Monday, 1 October 2018

Tea Travels - Afternoon Tea at Pennyhill Park

Long time no see! I seem to have neglected my blog recently and I’m not sure why. Well, I am in a way – my health has been pretty rubbish, we had a family holiday to Disneyland Paris and a lot of my time has been taken up with medical appointments. But I also think I just seemed to lose my way a bit when it came to writing. I’ve loved creating videos for my YouTube channel but my brain just hasn’t been able to get itself in the right place for putting words together to make something coherent. Perhaps I just needed a bit of a break after university finishing – life has definitely been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last few months! But I think I’ll talk about that more in a separate post. Because today, I’m here to introduce you to a brand new series on my blog, which I’ve decided to call ‘Tea Travels.’ 

Calling it a new series is possibly a little misleading, as I’ve shared a few posts over the years from afternoon teas I’ve tried. But I’ve decided to actually give the posts a name now, perhaps in the hope it will encourage me to try more afternoon teas to tell you about! For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved going out for afternoon tea. It’s not always easy when you have chronic illnesses that affect your digestive system, but it’s become a bit of a ‘thing’ that my Mum and I can do together, and I just love the whole experience. Arriving at some place fancy (or not so fancy!), the excitement when the tea stand is brought to your table and the fun of trying all the different sandwiches, scones and yummy cakes. For something that is so ‘typical’ (i.e. sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea) it’s great to see how many different ways places manage to find to present it. I’ve tried a lot of afternoon teas over the years, but no two have ever been the same.

Last month, my Mum and I headed down the road (quite literally – we don’t live far from there!) to Pennyhill Park to check out their take on afternoon tea. I’d bought my Mum a voucher for her birthday back in February, but we had decided to wait until the summer to enjoy it. I’ve actually had afternoon tea at Pennyhill Park once before – a number of years ago with a friend, and had really enjoyed it then, so I knew my Mum would love it. Plus we didn’t have the stress of having to travel up to London and back, which is always a plus! 

It was a lovely warm sunny day as we made our way over to Bagshot, Surrey. Driving up the winding driveway towards the hotel, you get that excitement and anticipation of what you’re going to see, even as someone who has been there once before. I can imagine it would be a beautiful setting for a wedding. We followed the signs for disabled parking, which took us to the front of the hotel. Unfortunately, they only seemed to have one disabled space (which was taken), so we ended up having to drive over to the main car park. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but the only way to get to the hotel was down an extremely steep slope – too dangerous for attempting in my wheelchair (I could see myself slipping and being tipped out – not a good start to a relaxing afternoon!) So I ended up having to walk, which was far from ideal. Thankfully there were several benches placed along the way, so I had to keep stopping to have a rest, but it’s a shame there didn’t appear to be a bit more space for those with disabilities. 

Despite the initial difficult start, the rest of our afternoon was fantastic. As we arrived in reception, we were directed down a beautiful corridor towards the restaurant where afternoon tea is served. A huge chandelier hung by a grand staircase, and as light from the window streamed through and bounced off the glass, it created a scattering of rainbows across the stone floor. It truly was magical and I’d love to explore more of the hotel one day. We were seated by a window overlooking the outdoor swimming pool by a friendly waitress and given our tea menus to peruse and decide on the tea we wanted to try first.

After a lot of deliberation, I chose a Flowering Osmanthus tea and my Mum went for the Pennyhill Park blend. When my tea was brought out, I was advised to leave it for a few minutes but to watch the pot carefully. Intrigued, my Mum and I kept an eye on the green plant-like object in the bottom of the teapot as it began to fall open, revealing an orange flower in the centre. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it! Once it had fully opened, I poured myself a cup and gave it a try. It had an incredibly delicate, but beautifully floral and slightly fruity taste – a perfect accompaniment to the more rich flavours of afternoon tea.

Then came the excitement, as our lovely waitress brought out our tea stand, minus the scones. We started with the sandwiches:
·     Roast chicken, sweetcorn and bacon mayonnaise on White bread
·     Oak smoked salmon with dill cream cheese on Beetroot bread
·     Cave aged gruyere cheese with homemade red onion chutney on Onion bread
·     Egg mayonnaise with watercress on Multi Grain bread

I’m not normally a sandwich person, but there’s something about finger sandwiches that just makes them so darn tasty! My favourite type of sandwich tends to be smoked salmon, but actually, both my Mum and I really loved the cheese with onion chutney – the cheese was so smooth and the chutney so sweet – we ended up having another round of sandwiches because we couldn’t stop at just one! 

