THERE is nothing more quintessentially British than afternoon tea.
Sitting in the garden under a shady parasol sipping a refreshing brew from a bone china cup and nibbling on sandwiches (crusts removed, of course) and dainty cakes is a little piece of paradise.
Until the past few days, this summer has been been perfect for tea on the lawn – and with the interest in all things vintage showing no signs of waning, afternoon tea is being taken more seriously than ever.
Traditional, manageable, reasonably priced and delicious, afternoon tea appeals to all ages, so it is the ideal choice for all kinds of events from weddings and fetes to family get-togethers, boat trips and hen parties.
Put away the barbecue! Sandwiches, cakes and scones can be prepared in advance, keep nicely until teatime, and (given our unpredictable weather) can be eaten indoors or out.
I decided to see how teatime is being catered for in Oxfordshire, and was delighted to find that there are all kinds of ways in which to partake.
A marvellous innovation, in my opinion, the specialist afternoon tea caterer who delivers all the food and beverages you need for your tea party, plus china, cutlery and teapot; serves it; then clears it all up afterwards.
Sarah Plumridge’s business, Ruby Rue Teas, combines her two loves — baking and vintage china.
It started when she provided afternoon tea for a friend’s birthday party and made such an impression that it was suggested she should set herself up as a business.
That was four years ago, and Ruby Rue Teas is going strong — farmer’s daughter Sarah can cater for tea for two or 200, all prepared at home and using her trusty Aga.
“The great thing is that tea appeals to all ages — I have even catered for a 100th birthday.” she said.
Last month, Sarah, who lives in Stonesfield, had a pop-up tea room at Combe Mill, which is set in lovely grounds overlooking the River Evenlode, and she invited me and three of my friends along to sample her afternoon tea, which arrived looking very tempting indeed on a three-tier vintage stand.
With our tea poured into fashionably mismatched china cups, we nibbled on the delectable selection of crustless sandwiches filled with egg, cucumber, smoked salmon and ham, scones with jam, cream and strawberries, iced chocolate slices, banana loaf and little pots of homemade raspberry mousse. It was all absolutely delicious.
A delivered three-tier afternoon tea for a minimum of eight people costs £15, but Sarah is totally flexible and is happy to create a menu tailored to meet a customer’s specific requirements.
- For more information, call 01993 898797 or see facebook.com/rubyrueteas
Tea Set takes stress out of special occasions
Victoria Wills, of the Chipping Norton Tea Set, left, with Chris Blakesley-Grimes of Manor Cottages
The cleverly-named Chipping Norton Tea Set is the brainchild of Victoria Wills and it was her daughter’s 18th birthday party two-and-a-half years ago that got the ball rolling.
“Eleanor wanted a vintage tea party, so I made sandwiches, scones and cakes for 65 guests and decorated a marquee with flowers, balloons and bunting.
“Everyone loved it. It got me thinking about doing teas as a business,” said mother-of-four Victoria, 47.
She gave up her job as a bookkeeper and caters bespoke vintage tea parties full-time.
She is so busy that the food is now all prepared in a business unit at Chipping Norton. Victoria catered seven weddings last year, and this year it is 17.
The Chipping Norton Tea Set also furnishes bunting, flowers and home-made favours – tiny macarons under glass cloches are simply gorgeous.
Using local, free-range ingredients is her ethos. Gluten and egg-free diets can be catered for.
Victoria invited me to sample afternoon tea at Hillside Cottage in Swinbrook, one of a collection of 280 holiday homes managed by Burford-based Manor Cottages.
The holiday lettings firm’s owners, Chris and Jane Blakesley-Grimes, have linked up with the Chipping Norton Tea Set to offer clients an afternoon tea service.
“In our larger properties we often get big family groups, or friends celebrating a special occasion, who want to have a special meal together,” said Chris.
“Instead of all the hassle and expense of hiring a private chef to cater dinner, afternoon tea is a simple, reasonably priced option that is a bit different and fun. Victoria and her team bring everything that is needed, serve it, wash up and take it all away.”
My three friends and I sat down to a divine afternoon tea, served on tiered cake stands.
Savouries were egg and cress, smoked salmon and cream cheese, chicken mayo, and houmous with carrot and raisin sandwiches, along with tiny quiches filled with a mixture of spinach, feta cheese and pine nuts, and chicken.
There were soft scones with jam and cream, lemon drizzle cake, meringue kisses, cupcakes and chocolate macarons. It was washed down with Assam afternoon blend tea. Menus start at £13.50 per head and rise to £19.
- For more information, call 07967 833979 or see chippingnortonteaset.co.uk