Betty's Sowing Box in Ashbourne



Our second visit was hugely disappointing compared to our first fantastic visit.

Rating: ★★★★

We went into Ashbourne today with two of our family, to visit a tearoom that we'd both been to a few months earlier. We'd had this planned for about four weeks, and we'd spent most of that time extolling the virtues of this quaint little tearoom and it's wonderful fayre. Oops.

You see, on our previous visit we'd found Betty's whilst we were in Ashbourne just mooching around waiting to visit an ill relative in hospital. We'd read the reviews on TripAdvisor and everything seemed very positive, so we went in. We explained that we are vegetarians, and they'd presented us with a wonderful selection of suitable sandwiches, cakes and scones - including the best flapjack either of us had ever tasted! All of this, plus a pot of tea for Anneka and a lemonade for me (I don't particularly like hot drinks) for just £10 each! What an absolute bargain! It was so wonderful that even the fact that we had to ask for a desert fork - with several huge slices of cake one would have been nice! - didn't put a dampener on things. Here is a photo from our previous visit:

Doesn't it all look delicious?
So on our second visit we, rather naturally, expected the same level of service and quality. The TripAdvisor reviews were still just as positive from after our last visit. So we booked a table by the window and asked for one standard afternoon tea for two, and one vegetarian afternoon tea for two. Anneka had sent a follow-up email after I'd booked, requesting a delicious flapjack each and confirming our booking request. Everything was going well so far.

When we arrived, we discovered that we had been placed in the centre of the tearoom - not by a window as we'd requested. I went to check that our request had in fact been noted, but couldn't find any staff anywhere. When I went back to our table, the remaining window tables had been taken by several groups who had just arrived. When someone eventually appeared, I politely queried the reservation request, only to be met with a curt "Well, all the window tables are taken." Well yes, they were - after we'd arrived and not by people who had specifically requested a window table!

The lady then asked what we'd like - bare in mind that there was no menu on the table to chose from should we have needed to. I explained that we'd already pre-ordered everything and then repeated our order. She walked off without saying anything. I was already getting a little irate by this point, as I knew that this was the beginning of some very poor customer service. If this were some hideous chain restaurant (though I'm loathed to use the term restaurant for anything that is a chain!) I would expect ignorance. But from a place with no negative reviews at all? Surely not.

After a not unreasonable time, our order arrived. Well, sort of. You remember that we'd requested that two of the four afternoon teas be vegetarian - as in, one stand vegetarian, one stand with whatever else on it? This arrived on the "Here is your vegetarian one.":

Ham from a new breed of meat-free pig...
I queried the error with the lady, only to be met with a more-curt-than-last-time "Yes, we know. I've just done you a few ham ones." at which point she simply walked off! Now, I appreciate that I have only been a vegetarian for approximately 12 years, and Anneka is still not technically 100% vegetarian (I'm working on it!) but we are both fairly confident that the sandwich placed before us was most assuredly not suitable for us! Seeing that we were both rather annoyed, our two guests offered to eat the offending items for us. Additionally, as a couple of the vegetarian sandwiches were in contact with this monstrosity, those would also be eaten by the two non-vegetarians.

That annoyance was bad enough, but once we'd eaten what was left of our sandwiches, we moved on to the cakes.


Take a close look at the size of the cakes on the first photo and compare them with the one immediately above. You may well notice that on our first visit, there are only four cakes and on our second visit there are six, and you'd be correct. However, if you cut the cakes from our first visit in half, you'd be left with eight cakes of similar size to the ones on our second visit. (You don't get this kind of an education from The Great British Bake Off now do you?) And look at the flapjacks! They are triangular, and not even half the size of the first ones we had here! When was the last time you saw a triangular flapjack?!

The quality has gone downhill also. The cupcakes were just plain sponge - not even a hint of boring vanilla to liven them up - with buttercream and a strawberry. I'll admit, the strawberry was okay, but once that was gone there was no flavour. The chocolate cake was dry and yet somehow stodgy at the same time, and utterly bland. The flapjacks were by far the worst offenders on this tier however. On our first visit, they were the best ones we'd ever tasted. This time, they were the worst. They were incredibly greasy, bland, and fell apart as soon as we touched them. The topping (whatever it was - were not entirely sure) was also bland and greasy.

Now for the top tier, and a quintessential part of being British - scones with clotted cream and jam. Well, not quite. We already knew before we arrived that they weren't doing 'normal' scones, and instead had lemon and poppyseed ones, served with lemon curd and whipped cream. Fair enough, we're an adventurous pair and thought we'd give these a try. After all, they sounded delicious...

We were, as you've probably guessed by now, very wrong. Somehow they'd managed to make the scones dry on the outside, but still wet on the inside. I nibbled a little bit and couldn't taste any lemon, so I assumed that would come from the curd. After assembling my halves of one scone (with cream under the jam because I'm a rebel - Debrett's would be rather annoyed by this!) I proceed to taste... nothing. Not a damn thing. The lemon curd was not a cheery, bright yellow, tang-infused dollop of deliciousness, but a sickly, jaundiced-looking splat of vacuousness. It tasted of nothing. The whipped cream (if you could actually call it that) was definitely not the awful squirty kind, but it was almost as bad. It had barely any creaminess and certainly no substance to it. Combined with the damp centre of the scone, it didn't seem to know whether to stay put or run for cover. On Anneka's scone, it decided to make a break for it!


The drinks were not much better either. In fact, they were no better. I'm told that the tea, which previously was obviously a blend carefully chosen to compliment the food, was this time no more special that a cheap supermarket tea bag. The lemonade, which last time was zingy and fizzy (as one would naturally expect), was this time dull and lifeless - I imagine the product of some over-worked and under-appreciated Britvic employee (they manufacture R Whites Lemonade.)

It's such a crying shame that this was such a bad experience. The surroundings are really lovely. It really is like having tea at your Grandmother's house! There are various bits of vintage memorabilia on the walls, bags of sowing and knitting at most of the tables for customers to try should they wish too, traditional table-cloths and proper crockery. They also have a sowing and knitting supplies shop, with a workshop at the back, where you can learn your craft. Here are a few photos of the rest of Betty's.





Once we'd finished being disappointed, I went to discuss the bill and the experience with a member of staff. Well, wouldn't you know it... I couldn't find one. Eventually someone who was preparing for a workshop came to help me when the lady who had served us appeared. I explained that I'd come to discuss the bill (as I wasn't going to pay full price, even as cheap as it seems at first) but she simply snatched the money from my hand and vanished again!

It's been quite some time since I've been treated so rudely anywhere. You get much better service in a run-down, dodgy, backstreet pub in a rough neighbourhood than you do here. I saddens me to say this, especially as our first visit was so wonderful, but we will not be returning to Betty's. I'd recommend you avoid this place too.

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