Sunday, 7 July 2019

Tea Travels - Afternoon Tea at Oakley Hall Hotel

One of my favourite things to do, usually with my Mum, is to go for Afternoon Tea. I just love visiting numerous places and trying different versions of the traditional English pastime that is stuffing yourself with sandwiches, scones and miniature cakes! I mean, what’s not to like?! So, for my 30th Birthday back in October last year, my Mum and Dad gave me a voucher to enjoy afternoon tea somewhere I haven’t been yet – Oakley Hall Hotel in Basingstoke. We decided to wait until the weather was a bit nicer before we made our booking, and so, a few weeks ago, on a rather drizzly day (typical!) we headed over to Basingstoke to discover what treats Oakley Hall had in store!

Oakley Hall is an AA Four Silver Star Hotel and is ranked number one out of thirteen hotels in Basingstoke, so I was excited to see what it had on offer. The hotel sits in 315 acres of grounds and woodland – you literally feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you arrive – it is so peaceful and relaxing from the moment you turn up the winding drive. Although it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, the hotel is actually only six miles from Basingstoke train station and has easy access to the M3, making it easy to get to.

As we made our way up the impressive drive, the large country house came majestically into view. It was built in 1795 and was once owned by the Bramston family, who were friends of Jane Austen. But despite the 18th Century architecture, the inside boasts a beautifully modern and contemporary design, making you feel at home and relaxed as soon as you walk through the entrance. But before I take you inside, I just wanted to comment on the parking, which is always important, especially when you’re disabled. There is a complimentary onsite car park with easy access to the hotel. However, if you have a blue badge, like I do, you can actually drive right up to the house and park just outside the main entrance. This immediately made me feel at home, as we had no worries about how I was going to get into the hotel. 

We were greeted by the friendly reception team and directed through to the Glasshouse Restaurant, where our afternoon tea would be served. The first thing I noticed was how quiet the hotel and restaurant were – we visited on a Tuesday and were advised that weekends, understandably, tend to be a lot busier. One of the waiters showed us to our table by the window, overlooking the extensive grounds. The Glasshouse Restaurant takes its name from the original glasshouse designed in c.1850 by Edward Milner, a renowned landscape architect who also designed Oakley Hall’s gardens. It was built in 2014 and provides an elegant yet relaxed environment. I do find that some restaurants you go to can feel a bit pretentious and uncomfortable, but in the Glasshouse I felt immediately at ease and we were able to relax and enjoy our afternoon.

Our experience began with being shown the wide-ranging tea menu – it took us a few minutes to decide on which tea to try (although our waiter did say we could try a few teas throughout the afternoon, which definitely helped!) In the end, I opted for the Winchester Fruit Basket, as I’m a sucker for a fruity tea. We were each brought an individual teapot with our chosen tea in it, and waited a few minutes for them to brew before we sampled them. I was so pleased with my choice – the berry flavours were sweet but subtle and the tea had a beautiful red-pink hue. I’ve actually been searching for the tea since I came home because it was so delicious!

No sooner had we started drinking our tea, a huge cake stand arrived piled high with sweet and savoury treats. Our waiter introduced us to everything on the stand (although I did struggle to remember what all the different cakes were!) and then left us to tuck in! 

After taking a few pictures and admiring everything, we started on the sandwich course. First up was a filling I don’t think I’ve seen before on an afternoon tea menu – Chicken with Basil in a seeded roll. This was absolutely delicious – I originally thought this would be my least favourite, but it was full of flavour and just melted in your mouth. Then we moved on to a classic – Egg and Cress in a white seeded roll. Again, the filling was really tasty and the bread was so light and fluffy – not at all stodgy. 

We then progressed to sampling the two sandwiches – Ham and Mustard, followed by my absolute favourite afternoon tea sandwich – Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t have afternoon tea without it, so I was really glad to see it on the menu. And it didn’t disappoint – the salmon was tender and the cream cheese had a slightly lemony hint, which complimented the salmon perfectly.

As we were finishing our sandwiches, another waiter arrived at our table and told us he had heard we were there for someone’s birthday. He presented me with a piece of slate, decorated with ‘Happy Birthday,’ some strawberries and the most incredible white chocolate truffles. It was such a lovely touch and really made me smile.

I was impressed to see that we had two scones each – one plain and one fruit scone, which always makes me happy as this is definitely my favourite part of afternoon tea! We piled them high with jam and cream (which do you put on first? I always go jam first, and then a big dollop of cream!) and began devouring them. Both scones were light and fluffy, and the strawberry jam had a lovely fruity flavour. There was plenty of jam and cream to go around (I always worry about running out!) but I’m sure they would have brought more out if it were needed.

By this point, we were all feeling rather full, and we hadn’t even started on the cakes yet! We didn’t want to make ourselves feel ill, so decided to try a couple of the cakes there and then take the rest home to enjoy later. Thankfully the hotel staff were absolutely fine with this (I have been to places where they won’t let you take leftovers home with you!) and brought out some boxes to put our cakes in. There was such an amazing selection of cakes to try, and I really enjoyed tasting them all over the next day or so. The little coffee and walnut cupcakes were divine – so light and melt in the mouth, with just the right amount of icing. The profiteroles were also really interesting – I just assumed there would be cream inside them, but they actually had a sort of citrusy mousse instead, which went really well with the white chocolate.

The chocolate layer cake was incredibly rich and decadent, but perfect to share between the three of us. There were also two beautiful fruit tarts (I loved the pink pastry!) as well as a salted caramel and chocolate tart, which tasted very naughty! But I think my favourite sweet treat had to be the orange macaron – I like to think of myself as a bit of a macaron expert these days (OK, so I’ve eaten a lot of macarons from different places – that makes me an expert right?!) But this one definitely lived up to expectations, with a slightly crispy outer shell and a delicious cream in the middle.

I really didn’t want to leave the tranquillity of the hotel, and can imagine it must be a lovely place to relax and recuperate for a few days, away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But it was soon time for us to leave, and after a little wander around the spectacular grounds; we were heaving our full tummies back into the car and heading back to reality!

Whilst it would have been nice to have a few more people and a bit more atmosphere in the restaurant, it definitely didn’t spoil our experience and the service was second-to-none. We all really enjoyed our afternoon tea at Oakley Hall Hotel, and for a very reasonable £28 per adult, I would definitely recommend checking it out if you live nearby. 

If you’d like to hear about some of the other Tea Travels I’ve been on, you can find my posts here:
·     Peggy Porschen
·     The Ritz

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