Horace Walpole, politician, gossip and man of letters, first moved into Strawberry Hill, his gothic fantasy villa by the Thames in 1747 and stayed put for the next 50 years. This month the house is hosting a series of events to celebrate the writer’s tercentenary, including an 18th-century style tea party. Guests will be served finger-sandwiches and Fortnum and Mason’s Royal Blend Tea as they stroll through the recently restored grounds – designed by Walpole to be a place of bucolic groves, lilacs, syringas and honeysuckles “hanging down in festoons”.
Tea wasn’t Walpole’s tipple of choice – in a letter to a friend he noted that it provoked a “weakness” in his stomach – but by the mid 1700s, tea gardens were all the rage amongst the fashionable set. More refined than “pleasure gardens”, tea gardens, such as the ones at Vauxhall and Marylebone, charged a shilling for admission and offered their promenaders tea and coffee, cheese, cakes and syllabubs. More upmarket still, Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea charged half a crown for “the Elegant Regale of Tea, Coffee, and Bread and Butter.”
For anyone who misses out on a ticket to Walpole’s tea party, Strawberry Hill is also home to the Cloister Coffee House Cafe: a comfortable eatery serving soups and salads, warmed flatbreads and a tempting selection of cakes including lemon drizzle and a toothsome Jamaican ginger and date sponge. Take a peek around the house itself. It inspired Walpole’s early gothic novel, “The Castle of Otranto”, and is every bit as fabulous as you’d expect.
The gardens at strawberryhillhouse.org.uk are open seven days a week, 10.30am -5.30pm, 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham, TW1 4ST; check website for entrance times to the house itself and its excellent private tours; thecloistercoffeehouse.co.uk is open Saturday to Wednesday 10am – 5.30pm, until Nov 1. fortnumandmason.com
Five of the best places for tea
The Foodie Bugle Shop/Tearoom, Bath
Housed in a lovingly restored Georgian house, this shop-cum-tearoom is handily located just next door to Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Great for browsing, this enticing emporium sells both pretty linens and vintage glassware and a wide selection of local artisanal products chosen by its foodie owners, Silvana and John Paul. Take tea upstairs for a view over the walled garden. The Bugle’s cakes, baked daily by baker Katherine Faraway, include several vegan delights. Look out for the chocolate and banana slices.
thefoodiebugleshop.com 2 Abbey Street, Bath, BA1 1NN tel: 07762 330519. Open daily until 6pm.
Petersham Nurseries, Richmond and Covent Garden
Petersham Nurseries, the upmarket garden centre coupled with an award-winning restaurant and tea house, has long been a favoured destination of green-fingered West Londoners, rock stars and media-types. An exciting new branch has recently opened in Covent Garden’s Floral Street, enabling non-Richmondites easier access to the nursery’s verdant delights. The 16,000 sq ft site, artfully arranged around a bosky courtyard, houses two restaurants (due to open early in 2018), a deli, a home and garden shop and a florist. The home of the fragrant brew.
Pump Street Bakery, Orford
Perched on the edge of the salt marshes of Orford estuary, this small family-owned bakery and cafe is well worth a pilgrimage. Teatime visitors will have a tough time choosing between the bakery’s heavenly doughnuts, flakey apple-turnovers, Pastéis de Nata and the best Eccles cakes outside of the North West. Don’t forget to stock up on some authentic tasting baguettes and cherry sour-dough loaves. The cafe’s loose leaf teas are supplied by the Rare Tea Company.
1 Pump Street, Orford, Suffolk; tel: 01394–459829; for opening times visist: pumpstreetbakery.com
Espresso Yourself, Scarborough
Opened by Costa alumnus Andy Walker, Espresso Yourself is located in Scarborough’s most uplifting corner, surrounded by the faded grandeur of once-posh hotels like the Grand and the Royal. But even at their peak none would have served anything to compare with the ‘award-winning Seasons coffee’ of Espresso Yourself. Enjoying an Americano or Chai Latte (a recent special was Pumpkin Spice Latte) with a modestly-priced snack (top whack is £5 for a chicken and bacon panini with salad, crisps and coleslaw) in this spacious, well-lit, genially efficient coffee bar is one of the resort’s finest moments. And afterwards, it’s just a 50-yard walk to the cliff-top view of beach, harbour and castle, perhaps the most spectacular seaside vista in Britain.
Espresso Yourself Coffee House, 13-14 Falconer’s Road, Scarborough YO11 2EN, tel: 07836 632713; email@example.com
Cellarium Café, London
A great café and terrace with Abbey attached… The Cellarium Café resides over two floors in the medieval cellars of Westminster Abbey, accessed via a 13th century stone arch which takes you into Dean’s Yard and the tranquil and beautiful cloisters behind the Abbey. Inside, you’ll find a clean and airy café space run by restaurant chain Benugo, serving breakfast, lunch and tea, plus Sunday roasts. This November, the Cellarium launches its Christmas tea – a satisfying mix of sandwiches, scones, mini sprout and stilton tarts, mince pies, gingerbread stars, spiced teas, cranberry bellinis, and tiny squares of Christmas cake.
Cellarium Café, 20 Dean’s Yard Westminster Abbey London SW1, tel: 0207 222 0516; benugo.com/restaurants/cellarium-cafe-terrace. The Cellarium Christmas afternoon tea is available from 27 Nov, served daily between 12.00 – 4.00pm, from £21.50 per person
Photograph: courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University