As well as the standard afternoon tea sandwiches, I found out that Pennyhill Park could also cater for a whole range of dietary requirement. They have specially made sandwiches for diets including gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy free and pescatarian, so there really is something for everyone. 

As we finished our sandwiches, our waitress brought out a plate of warm freshly baked scones, clotted cream and strawberry preserve. There were two scones each – one plain and one fruit. Scones can sometimes be quite stodgy, large and filling, but these were the perfect size, light and fluffy. And the strawberry preserve was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before – I’m sure it was homemade but if not, I might have to ask them where they buy it! 

We were given a small shot glass containing a lemon parfait with elderflower sorbet to cleanse our palette between courses, which I don’t think I’ve ever been offered at an afternoon tea before. It was so fresh and zingy – I particularly loved the sorbet, especially with it being a warm day.

At this point, we were asked if we would like some more tea, so I decided to try a different one. This time I went for a berry tea, which had more of a strong flavour, so I’m glad I went for the more delicate one to begin with. The patisserie chef also came to our table to talk us through the cake selection, which I think was a really nice touch. She was able to talk in detail about each individual cake and answer any of our questions. The cakes looked beautiful on the top tier of our cake stand and it was difficult to decide which one to try first! They included:
·     Raspberry Tonka Chocolate Opera Cake
·     Red Fruit Ruby Chocolate Tart
·     Roasted Peach, Milk Chocolate and Almond Whipped Ganache Choux Pastry with gold leaf on top
·     Apricot and Pistachio Macaron

As we were there celebrating my Mum’s (belated) birthday, they even put a little chocolate candle in one of the choux buns, which I thought was such a lovely thoughtful touch. The cakes were all amazing, but my favourite had to be the macaron (I’m slightly obsessed with macarons in general!) I love pistachio flavour and the apricot complemented it so well – I could easily have eaten more! The Opera cake was also delicious and it was quite interesting to try the Fruit tart, as it had been made using ruby chocolate, which has only been around since last year. It was developed and created by Barry Callebaut, who first had the idea in 2004, but didn’t create it until September 2017. Apparently it is made from a naturally occurring ruby cocoa bean, but the way it’s made is being kept top secret at the moment. Still, you can’t go wrong with pink chocolate!

After our waitress had boxed up the remaining cakes that we couldn’t eat to take home and finish later, my Mum and I headed outside to explore the grounds a bit. Pennyhill Park hotel and spa is set in 123 acres of Surrey countryside with tended flower bed, mature trees (one Cedar tree is 600 years old!), topiary, decorative ponds and a waterfall. It really is a beautiful place to spend time relaxing. When I last went for afternoon tea, we were able to sit outside by one of the ponds, but I’m not sure if they’re still doing this. You can see for miles across the treetops of Surrey and on a sunny day it is really nice to just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. Can you imagine the wedding photos you could take here?! 

The spa also looks insane – we could only see the outdoor part, but the deep blue of the pool contrasted with the white parasols and loungers just reminded me of being on holiday. There was even a little bar by the pool serving cocktails and other refreshments – I can only imagine how luxurious it is inside. I said to my Mum that one day, I would treat myself to a spa weekend there so I can explore more of the hotel, see what the spa has to offer and sample some more delicious meals in the restaurant!

All too soon it was time for us to burst the relaxing bubble we were in and head back home. As we passed a couple of fancy sports cars by the entrance (couldn’t these spaces be for disabled guests?!) and headed back up the steep slope, with plenty of rest breaks along the way, we vowed to go back again soon. The afternoon tea menu is changed seasonally, so you could visit several times across a year and enjoy a different selection of foods every time. And based on how delicious our afternoon tea was this time, I think we will definitely be making a return visit in the not too distant future.

You can read about some of the other afternoon teas I’ve tried too:
·     Peggy Porschen
·     The Ritz

Are you an afternoon tea lover? Where are your favourite places to go? Perhaps I can add them to my list!

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