Ladies who lunch afternoon tea at Boswells Tea Room Oxford - Bubbablue and me
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Ladies who lunch at 1738, afternoon tea at Boswells Oxford

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Edit: 1738 Boswells is now closed. There’s now a hotel in its place.

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.

Ladies who lunch afternoon tea at Boswells Tea Room Oxford - Bubbablue and me

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.

boswells Oxford shop front

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.

1738 tea room Boswells

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.

playing Duplo in Boswells toy department
lego table to keep children entertained at Boswells
Puzzles display at Boswells Oxford

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.

Table at Boswells tea room

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.

ham sandwich at Boswells Oxford
chilli chicken ciabatta

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.

spreading butter on tea cake and bagel

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.

cake selection at Boswells

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.

pistachio and olive oil cake
raspberry ruffle cake - Boswells

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.

eating gingerbread men

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 up 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?


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  1. OH this looks so yummy and what a lovely experience too. Food looks amazing. I am starving now and making me drool on the keyboard. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

  2. Thank you for the invitation to join you. It was great for our children to meet over the Lego and food. I haven’t been to Boswells before because it always feels quite hidden, but I’m sure I’ll be going back if only to look at the amazing Lego collection, although the Victoria sponge is very tempting too.

  3. afternoon tea is becoming huge here in Ireland too, all the posh hotels are doing it!! ive never been myself .. (because its so expensive here) but it looks fab.. next time im in the uk i will for def!! when in Rome and all that x

  4. My mum and me love our afternoon tea! This place looks nice for when I have L with me although if I am honest I do prefer the vintage prim and proper places as a treat!

  5. I totally would have gone for the afternoon tea! 🙂 What you opted for sounds fantastic too – I wish I had somewhere nearby like this!

  6. Afternoon tea is great, I’m a big fan. And I love it when you have a place like this inside a store – shopping and eating combined, makes shopping with kids so much easier! x

  7. I do love Boswells (and all your yummy-looking cake photos)! I visited the cafe recently too, and found the same thing about the table service, definitely a little over-attentive. They were very tolerant about my two little ones playing toy dinosaurs on the floor though! 🙂 A couple of my faves for afternoon tea in Oxford are Patisserie Valerie and Maison Blanc.

  8. I love afternoon tea so not sure I would’ve been able to resist! It does sound quite pricey though! That would definitely be a downside for me unless it was really really special.

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