Afternoon Tea at the Vintage Tea Emporium

Good food, but you don't win friends with gelatine...


On Saturday we went for afternoon tea at the Vintage Tea Emporium in Uttoxeter. A friend had told us about it, and we'd been past when we were last in the town. We'd heard good things about it, so we thought we'd check it out. Anneka had booked us a table and informed the owner that we were both vegetarians. We've really been struggling to find a good vegetarian afternoon tea, so we hoped this might be the one! Unfortunately it didn't get off to the best of starts...

When we arrived, there were three ladies running the tearoom that day. We think they are all family, as they looked rather similar. One younger, one older, and one in the middle. (Grandmother, mother and daughter perhaps - though we've really no idea so don't hold me to that!) We explained that we'd reserved a table, and there seemed to be some confusion over that. Initially we were directed to a table for six people, but then quickly redirected to a table for four (there were three of us, as we took a friend.) Once our friend's order had been taken, and I'd asked for lemonade instead of tea, we weren't waiting long for our food to arrive. Sadly some of the things which did arrive turned out to not be suitable for vegetarians.

When we saw the deserts, we initially wondered if they'd used vegetarian marshmallows and jelly. There was also an sandwich with pesto on it. Not wanting to chance it, we asked and discovered that they didn't know. I explained that gelatine is not suitable for vegetarians, as it is a by-product of animal slaughter. Pesto generally isn't as it (usually) contains Parmesan. They took the whole stand away to check, and in the meantime the 'middle' of the three ladies said it was down to bad communication that we'd been given non-vegetarian things. Whose bad communication exactly? Anneka had informed them that we were both vegetarians - and vegetarianism has been around for long enough now that if you're running a food business you really ought to know when it is. If for some reason you don't (as was the case here) then perhaps try Google? Anyway, shortly after the elder lady returned with the pesto sandwich, rocky road cake and jelly removed. Both her and the younger lady were profusely apologetic, which was nice but could have easily been avoided. In place of the deserts was a slice of chocolate cake each, and we were also told that a lemon syllabub would be brought over too. I'm honestly not sure which sandwich was the substitute as we hadn't looked at them in detail!

We asked if we could have a couple of spoons for the jam and clotted cream, which is not an unreasonable (or difficult) request. Unfortunately this seems to be an issue with most places we go to - there is never a spoon for the jam and a spoon for the cream - and there really should be. According to The Cream Tea Society spoons should always be used for the jam and cream. This is backed up by etiquette experts Debrett's (the paragraph about scones is at the end of their article.) Usually a couple of spoons are provided upon request, without any fuss. We certainly weren't expecting to be rudely told we were wrong - especially when we were, in fact, correct! The 'middle' lady said "You use your knife to get them jam and cream out. That's what it's there for. You don't need spoons!" I politely made our request again, at which point she she grabbed two spoons from a nearby table and slammed them down onto our table. It was incredibly rude, unnecessary, and she was wrong! This, along with the confusion about the table, cost them two whole stars. I've been agonising over the rating for here because she was so rude, but the younger lady made up for it by being so profusely apologetic later when we came to pay.

It wasn't all bad though! Anneka and our friend were both impressed with the tea. So many places rely on teabags (most of which contain plastic and aren't biodegradable) so she was happy to see that the tea served here was loose leaf. She was also happy that they had sugar cubes with sugar tongs on the table. I had my customary lemonade, and this time it was Rose Lemonade from Fentiman's - which is absolutely lovely.

The sandwiches were delicious too. We had egg mayonnaise, cheese and chutney, cucumber and cream cheese, and hummus and with what we think we butternut squash (we forgot to check!) The scones were sultana and cherry (one of each!) and were lovely. The cakes were a cupcake, chocolate cake, an iced flapjack and a piece of shortbread (if I remember correctly - I've slept since then!) We also had a lemon syllabub. The cakes were nice, but the syllabub (which they made freshly as a replacement for the jelly) was a bit of a let down. We could barely taste the lemon unfortunately.

Ordinarily, we could manage an entire afternoon tea, although we'd feel very stuffed afterwards and not eat for the rest of the day! For some reason though, we couldn't manage to eat all of this. We asked if they had some sort of container so we could take the remaining cakes home, as we didn't want them to go to waste. We were given two plastic boxes, which we've kept so we can reuse them for storing meal portions at home.

When we went to pay, the younger lady asked "Was everything ok, eventually?" I said that the food was lovely. She apologised for both presenting us with non-vegetarian food and for the poor service. In fact, I felt a little sorry for her as she seemed really nervous and stressed about the whole situation. I said that she mustn't worry about it too much, as we'd mostly enjoyed our time there. Uttoxeter isn't a big town, and there's not really much on offer, so if you are there this place is worth a visit for the food. But be wary of the 'middle' lady... She may have just been having a bad day but, as nice as the food was and as apologetic as the young lady was, she's cost the business three customers unfortunately...

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