Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

A good day out and an unexpected cream tea

on May 7, 2012

My in-laws are visiting this weekend so we’ve been spending time with them.  Yesterday we had a lovely Sunday lunch at the Vermont Hotel in the Bridge Restaurant, which comes highly recommended (Sunday lunch is currently two courses for £14.00 or three for £17.00, a price which belies the quality and presentation of the food, and the standard of service which is more what you’d expect from a much more expensive establishment) and a walk around Newcastle using a guide from huntfun, who produce “treasure hunts” around various towns in the UK (and a few in France).  Using the hunt booklet, you can take a 1-2 hour walk around the town, discovering unusual facts and hidden features which ordinarily a passer-by might not notice.  When you have completed the hunt you can register on the website, enter your score and print out a certificate.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we were keen to try another, and my in-laws had expressed an interest in visiting Durham cathedral, so we downloaded and printed off the Durham hunt (the hunts are available to order pre-printed for postal delivery to your home, which obviously results in a more attractive booklet but takes longer to arrive; costs vary depending on how many copies you require and who is participating), which we did today.  It took us quite a bit longer than the advised 1-2 hours, because we added in our own deviations into the cathedral (once to visit the cathedral, the second time for Grandma to buy postcards) and also to stop for lunch and afternoon tea.  It was a great walk, covering most of Durham, and an opportunity for Southern Daddy and me to reminisce and tell our children about our university days (and courtship, the majority of which also took place there).

After our first visit to the cathedral we decided to have lunch at the Almshouses (or, to give it its full title, Bishop Cosin’s Almshouse Café – I used to go there frequently as a student and I’m sure it wasn’t called that then!) on Palace Green.  They offer a wide selection of hot and cold sandwiches, salads and soup, as well as a variety of cakes, teas and coffees.  Some of us had enormous sandwiches, but those of us who chose the more modest soup offering (Tuscan Bean – delicious) had room for dessert.  Happily this included me, and I decided to have a fruit scone.  I wasn’t expecting to be offered cream and jam with it, but when I was I decided to accept and start my Cream Tea Award reviews for this year (it might be cold, but it is May, after all!).

Officially you can’t buy “a Cream Tea” at the Almshouses, but we’d already got a pot of tea for two with our lunch so altogether we had the makings of one.  The tea was great.  It came in a pot large enough for us each to have two oversized tea-cups full and came with plenty of fresh milk.  It also had a lovely flavour and for a change tasted as if it had been made with boiling water, rather than the hot water from coffee machines they tend to use in most coffee shops.  So maximum points for the tea. 5/5

There was a choice of scones: fruit, cherry or cheese (but no plain).  As I mentioned, I chose a fruit one, which was really very good indeed.  As well as the currants and sultanas, it also contained chopped peel, which I’ve not seen before but I enjoyed.  The scone itself tasted very fresh, was fluffy and crumbly, and had been kept at room temperature.  5/5

The jam was strawberry and an easily spoonable, spreadable consistency.  However, there was no choice of flavour.  2/3

The cream was whipped and fairly pleasant tasting, but not clotted.  1/2

I’m not sure of the overall cost of the cream tea as it wasn’t priced as such – the tea was £1.65 per person and we bought the scone with another cake (unpriced) so we’re not sure how it breaks down.  We have estimated at £4.30 which in my experience is average value for a one-scone tea (difficult to tell as it’s the first one of the year so might be adjusted when I have more basis for comparison).  1/2

In my sketchily-drawn list of criteria there are also 3 points available for the surroundings – 1 for a warm welcome and 2 for the comfort of the establishment.  I give the Almshouses 2/3 – the assistant was patient and welcoming and the table was clean but it was busy so we had to sit near the entrance which meant we had the kitchen noise and other customers passing by.  Good, but not perfect.

Altogether that gives the Almshouses’ cream tea 16/20.

We then continued with our hunt until the rain drove us into Vennel’s in Saddler’s Yard to round the day off with afternoon tea.  I resisted the temptation to have a second scone here, and instead ordered tea bread, thinking I was having something fairly modest, but I have to mention that  it was a very generous piece and more luxurious than most I’ve had, and was served with butter.  The walking around Durham, though, will have cancelled out the indulgences of today, so that makes it OK!


2 responses to “A good day out and an unexpected cream tea

  1. fionamerrick says:

    I’ve just been reading June’s edition of Country Living, which contains an article about secret / pop-up tea rooms – I think you’d love the concept! xxx

    • northmum says:

      Would that be similar to secret supper clubs? I have read about them and it sounds fascinating, but I’d like to know more. I’m not sure how it works in terms of food hygiene regs, if you’re in a private home but charging. It would definitely be nice to get a wider variety of tea styles – I’d like to try somewhere really smart and traditional too, like Brown’s in London.

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