Afternoon Tea at The Upper House

Haphazard service compensated for by delicious cake.

Rating: ★★★★★

We'd been meaning to take my grandparents out for afternoon tea for quite a while now. It's something traditional which we knew they'd both appreciate. Unfortunately, we'd never been able to find a date when we were all available! Today though our schedules managed to match up, along with that of my parents, so we decided to go to The Upper House. I didn't take many photos of the food for some reason, so this will be a rather descriptive review!

We'd already booked in advance to let them know that myself and Anneka are vegetarians. They said they'd do us something a bit different, instead of the usual (and somewhat boring and predictable) cheese and egg sandwiches. We were very pleased to hear this, as in most places vegetarians are a second thought (if that...).

We'd arrived a little early, so sat in one of the smaller (and much grander) rooms while we waited for the restaurant to open. I didn't take a photo of this room, but it's as you'd imagine for a building of this era - covered in oak panelling, with wooden floors and large comfy sofas. After a short wait, we went into the restaurant.

© Image courtesy of The Upper House
We weren't waiting long before someone came to take our order. We'd already pre-booked everything, so the lack of communication between the staff was disappointing. We explained, and the person went to fetch our food.

Afternoon tea is not something that people do every day, so it is a bit of an event. In somewhere as well staffed as this, as quiet as it was when we arrived, and for the price you pay - £16 each - you'd expect the service to be excellent. It wasn't bad, but could have been better. Someone brought the teas and coffees over, but not all at once. That's fair enough - you can hardly expect someone to carry all the pots for a table a 6 in one go! However, there were plenty of staff stood around with nothing to do - they could have helped. There was only just about enough milk for one cup each, so we had to ask for more. Additionally, they'd forgotten my lemonade. (I always have a lemonade with afternoon tea. I generally don't do hot drinks, and a lemonade goes along quite nicely.) When I politely reminded them, there was no apology. About 5 minutes later it arrived.

It was about another 10 minutes before the afternoon tea arrived - in bits and pieces. First the vegetarian sandwiches for Anneka and I arrived. You'll notice from the first photo there is something somewhat amiss. Not just the fact that the sandwiches are on the bottom and middle levels (they should only be on the bottom!), but the top tier (upon which should sit a plate of scones) is empty... We thought we'd wait until everything else had arrived before we queried this. Eventually everything arrived, but it wasn't well arranged. My grandfather (who is diabetic and as such can't eat lots of cake - a fact which we'd informed them of when we booked...) was presented with this:

These were not diabetic cakes!
To be overly fair, the staff weren't to know that he was my grandfather. That being said, he was the oldest man at the table and my stepfather isn't old enough to look like he could be my grandfather. We rearranged the plates so that everything was where it should have been when it was served. Something that, with a little care from the staff, should have been unnecessary.

Spot the grandfather...
After this messing around, we eventually got to eat! On our stand we had some rather run-of-the-mill sandwiches - cheese and tomato, and egg and cress - and a couple of only slightly less run-of-the-mill ones  - tomato and cucumber, and brie and cranberry. All served up on what turned out to be rather cheap bread. Don't get me wrong, we like 'ordinary' bread, but at least make it good quality! More interesting and unusual were the pansy flowers which decorated the middle of the plates. We knew they were edible but have never tried them. They have a mild, peppery taste. It's almost like rocket leaves, expect it feels softer in your mouth. I think that had they been put in the tomato and cucumber sandwiches as an extra filling, they would have made a boring sandwich more interesting. A bit of a novelty more than anything.

Now onto the cakes! Cakes are one of my absolute favourite things, but it's so difficult to find somewhere that gets them right. Fortunately (and to the benefit of an extra star to this review!) The Upper House is such a place. They were, for the most part, delicious! Lets get the Victoria sponge out of the way first though. Victoria sponge is, by its nature, a very boring cake. It's very difficult to make it anything but without adding to the recipe - and then it's not a Victoria sponge anymore! This was no different. It wasn't too moist or too dry, and didn't have too much or too little filling. It was what it was.

The other cakes on the plate were delightful though! There was a ginger cake, topped with a delicate crumb buttercream. The cake was moist and rich, with the ginger coming through steadily and subtly so that the taste was even with every bite. It wasn't overpowering, as some ginger cakes can be. After that was a small Viennese whirl. No, not like the awful ones you get in the shops! This was light and crumbly, with a lovely jam and buttercream centre. There was a slight hint of vanilla coming through amongst the flavour of the jam. Delicious!

The scones were nice too. They were firm yet delicate and a little buttery. They were served with a delicious jam and, as should be expected, clotted cream. I really should have taken some more photos of the food...

Once we'd eaten we had sufficient time to allow our food to settle before everything was cleared away. This gave my mother the opportunity take take this photo:

Insert humorous caption here!
Not sure what Anneka is looking at there! Perhaps my grandmother is pulling a silly face? Caption suggestions welcome!

The bill was brought to us very swiftly once the staff realised we'd finished. I always find it best to wait until they realise you're done - this way you usually get a bit of time to relax before you are hurried out. It's also a good indicator of how much attention the staff are paying. In this case, not much! It was nearly 25 minutes after we'd finished before they'd noticed...

As soon as the bill was handed to me the staff vanished! It was as though they didn't want to take my money. I jokingly suggested we start to leave to see if they'd even notice! (They probably wouldn't have done...) I wasn't prepared to wait for any ridiculous length of time, so I went to find someone. It was like a ghost hotel. Quite refreshing really, considering most places hover over you when they hand you the bill. When someone did appear, I went to hand them the payment and was told "Oh, just dump it there on the side." Right. So, nearly £100 you want me to leave lying around where anyone can see it? Fair enough - I've paid. What happens to the money from this point on is not my problem. So I did. And when we left a couple of minutes later, it was still there. If they were my staff they'd be in for a serious dressing down!

On the way back to the car, I decided we'd have some photos. We've not got many of us all together (and technically we still haven't, as someone had to take each photo, so was left out!)

It was nice for us all to go out for a meal together. It's not often we are all in the same place at the same time, so this is a memory I will treasure - despite the rather haphazard service!

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