Shrek Afternoon Tea

To celebrate the arrival of Shrek The Musical at Bristol Hippodrome, Harvey Nichols have decided to open their doors to the swamp and create a gruesomely green afternoon tea for all of their customers, young and old.  At only £12.50 this is a treat that the whole family can enjoy, although I would suggest that the portions are definitely child-size!

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The fact that the plate itself features a giant ogre Shrek face definitely creates some excitement as your bite-size treats are placed in front of you.  I started with the savoury products and worked my way up to the sweet treats on the board.

I have to admit that my Shrek-themed afternoon tea got off to a very good start.  My donkey-shaped sandwich filled with a sardine paté was absolutely fabulous; the sardine flavour was strong, but not over-powering, and the paté was super smooth and creamy.  The Shrek-head avocado sandwich was also a beautifully creamy affair.  I thought that it was really great that they had really thought about what kind of colours, smells, and tastes would be associated with the swamp.  Next, I moved onto the giant pea and mint mound, which was the only disappointing part of the tea.  The flavours were very mild, and there was just far too much of it for such a bland flavour.  Neither me nor my best friend finished this particular piece, but that was fine, as we got to wash away the weird after-taste with the refreshingly zesty ‘swamp juice’.  In contrast to the pea and mint nothingness, the swamp juice was probably my favourite part of the whole experience.  The flavours were strong and distinctive, and really got us talking about what exactly was in it and what it reminded us of!  We both decided that it was definitely a non-alcoholic mojito, and much better than any we had ever ordered at a bar.

I also loved the detail of the gingerbread man, and the vanilla cupcake consisted of a beautifully fluffy sponge and a wonderful green frosting to accompany it.  However, I was glad I saved the ‘ogre’s booger’ until last, as it really was a gruesomely awesome treat.  The ‘bogey’ was a wonderfully fluffy marshmallow, covered in green sugar crystals, with a piercing lemon curd that oozed out of the middle.  Luckily, I had managed to save the best to last!

To top it all off, we concluded our session with some cocktails and prosecco.

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All in all, my best friend and I had a wonderful time enjoying something that we definitely considered a treat.  It was our first time dining at Harvey Nichols and we loved the whole experience and will definitely be going back at some point!  We may have left a little hungry due to the size of the portions, but considering many of the big hotels and fancy restaurants charge more than £12.50 for a standard afternoon tea in Bristol it is not something that we felt massively hard done by.  Next time, we’ll know to order a scone or two on the side!

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Bake-a-Boo

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 21st birthday party of one of my best friends, Emma, at Bake-a-Boo in West Hampstead.  I was really excited about visiting this small ‘bake shop, tea room & party parlour’, as it comes highly recommended in a lot of reviews, but somehow it had managed to escape my cupcake radar!

From the second we stepped through the door, it was obvious why Bake-a-Boo has received constant praise from everyone who has set foot in this beautiful, homely tea room.  They truly go above and beyond with their afternoon tea bookings.  Not only did they dedicate the whole back room to this wonderful celebration so that it was like our own private tea party, they truly went to such an amazing effort to make it the cutest and most beautiful surprise a girl could wish for; Emma was absolutely delighted when she saw her beautifully decorated birthday room.  There was multi-coloured bunting, happy birthday banners, and party hats galore.  And don’t even get me started on the dressing up box and all its glamorous feather bowers that were waiting to be draped round our necks!

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The cuteness didn’t just end there.  Every aspect of the afternoon tea was dedicated to personal touches.  There was a little box for all the guests to place birthday wishes in, party bags full of sweets with little ‘E’ for Emma stickers holding them together, and the most adorable pink vanilla cupcakes with personalised ’21’ and ‘Emma’ flags poking out of the top!

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There was an absolute abundance of food too!  There were loads of little finger sandwiches packed with lots of different fillings, beautiful warm scones with mounds of jam and clotted cream served in heart shape dishes, thick slices of home made shortbread that were covered in icing sugar, indulgent mini brownie squares, sweet strawberries dipped in chocolate, multi coloured flying saucers, and, of course, cakes with candles for the birthday girl to blow out!

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I definitely filled up on all the goodies!  The scones were absolutely beautiful and could simply be pulled apart to be piled high with jam and clotted cream; the shortbread was sweet and crumbly; the dark chocolate brownies were heavenly indulgent; and the strawberries were wonderfully fresh and juicy, with a thick coating of chocolate that left us all picking at them even when we were full!

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I also adored the vintage mismatched crockery, and their tea selection was commendable.  I went for a fruity strawberry and kiwi tea to match the hot summer weather!  It was absolutely delightful and I’m pretty sure I drank nearly a whole teapot’s worth to myself!

