Review: Regency Tea Rooms and a Day in Bath, England

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Bath in England has become a place of pilgrimage for many Jane Austen lovers such as myself. While it’s the setting of novels such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, the interesting thing is that Jane didn’t write her works of art in the few years she lived in the city. In fact, her writing stopped almost completely, as though Bath had sucked the creative juices out of her.

If Austenites truly wanted to go on a pilgrimage, they had much better visit Chawton in Hampshire, where she spent the latter part of her life and where she wrote or at least refined most of her novels for publication.

Still for me, no visit to England is complete without a visit to Bath. It’s not just the visit to the Jane Austen Centre which I always enjoy, but also the opportunity to spend time in one of the most classically beautiful small cities in England.

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On the day trip that K and I took to Bath from nearby Cardiff in Wales, we not only visited the Jane Austen Centre and took part in trying our hand at writing with a quill and dressing up in Regency costume, but we also made our way upstairs to their Regency Tea Rooms for lunch that day. Might as well go for the full experience!

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Tea with Mr Darcy For One (16.50 GBP)

I chose to have their Tea with Mr Darcy set – it would be very difficult for any lover of Austen and admirer of Fitzwilliam Darcy (I even named my cat after him!) to choose any differently. The tea includes four finger sandwiches, a scone, and four small sweet treats. The roast beef and mustard sandwich was my pick of the lot – the others were a bit plain.

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The sweets is where this set really begins to shine though. The Victorian sponge cake was a delight, the lemon drizzle cake perfectly tart and sweet at the same time, and the pastry on the strawberry tart was ridiculously buttery soft. The sweet morsels are just generous enough to share between two – so even though K didn’t order an afternoon tea set, he still got to try a few of their sweets!

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Jane Austen Blend Tea

To go with my set, I chose the Jane Austen Blend Tea, a blend of different black Chinese tea leaves. The tea blend was particularly strong and slightly acidic on the tongue – I definitely appreciated the extra pot of hot water we were given which helped to dilute the strength of the tea for later cups!

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Chicken Caesar Salad with Bacon (9.95 GBP)

K was in the mood for more of a savoury lunch, and chose the daily special of the Chicken Caesar Salad with Bacon. The bacon was particularly crispy and crunchy – almost to the point of being too tough to eat. The rest of the salad was lovely though with tender roast chicken, fresh crisp salad leaves, and just the slightest drizzle of salad dressing to bring it all together.

No doubt if you ever visit Bath in England, you’re probably going to visit the Jane Austen Centre. With nearly 7 million visitors to the city every year (mostly domestic tourism, Bath is popular as a weekend getaway for many Londoners!), the Jane Austen Centre plays a large role in Bath tourism, even putting on the world’s largest Regency event every year. While you’re there, make sure to pop upstairs for an afternoon tea with Mr Darcy…or Tea with the Austen’s, or even Henry Crawford’s Crumpets?

The Regency Tea Rooms are located in the Jane Austen Centre, on 40 Gay Street in Bath, England.

For the rest of your time in Bath, I highly suggesting going on a free guided tour of Bath led by one of the Mayor’s guides. We went a walk with Julie, and she gave us some great information about the history of Bath – both ancient, Regency and modern, and insights into life in Austen’s time. Don’t forget to drop into the Roman Baths and afterwards, visit Sally Lunn’s for the Sally Lunn Bun.

Bath is a great little city for any Austen fan, and you can very happily spend a whole weekend in the area – or just do a daytrip as we did!

Review: Barker Tea Rooms and 36 Hours in Cardiff, Wales

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

As we arrived into Cardiff on a Megabus from London, I logged onto the free city wifi to find a notification on Instagram from a follower Grace suggesting that we check out Barkers Tea House while in Cardiff, guaranteeing that “you will love it!”.

Given that we arrived a bit early and needed to wait about an hour for our Airbnb host to get out of a work meeting before he could meet us, we decided there was no better way to pass the time than to have a relaxing hot cup of tea in a highly recommended tea house! We pulled our suitcases along behind us and found our way to Barkers, located within High Street Arcade in Cardiff City Centre.

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Barkers is everything you would want a small and cosy tea room to be. Cushy armchairs and couches fill up the space, with tiny round tables on spindly legs for your cups of tea. The interior is all dark floorboards and exposed brick walls, the walls of the kitchen are lined with canisters of different tea blends, and the counter and cabinets are chock full of sweet treats begging to be sampled.

Cream Tea (scone, brownie)
Cream Tea (scone, brownie)

I chose a simple Cream Tea for One (approx 8 pounds) which comes with a scone, a sweet morsel, and a pot of tea. The sweet morsel that day was a sinfully rich dark chocolate brownie bite, complete with part of a Flake chocolate bar on top. It was the perfect size for a sweet treat – any larger and it would actually have been much too rich to eat.

The scone is served with clotted cream and jam – I’m a clotted cream convert now of course. It’s a lot larger and more rustic than the scones served at the Ritz London, echoing instead the Irish-style scones we tried at Avoca Cafe in Belfast. It feels more appropriate – a heartier, crumbly, working-man’s scone to suit our stay in wild Wales.

Duchess Earl Grey Tea
Duchess Earl Grey Tea

I chose a Duchess Earl Grey Tea to go with my cream tea, served in a sweet little floral bone china teacup. They serve the Earl Grey here with milk rather than lemon, but it actually works well with the blend as the bergamot scent and flavour isn’t quite as fragrant here as with other blends.

Orange Blossom Tea
Orange Blossom Tea

K has the Orange Blossom Tea which he has plain without milk – particularly fruity and fragrant, but each subsequent teacup proves to be too strong. This is the type of tea blend that seems to require continual dilution with additional hot water after every cup.

