjack – way more than we could ever finish. The plate was garnished with vibrant fresh berries.
I must also mention that I had developed crockery envy at this point. I have blue and white china at home and our tea was served on mix-and-match blue floral print crockery which also had some burgundy and white cups – giving an effective vintage feel to the presentation.
The homemade fruit scones were freshly baked and generously large, served with jam and clotted cream, decorated with fresh strawberries and a chocolate ball piped full with an orange ganache. We decided to split one of the scones between us and the offer from our server of a brown paper bag to take the second scone home was gratefully accepted. I think this tea time banquet will often beat even the most hungry takers.
We hadn’t overindulged but there is plenty of scope to walk off some calories by visiting the beautiful house and gardens at Doddington, or wandering around the Farm Shop and clothing, interiors and cycling stores on the site. The Hall has a full programme of forthcoming events, details of which can be found on their website. Book for Afternoon Tea and make your visit a really memorable day, whatever the occasion.