|Someone couldn't wait to get stuck in|
You don't get much more traditional than a tea room in a barn in the English countryside, and that's exactly what's on offer at Tiptree Tea Rooms in Essex (also home to the Tiptree Jam Museum, which I've covered here).
If that's already sounding like a bucolic ideal, let me make it even more British by throwing in a queue. The Tiptree Tea Rooms takes bookings for afternoon tea on weekdays, but at the weekend, it's every man for himself. The restaurant is a decent size, with around 30 tables inside and a further eight or so outside on the terrace, so it only takes 15 minutes before we're at the front of that queue, close enough to eye up every jacket potato and knickerbocker glory that wafts under our noses.
Now we can get a proper view of the tea rooms, it seems there aren't quite enough staff to cover everything. Several tables are sitting empty, waiting to be cleared, but no-one's clearing them despite a queue of at least 20 people leading out the door. There are mutterings up and down the queue about this, but within a few more minutes, we're whisked off to a table in the back part of the tea room, a cosy area with wooden beams.
We're handed menus and make polite noises about perusing them, but we already know that we're here for the afternoon tea. The menu offers an afternoon tea for two people, but they have no problem in providing one for three of us instead. We're given a choice of sandwiches, each of us opting for a different filling, and then sit back and eye up our surroundings while we wait.
Everything's noticeably on brand, from the Tiptree gin liqueur bottles being used as vases, to the Tiptree jam pots repurposed as salt and pepper shakers, yet far from feeling corporate, this somehow adds to the quaintness of the whole experience.
The tea arrives a few minutes later on the traditional three tier stand, beginning with the sandwiches on the bottom. They're noticeably fresh, each one cut into quarters with the crusts removed. A sharer salad sits at the centre of the plate, accompanied by a pot of Tiptree onion relish.
The scones too taste fresh, and have a homemade appearance, which is much more appealing than the too-perfect scones that often feature in afternoon teas. They're accompanied by a pot of Tiptree jam - what else? - and cream each. It's a shame that the cream is served in plastic pots, giving off a slight aeroplane-food vibe, rather than a ramekin, but that's a minor niggle in an otherwise flawless meal.
Up top, a selection of six cakes is flanked by a strawberry each, and a pot of Tiptree Chocolate spread. Although all tempting, it's not made clear what each of the cakes is, as the menu just promises a selection of that day's offerings - but that's nothing a bit of tasting can't solve. Our selection is a chocolate cake, a chocolate and orange cake, carrot cake, a country slice, a lime tart, and a blueberry mousse - sufficient variety to keep everyone happy.
From the choice of sandwiches to the freshness of the products, the cute pots of jam and the impressive selection of cakes, the Tiptree Tea Rooms afternoon tea is a traditional and highly recommended experience. If possible, I'd advise going on a weekday when things may be a bit less hectic - but even at weekends, the queue is worth it. The two afternoon tea novices I was with found themselves completely converted by the experience.
Tiptree has 10 tea rooms dotted around Essex, plus a new Jam Jar Bar in Colchester, which I fully intend to visit very soon.
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