Afternoon Tea at the Lion House Tearoom

This was not an afternoon tea.

Rating: ★★★★

Yesterday it was our 8th anniversary. Yes, somehow through everything, we've made it this far! We're both quite fond of afternoon tea, so Anneka had booked us into a new tearoom in Leek. The Lion House Tearoom has only been open for about a month, so we were excited to try somewhere new. Somewhere that, perhaps, had looked at the potential competition and saw where they could be better. Somewhere which finally got afternoon tea right in our backwater, pokey little town. I think you can see where this is going...

Afternoon tea, as I'm sure many of you know, is not just a quick snack while you are out shopping. It is an event. One steeped in tradition and history. It is served on a three-tier stand, with a selection of finger sandwiches at the bottom, a selection of cakes in the middle, and a scone with jam and clotted cream on the top tier. Something a similar to this:

From our afternoon tea at The Upper House in Barlaston
That is not how ours was presented however. Firstly, we received our drinks - tea for Anneka and my customary lemonade.

The tea was served as one would expect, with a teapot, cup and saucer and a small jug of milk. Anneka tells me the tea was very weak, despite being brewed for 3 or 4 minutes, so one can only assume that either the teabags were of poor quality or there was not enough for the amount of water in the pot. My lemonade was a can of R Whites which, considering how many better products exist, was rather disappointing. Additionally, the inside of the glass was covered if what I can only assume was dishcloth fluff. The glass also wasn't really in-keeping with the setting. It seems a little modern for afternoon tea. Needless to say I drank straight from the can.

Then our three-tier stand with everything on it arrived. Oh, hang on...

This was taken after we'd been waiting for a little while for
everything else to arrive, so we started eating!
That appears to be two plates with sandwiches dumped on them. Oh, it is. Where is the elegant stand with the finger sandwiches and everything else correctly assembled? The sandwiches were cheese and red onion chutney; cream cheese and cucumber; and egg mayonnaise. The bread was dry, as though it had been left out on the work surface since they opened that day. The cheese was bland - not even as strong as some very mild cheddar that you'd buy in a supermarket. The red onion chutney was brown, and actually looked more like Branston pickle than anything else. The cucumber had more flavour than the cream cheese - and one can't help but wonder how on earth that is possible. Even the egg mayonnaise was rather bland, and egg usually tastes of egg rather than nothing.

After about a ten minute delay, our cakes and scones arrived. Now when we arrived, we'd been told that we only got one slice of cake, not a selection of mini cakes. We weren't impressed but it seems to be the way some places do things. We'd been told by somewhere else we'd been previously that it's because a lot of places don't get many bookings for afternoon tea, and therefore can't justify having lots of tiny cakes to hand. Fair enough, but perhaps if places got it right they'd have more bookings?  I'd ordered lemon drizzle cake, whilst Anneka requested coffee cake. We had to ask for a fork to eat the cakes with, as well as additional spoons to get the jam out of the pots - things that really should have been automatically provided.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I quite like to be able to taste lemon in things that claim to taste of lemon. (It's not too much to ask for is it?) The lemon drizzle cake (which was actually just a lemon Victoria sponge...) did not taste like lemon. In fact, it tasted like overworked and undercooked cake mix.

Anneka's coffee cake was no better either. You'd expect a cake to be light and fluffy, and a little moist. An evenly brown. Take a look at the photo below. Why are some bits of the cake a browny grey? It also did not taste of coffee, but more of raw egg... 

The scones were very dense (more than a scone usually is), very dry (as if they'd been over baked), and cold. A warm scone is very nice - and how a scone should be served.

The clotted cream hadn't been stirred before it was transferred from the container it is bought in to the serving pot. As such we got the overly thick top layer - as happens when a product like this separates and isn't stirred before use. I was able to stick a spoon in the pot and simply remove it to make a clotted cream lollypop - which for some reason I failed to take a photo of.

The jam wasn't much better either. From the photo of the cakes and scones on the one plate, you can see why. It was just two tiny jars, like the kind you get in a hotel for a continental breakfast. Just enough to spread thinly on a slice of toast, but certainly not sufficient for a dollop on each half of a scone. The photo below doesn't really show how thinly we had to spread the jam. Oddly, it was quite an expensive brand (Tiptree by Wilkin and Sons), which didn't really match the cheap quality of everything else.

At least the crockery and cutlery used to serve the food was interesting! There were different items from Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, and something with 'Royal Leighton' stamped on it. No, we'd never heard of it either! Apparently it's from a company called Leighton Pottery Ltd, which only existed between 1940 and 1954, in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. Anything with the Royal Leighton stamp is from 1946 onwards. There were also a couple of mildly interesting spoons! The first one is a 'Lincoln's 10,000 Silver Dollar' spoon which, after a bit of a search, is a souvenir all the way from Montana, USA! (That, by the way, is the only piece of information I was able to discover about the spoon.) The second one is from Harrods in Knightsbridge - a department store I dislike as it's mostly overpriced tat aimed at people with more money than sense, along with some items where the price has been ridiculously inflated for no good reason. They also sell fur...

Here are some photos of the downstairs part of the tearoom (we were seated downstairs as the main part was full).

Down the stairs

The view from the stairs into the other part of the tearoom

This is where we were sat

The view from our table
Some of the detail on our table

The opposite corner to where we sat

A box full of Duplo to keep younger children entertained

Perhaps, but they certainly won't be found in here...
As a former IT guy (and self-confessed geek) these two things interested me the most (though I have absolutely no idea why they were there):

For some reason, a 'Bondi Blue' iMac from 1998

A Power Macintosh G3, from 1999
Overall, we were very disappointed by this new tearoom. In fact, it is the worst afternoon tea we've had since our first one over two years ago. They managed to get one star rather than none as the lemonade was ok (but that's not really their doing!) and the service was friendly, if a little haphazard. If the rest of the food is this bad however, we don't see them still being open in six months time.

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