Quite often people describe me as weird. Not in a freaky ‘who invited this girl and why does she keep staring at me?!’ way, but more in a quirky ‘you have a weird sense of humour’ sort of way. I take it as a complete complement because in my opinion, anything weird, quirky and different makes the world more fun and interesting and I absolutely love discovering anything slightly new and unusual, especially when it comes to food. So when I discovered the Tart Afternoon Tea, which sounded like a mini West Country-themed feast with its selection of sandwiches, home-made paté and pickles, home-made chicken pasties, home-made sausage rolls, cheese scones, chutney, and cream cheese, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to try it all; it reminded me of all the farm shops my parents used to take me to when I was younger and I thought that it would be a lovely nostalgic treat to share with my best friend before I headed back to London for another gruelling semester at uni. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Today was quite possibly one of those days where everything seemed to go wrong. I’d already fallen down the stairs before even leaving my house, I got stuck behind a manoeuvring lorry for about 10 minutes on Gloucester Road, and once I had finally found a parking space within walking distance of the café, I read a text from my best friend informing me that she was going to be 15-20 minutes late. However, I had managed to park rather perfectly next to a giant tree without smashing my wing mirror off, so I was still in a pretty good mood and didn’t mind that I had a bit of a wait. As my best friend was, in fact, 40 minutes late, leaving me shivering in my little wooden seat, playing sudoko on my phone, and telling the waitress three times that I was waiting for a friend and was definitely not being stood up, I had a lot of time to look around and take in just how delightful this little café is. Everything is presented beautifully, from the cakes, jams, pickles, and other fresh produce behind the giant glass counter which draws you in as soon as you walk through the door, to the stacked panettone and other boxed delights on the shelves and cabinet behind the first set of tables. A lot of thought and love has clearly gone into this café to make it as homely and welcoming as possible. It was bright, bustley, and the smell of freshly ground coffee danced around the room doing flips and turns underneath your nose. However, a bit of heating would have gone a long way to making the customers just that little bit more comfortable (in as much that they could actually take their coats off) in what otherwise was a charming little place, quite typical of Gloucester Road’s array of independent businesses, which all offer something quite unique compared to the big corporate brands that are slowly starting to edge their way onto this notorious hotspot of creativity in Bristol.
After looking around at the other tables for about 10-15 minutes in the hope that I might spot a menu somewhere, and glancing hopefully at the chalkboards strewn across the walls with today’s specials on them, I finally plucked up the courage (something very hard for us Brits who politely don’t want to be an inconvenience) to ask the waitress if they did serve afternoon tea as advertised on their website. She immediately brought a menu over so that I could choose from their selection of afternoon teas available. As soon as my best friend arrived we set about ordering the Tart Afternoon Tea, but unfortunately they couldn’t do it as they didn’t have any home-made paté or chicken pasties. In the end, I ordered the Classic Afternoon Tea, and Shelley had the Savoury Cream Tea, consisting of a giant freshly-baked cheese scone, with cream cheese and chutney. We also ordered a plate of sausage rolls on the side – we’d come especially for the Tart Afternoon Tea and there was no way we were going to leave without sampling at least a little bit of it!
Now I’m going to admit that I have never had afternoon tea outside of London, but I was quite surprised that my two-tiered cake stand (not quite in keeping with my blog name!) was presented to me with no explanation of sandwich fillings or cake choices. In all fairness, the sandwich fillings were typical afternoon tea choices and quite obvious just by looking at them (ham and tomato, salmon and cucumber, egg mayo, and cheese and pickle), but my best friend and I treated the cakes like the taste-testing challenge on Masterchef. Whilst this did add an element of fun and surprise into our afternoon, it did grow tiresome quite quickly. The lemon cake was the only obvious one, and the nicest by far, as it was beautifully moist, light and fragrant, with a slightly sticky texture, and the perfect amount of flavouring to make this a delicious palette-cleanser. Shelley and I both agreed that the chocolate cake was far too strong, bitter and heavy, especially for an afternoon tea that included two large scones. The cheesecake was soft and very lightly flavoured with flecks of orange peel, but certainly nothing special; and what looked like a slice of bakewell tart, which is one of my favourite bakes of all time, had no trace of that sweet ground almond flavour whatsoever. To say the cakes were disappointing is a grave understatement.
The saving grace of the afternoon tea was the scones. My freshly baked sweet scones were absolutely perfect. Served warm, with a beautiful, fruity strawberry jam and fresh clotted cream, each mouthful was sweet and airy, with the perfect ratio of crumbliness to firmness; when you sliced your knife through the centre, they broke apart so effortlessly to reveal their soft, fluffy centres. No matter how full I was getting, I just couldn’t stop eating them!
Shelley’s freshly baked cheese scone was just as delightful. The cream cheese was light and smooth, and the chutney contrasted beautifully with its deep, sharp tones. And at the end of it all, you were left with the subtle after-taste of the cheese from the scone. If you find yourself on Gloucester Road craving a scone, this is the place to go. Sweet or savoury, you will not be disappointed!
I don’t normally say this, but the most exciting part of our afternoon at Tart was the tea (other than our conversations that seemed to turn entirely inappropriate as soon as a waitress was within a foot of our table)! Tart offer an extensive range of different teas, including ‘ATTIC Teas The finest Chinese teas, served in a special tea maker’. I ordered the Jasmine Green Tea Pearls (the only one that was left). If you are as easily amused as I am, I definitely recommend ordering one of these mesmerising teas. It comes in a large, see-through container, filled with hot water and the tea leaves floating on top. You leave it to stand until the leaves have dropped (like in the picture above), and then you place it on top of your teapot and it strains it for you. Other than the fact that the cups and saucers were slightly dirty, with tea marks on them, it was a completely delightful, delicious and novel experience. I love Jasmine Green Tea and this one was as light, delicate and aromatic as ever.
I have left the home-made sausage rolls until the end, as I have always left the best thing until last when eating and I felt that these beautiful mouthfuls of joy deserved the same honour. These were absolutely heavenly. Both Shelley and I agreed that without a doubt these were one of the best sausage rolls we have ever tasted (although Shelley did admit that she had some from Asda yesterday so anything would taste good in comparison)! They were beautifully seasoned, succulently juicy and the pastry was divinely crisp and golden. They are the reason I want to return! Although the afternoon tea, other than the scones, was average at best, these bite-size pieces of perfect contentment gave an insight into the potential that this café has to offer, and I am optimistic that the West Country themed Tart Afternoon Tea is everything I want it to be! Next time I plan to go though, I will definitely ring ahead to make sure they have everything available in advance, and possibly visit in the summer when hopefully it’s a little warmer!