Shortbread
Shortbread

I also get K a piece of Shortbread to try as he’s a bit of a fanatic – unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to expectations as it lacks that rich butteriness that really characterises good shortbread biscuits. I really should have chosen one of the delicious slices of cake instead!

As we dined, we saw other groups around us having the full afternoon tea – no simple cream teas and shortbread for them! If ever we return to Cardiff, I think we’ll have to try the Full Afternoon Tea complete with finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes to really get the Barker Tea Rooms experience. Why do things by halves right?

Barkers Tea Rooms are located at 8-12 High Street Arcade in Cardiff City Centre.

Unfortunately, we really only spent a short time in Cardiff – barely 36 hours in total as we spent part of our stay as a daytrip to nearby Bath. Still, we managed to spend some time walking around Cardiff Bay on a particularly blustery day where I was almost blown off my feet by the strong winds!

We also visited Cardiff Castle with our friends Katy and Alex after having lunch at Viva Brazil, a churrasco restaurant with a few different branches around the UK. The castle is well worth a visit, and make sure you pay for the guided tour as well. While the castle keep is quite dilapidated, the manor house on the grounds is quite remarkable in the way that its 19th century inhabitants tried to recreate a medieval interior, and the exhibitions on war in the main building are very interesting as well.

While in Wales, I’d also recommend trying to find a cafe that will serve home-made Welsh Cakes! They’re shaped like a squashed fruit scone, and a good version will always be amply spiced as well. When warm and served with lashings of butter, there’s honestly no better snack. We tried some at a little cafe in Cardiff Bay, and that with a cup of tea was the perfect indulgence while escaping from the wintery wind.

Cardiff is very small, and quite easy to visit on a long weekend from other parts of the UK. Many people tend to visit for the Doctor Who experience which we skipped as neither of us are fans, but there’s a lot of other things to do over the course of a weekend!

Review: High Tea at Crowne Plaza, Coogee Beach

When K and are got engaged early last year, we had already been living together for a number of years. We are also both in decent jobs and realistically, lack for nothing. With some concentrated saving, we can generally afford whatever we want…it also helps that we have relatively simple tastes and we’re both not materialistic! Basically with all those factors in mind, the last thing we wanted to do was to start a wedding registry and solicit wedding presents.

Instead we asked guests to contribute to either one of two chosen charities, or to consider providing a small contribution towards our honeymoon fund, for an extended overseas honeymoon in 2015. Most of our guests did that, but some guests provided something special as well. We’re known as the couple that eats out together a lot, and many of our guests gave us restaurant gift vouchers to ensure that we could have special dining experiences.

Our first dining experience was gifted by my friend Bobbi, who I went to university with. We really bonded when we both studied overseas in Shanghai for three months during a summer semester of intensive Mandarin language learning. She chose to give us a High Tea on the Beach voucher through Red Balloon, to be held at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Coogee.

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K and I arrive at the hotel on one of the hottest days of the summer – the streets and beaches are packed with chicks in bikinis and guys in boardshorts. I’m silently thankful that we’re inside in a cool air-conditioned room enjoying a nice meal, instead of sweating it out on the beach with everyone else! We’re sharing the space that afternoon with a hens party – three large tables full of women aged between 18 and 75, all laughing and giggling away.

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Service is prompt, if somewhat abrupt. Without much fanfare, we’re quickly seated, asked for our drink order (jasmine tea for me, peppermint tea for K), and our tea is delivered to our tables within five minutes. There’s benefits to this prompt service though – I’m decidedly hungry and it seems that while the hens party have been there for a while waiting for the food to arrive, we’re going to benefit from their wait and have our food delivered at the same time! It seems that the kitchen had been working on our high tea platter at the same time, so we barely have to wait ten minutes for our food to arrive.

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I always think a high tea service is a thing of beauty. While each tier of savoury snacks and sweet delights can stand on its own as something completely enjoyable, combined, the whole high tea service cannot be beaten. It’s a real indulgence in every sense of the word.

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The Crowne Plaza put a bit of an Australian multi-cultural twist onto high tea with the inclusion of mini meat pies, mini sausage rolls, deep-fried wontons and curry triangles as hot savoury items. The best item was probably the mini meat pie which went really well with the Beerenberg tomato chutney on the table – the other hot items seemed as though they had been reheated from frozen.

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There was a mix of finger sandwiches provided, but unfortunately none of what I generally expect to find at a high tea. Fillings like egg salad and cucumber were not to be seen. The turkey and cranberry was probably the best mix out of the sandwiches, but overall the sandwiches suffered from an excess of mayonnaise.

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The sweets were a huge improvement. I really enjoyed the sweet chocolate ganache tarts, topped off by mini macarons – they were sweet and creamy without leaving that cloying mouthfeel. No doubt it was aided by the little slice of plain dragonfruit I had which helped to cleanse the palate in-between trying different sweet snacks.

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I also really liked the little friand-style berry cakes on the sweet tier. They were simple with just a hint of fruity berry goodness, but were so buttery and rich that they felt absolutely sinful.

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To top everything off, there were some “still warm, fresh out of the oven” fruit scones to complete our high tea experience. Funnily enough, these two scones came with a full bowl of cream – I don’t know how others eat their scones, but there was absolutely no way we were going to be able to eat all the cream with only two scones! I enjoyed a range of the Beerenberg jams with the fruit scones – I think my favourite was the blackberry jam!

I always enjoy a high tea experience – it’s so completely novel to spend hours in the mid-afternoon leisurely eating your way through a variety of small savoury and sweet nibblies, sipping on tea. Thank you Bobbi for gifting us with this experience!