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Overall, this was a fabulous tea party, which was thoroughly thought out and is completely worth the trip out of central London to West Hampstead!  Not a single complaint can be made about this afternoon tea, as it was carried out to absolute perfection.  We had a wonderful time and I would not hesitate to recommend this place to anyone who was looking for something special for an upcoming celebration.

Happy Birthday Emma!  I hope you had a lovely day!

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Le Déjeuner á Balthazar Boulangerie

Clearly, when it comes to writing about authentic French cafés in the heart of London, my GCSE French comes in rather handy (for once)!  Not that I can say much more than ‘Lunch at Balthazar Boulangerie’… But no one needs to know that!

I have to admit that Paris is one of my favourite European cities, and the one that I have visited the most considering it’s a short train ride away from London.  Somehow it manages to keep so much charm and French amour, despite the hoards of tourists that are constantly flocking to this beautiful, romantic city.  For me, part of the beauty and romance of the French capital are its small, cramped, simplistic wooden cafés and restaurants that are crammed into the backstreets, with menus that even Google Translate can barely help me with.  However, I jump for joy when I spot one with fresh sandwiches and cakes piled high on display, assembled to highlight an array of colourful meats, salads, and pastries, so I couldn’t be happier to find that Balthazar Boulangerie has captured my favourite part of Paris right on my doorstep!

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The choice was phenomenal, as every sandwich was bursting with a rainbow of fresh ingredients and the salads stood out vibrantly.  Eventually, my mum and I decided to share a sandwich and two salads.  And at the end of it all, we decided that we couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert to finish off the whole experience!  Truth be told, we’d been oohing and ahhing over the sugar-filled treats long before choosing our savoury ‘main’!

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We started our Parisian taste trip with a lovely salami, mozzarella and salad-filled sandwich on paysan (potato and onion) bread.  The flavours were a beautiful combination, and the bread was so light and fluffy, with a bit of a chewy crunch on the outside.  It was quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying in London.

The service was absolutely impeccable too.  Having told them that we were going to share the sandwich, they served it cut in half for us both to enjoy without having to battle with the cutting it in half ourselves.  You would be shocked at how many cafés and restaurants have served us things to share without extra cutlery, plates, or splitting it prior to serving.  Balthazar is one of those places that you instantly feel relaxed as the staff are so friendly and helpful and are actually good at their job!

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Usually I can give or take a salad, but these salads were to die for and I will definitely be returning for these time and time again!  The salad on the left consisted of gorgeous maple-roasted tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, lentils and caramelised onions.  Despite watching the mass of tourists, huddling under umbrellas and hoarding into Covent Garden on a typical London day in the season of April showers, the European and Mediterranean feel of the flavours and ingredients allowed your thoughts to wander to those days of summer, lounging by the swimming pool, basking in the hot, hot rays of the sun and enjoying the freshest and most delicious salads on your sun bed.  However, my favourite was the salad on the right: chickpea and cucumber salad with currants, mint, mixed spices, and Greek yoghurt.  It was the coronation chicken of salads, but with chickpeas instead of chicken!  The dressing was absolutely wonderful with the slight curry flavour sweetened dramatically with the tiny currants that made their way into every mouthful.  I literally could have eaten this all day!

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I then washed the whole thing down with a powerfully refreshing home made ginger ice tea.  It was fantastically fiery and sweet all at the same time.  I would definitely recommend one of these, especially if you’re feeling a bit bunged up; it most certainly ‘blows away the cobwebs’ as my dad would say!

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And to finish it all off we chose to indulge in a wonderful strawberries and cream choux pastry.  I have actually attempted to make choux pastry swans in the rather recent past, and I think my attempt (if it can even be called that) really allowed me to appreciate every little bite of this marvellous treat!  The pastry was crisp and light, and the gloriously sweet cream, combined with the freshest of strawberries really allowed the flavours of this beautiful treat to prevail.  I doubt I’ll be able to walk past Balthazar in the future without popping in to see what lovely French treats are on display for me to enjoy!

Bea’s Teas – A Tasty Guarantee

Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of

Bloomsbury, St Paul’s

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I love Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  I was introduced to Bea’s small, but wondrous collection of cafés by my flatmate, Lizzie. It was almost like a flatmate bonding session; as soon as she found out that I love cake (love possibly being a complete understatement) she excitedly exclaimed, “Ooooh, have you been to Bea’s of Bloomsbury?!  They do THE best cupcakes!  And Duffins!”  And after a slice of Guinness Chocolate cake on my first visit I was pretty much sold.

