Review: Afternoon Tea At Waddesdon Manor
I've always wanted to try afternoon tea. There's something about eating ten tiny sandwiches and dainty little cakes that seems so much more fun than just committing to one large culinary event.
With my grandma's birthday fast approaching (and then fast whizzing by - it was in March), today seemed like the perfect day for a trip to Waddesdon Manor (I'm a good grandchild, I promise).
Despite having parted with an eye-watering £35 a head for the occasion, I didn't have particularly high expectations for the day. Largely, I think, because I always assume these enormous country houses are trying their best to rip you off at any cost.
The £35 afforded one:
- Entrance into the grounds
- Afternoon Tea
- A glass of sparkling wine with said Tea
Entrance into the Manor would have required another tenner or so on top had we been so inclined, but luckily we're an uncultured lot and were more than happy to simply look on from the outside. Of course, if you are a National Trust member, you'd only be paying for the Tea experience.
While a pricy day out (especially if you decide to treat your Nan), this is, in my view, worth it if you commit to arriving early and making a day of it (something that we, arriving at about one thirty, didn't quite manage).
For those planning on bringing their own picnic, you may be interested to know that at no point during the entire day did anyone ask us for proof of payment for entering the grounds. I'll just leave that nugget there...
SO on with the day itself.
We set off (Mother, Father, my sister, my grandma and I). After the initial battle to see who would take up the much-loathed middle seat in the car (I won) we set off on a pleasant drive to the Manor. Here is a photo of me trying to look cool outside our house:
I am looking particularly pleased with myself because everything I'm wearing is either a hand me down or from a charity shop, thus I slowly claw back the £35 I have spent on the day.
Upon arrival at the Manor, there is plenty of parking, which, by some miracle, does not cost extra. There is a wally bus* to take you to the Manor (which, I must say, is running very regularly), or you can opt for a fifteen minute walk through the lush green grounds.
We opt for the latter, although have to pause en route because we are all hideously unfit.
Time passes, and we arrive at the Manor.
It is a beautiful spot - carrying its own charm by day and night. Although the busy-ness of the car park suggested that many visitors would be within the grounds, the area feels our own.
My personal feeling is that there is enough to be seen and admired in the Manor grounds to negate the need for a house ticket. Waddesdon boasts a gorgeous rose garden, an aviary lined with impressive bird-shaped shrubs (don't risk your imagination on this one - photos below) and some striking modern artwork to prove that these National Trust properties are still 'up to date'.
Additionally, I rather fancied engaging in the 'Tour de Waddesdon' led by a cheery looking bird cartoon, however this seemed to be mainly geared towards any kiddies visiting the Manor.
I find myself moved by the Ivy (left), My sister and I have japes in the aviary (above) and I ponder whether I am more impressed by the bird shrub hedge or the blown glass pumpkin he contemplates (below).
Having explored the beautiful grounds and (for the most part) avoided the showers, it was time to head to the main event: T E A.
Upon arrival at the Manor restaurant, we were greeted by one of the most cheerful men, never mind waiters, that I have ever met in my life, which certainly buoyed the experience right from the get go.
I felt it was a nice touch that we were still offered tea alongside our sparkling wine, and there was a hugely impressive selection to choose from (I played it safe with chamomile and now will be forever wondering what if..?). It came beautifully presented:
Following the tea and wine we were treated to our savoury course: a delicate array of nibbles for the refined yet hungry palette:
While I found the spread a little pastry heavy, I could hardly get a word in edgeways in the conversation while every member of my party praised the pastry chef to high heaven, so don't let my thoughts deter you on this matter.
The spread included such delights as a pea and mint tart, pear and stilton rarebit and the classic egg mayo sandwich given a new look with the addition of smoked salmon. Frankly it was top notch.
After this came the real main event - the dessert tray:
My friend, it is my pleasure to share with you the news that there was one of these bad boys each and that anything not eaten could be taken home in a lovely stylish box to be enjoyed on another occasion.
Although I am a self-confessed chocaholic and the brownie was indeed excellent, the true stars of this tasty show were the rhubarb and custard flavour macaroon and the peach melba panacotta. All in all a pretty impressive selection, and my only qualm would be that I didn't really fancy much more pastry.
Every small detail seemed to have been considered, and the staff treated us with the attention that a belated grandma's birthday tea truly deserved. (On leaving the restaurant, my new favourite waiter showed us out as gleefully as he had welcomed us in - what a hero.)
All that was left to do was peruse the gift shop (an obligatory part of any National Trust visit) and stroll back to the car even slower than we had arrived.
For those considering afternoon tea, I would absolutely go for it for a special occasion. Here are, in a nutshell, my tips for getting the most out of the day:
Arrive early and make the most of the grounds - there's plenty to keep you busy for a whole day.
Splash out the extra few quid for 'sparkling tea' - it feels infinitely more special.
Book for lunchtime - there is more than enough food on offer for this to be a proper meal and saves you an awkward decision around 7pm.
Try and bring a small child with you - every single toddler I saw on the day seemed to be having an absolute whale of a time.