I’ve never been one to pick at food (my mum would have said otherwise during my childhood),and have a hearty appetite, so being invited to try out afternoon tea in the new tea rooms at Boswells and co. Oxford, was going to be a real treat.
Whenever tea rooms are mentioned I get the picture of Edwardian, prim and proper afternoon tea, vintage crockery and decoration, and a real cosy old fashioned affair. My previous experience of Boswells as a department store was pre-6th form trying and failing to find a suit that fitted my 6th form uniform list requirements, and buying marbles as a child from the marble pick and mix in the toy section. Boswells always seemed like quite an old fashioned conservative store and a traditional tea room would have fitted in well.
But the 1738 tea room surprises. It’s not at all fuddy duddy or full of vintage pictures and crockery. No, it’s modern, bright and light but still with those pretty touches that you’d expect to see.
I took along a blogging friend Kate, and our children who met for the first time. A late lunch treat was always going to be a winner for them, especially with the amazing labyrinth of the toy section to explore afterwards.
The tea room is easy to find and there’s plenty of tables. We’d reserved a table, but although it was busy, I didn’t notice people having to wait for a table. With the kitchen area open plan there’s plenty to watch as the staff move around. The best thing about a tea room (apart from the cake) has to be having waitress or waiter service unlike most cafes nowadays. The waiting staff were very attentive and helpful in letting us know what was available for the children. There’s not a specific kids menu, but they’ll make sandwiches, or smaller versions if you want them.
We decided against afternoon tea itself, but we saw some tiered plates being made up for another table – afternoon tea includes 3 different types of sandwiches, plus a variety of cakes and scones, and then you choose the drinks you want separately. Afternoon tea for 2 was £16.95, or £21.95 with wine. Instead we opted for sandwiches, posh toasties, bagels and teacakes.
The children demolished theirs, and I have to say that the chilli chicken toasted ciabatta I had was delicious. All came with crisps and a small salad – mine had a pesto-y dressing which wasn’t something I’d tried before, but I’ll be trying to replicate myself. That’s something from someone who doesn’t usually do salad dressing. We had a nosy at the next table, and their quiche and salad, and sausage roll and accompaniments looked really tasty too. The menu isn’t massive, but there’s a good enough choice for any group wanting something hot or cold.
There’s a good selection of drinks, from juices to different types of tea. Bear in mind though, that drinks are generally where the costs can increase, because delicious posh juices are never cheap, and unless your children only drink water or will share a bottle of juice, you have to stump up for what’s on offer and pay expensive bottled juice prices.
Of course, the main reason for going to eat in tea rooms is the cake and Boswells’ tea room doesn’t disappoint. I love to see a cake display, and theirs is in the middle of the room for all to see and salivate over. It was hard to keep children’s fingers from getting too close, but it’s a great way for customers to pick what they’d like rather than choosing from a menu description.
There were a lot to choose from, but given my diet I am meant to be on, I opted for the relatively saintly gluten free pistachio cake. N wanted a gingerbread woman, while the others opted for victoria sponge or the beautiful pink ombre ruffle sponge cake. All of the sponge cake slices were generous, and however pretty the ruffled icing sponge was, I don’t think even I could have finished it off.
One thing I really like about the tea room is that so much of the food is locally produced or made. I do like to support local businesses especially on the food side.
There are a few things that were a bit disappointing. The toilets are some way away which is unusual for cafes in department stores, so unless you want to be trekking up and downstairs with children, make sure they go before you sit down. The waitress service is good, but for me a little bit too attentive from some staff, which might have worked with some people, but our children weren’t playing and that wasn’t recognised.
And the cost. There are set menus and if I was eating at Boswells tea room again I would make sure we had a set menu. There’s a breakfast and lunch menu (lunch is £9.95 for a hot drink, quiche or pie with salad and chutney, and cake), and the afternoon tea which is more of a special treat. But our bill came to £50 – admittedly for 5 people, but the kids had meals that were only a couple of pounds each so the drinks and cake really pushed the price up. Maybe I’m just not used to paying for more than 2 people, but it felt pricy for lunch.
If I’m in Oxford and want somewhere a bit more unique than the high street coffee shops, or just want a drink and cake then I’d stop in again.
Do you eat out for afternoon tea? Where’s your favourite place to go? What’s your favourite cake?
Disclosure: I was given a voucher for afternoon tea at Boswells for the purpose of review. All words and opinions are my own.
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