So last weekend Lizzie and I decided that there was no better way to start our Saturday evening of wining and dining (a.k.a. cake followed by glorious cocktails in the Radio rooftop bar on the Strand) than indulging in a delectable afternoon tea at the St Paul’s venue.  As we walked past the giant floor-to-ceiling glass windows that lead to the entrance, adorned with celebratory hearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day, we got rather excited, discussing our double-date plans for the following weekend!  The excitement continued as we were led straight to our table where our afternoon tea was ready and waiting for us and we were handed a generous menu of teas to choose from.  Our waitress possibly underestimated just how hungry we were when we arrived (and my impatience to order as I had eyed up the last few Duffins sitting behind the counter as we had walked through the door), as we had nearly finished our sandwiches by the time she came back to take our order and we could not move onto the scones without ordering our tea, as the clotted cream and jam are delivered at the same time as the tea.  However, I cannot fault the service for the rest of the evening, as they did give me my Duffin for free as an apology for taking so long and forgetting it the first time round, and they were very attentive as to whether we needed our tea topping up for the rest of our stay.

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The afternoon tea itself was completely faultless.  To start with, the mini baguettes were super fresh, simple, and tasty, with a lovely Mediterranean feel to them, with a choice of mozzarella, tomato and pesto or salami and rocket.  The scones were equally gorgeous, although I do prefer scones served warm, but I cannot fault the beautifully crumbly texture and the buttery contrast to the sweet strawberry jam.

However, the true pièce de résistance was the top tier of the cake stand.  Each mouthful brought with it a new taste and each new taste brought with it a little slice of heaven.  There were tasters of three different types of brownies: the rich and sweet Valrhona Chocolate Brownie, the nutty Killer Brownie, and the Belgian Blondie white chocolate brownie.  Whilst the Killer Brownie and Belgian Blondie scored top marks on the taste bud challenge, the absolute winner, hands down, was the Valrhona Chocolate Brownie.  The taste of the dark chocolate was powerful yet deliciously sweet, and each mouthful literally melted in your mouth.  I’m actually glad I don’t pass Bea’s of Bloomsbury on a daily basis, as I’m not sure I could allow myself to walk past without getting one!

The sweet chocolate treat continued in the form of cocoa-dusted meringues that were crunchy and simply delicious.

Quite possibly my favourite part of the afternoon tea was the homemade marshmallows.  Marshmallows like this are extremely rare and the flavours are like nothing you have ever experienced in this soft, gooey form before.  I have only found homemade marshmallows like this once before, in a sweet shop in Bristol, which has unfortunately shut down now, and so this little pink fluffy square took me back to my college days, sitting in class eating passionfruit-flavoured marshmallows and telling everyone that they had to try them!  And I will give exactly the same advice again: you have to try these!  Bea’s of Bloomsbury served us raspberry flavoured marshmallows and the flavour was soft, but distinct.  Their elasticity also made them extremely satisfying to pull apart before placing each piece in your mouth!

The flavour of the marshmallows was very similar to the flavour of the raspberry icing on the vanilla and raspberry cupcake.  Bea’s of Bloomsbury never over-power the flavours, they are always very delicate and subtle and completely and utterly delightful.  The sponge is always perfectly soft and bouncy, and the icing is always piped on exquisitely.  The cupcakes always look like a miniature piece of art, and I have to say the passionfruit and vanilla cupcake tasted like one!  The tiny hearts dusted over the top of the cakes added a lovely crunch in contrast to the soft sponge.  I always find that it is the attention to detail that make a big difference at Bea’s of Bloomsbury and put them slightly ahead of many of their competitors.  This and their baker, Bea, is extremely inventive with her creations!

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Meet the Duffin – a hybrid dessert consisting of a muffin and a doughnut.  My only regret over this incredible invention is that I was already full when I started eating it.  Luckily, however, I have an extremely sweet tooth, and the thick sugar coating only made me crave the sugar more and more.  With each mouthful I was astounded at how the outside was just like a doughnut, especially when you got to the jam centre, and the inside was as soft and fluffy as any muffin you could ever find.  Bea has also invented the Townie – the cross between a tartlet and a brownie, which unfortunately I have not tried yet.  Even if you don’t fancy afternoon tea at Bea’s, which is one of the best-valued in London at only £19 each, you have to go just to enjoy one of these creative, one-of-a-kind treats!  I can assure you now that you will not regret your visit!

Heavenly Sausage Rolls, But Mediocre as a Whole

Tart, Bristol 

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!