Sunday, October 17, 2010


One hundred apologies for the lack of scone-related information being sent to my loyal visitors.  This summer was passed in varying subtropical climes, and the Sconnoisseur's second home in the USA, where the humble scone appears to be an arcane if not completely verboten venture.  

One side-effect of opening up my thoughts and gullet to all things scone is that I have also become rather portly (to put it in as delicate a manner as possible).  As should be obvious, scones and diets are not compatible bedfellows, and thus returning my physical form to its usual Adonis-like shape must take priority over excess quaffing.  When I have returned, ther will be updates.  

In the meantime, I would congratulate the National Trust on their tearooms; although the opportunities to visit these numbered but two, I can safely say that Mompesson House in Salisbury and Fyne Court in Somerset were highlights of the summer in every respect.  Visit these at your leisure, and prepare to be impressed.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Scone On The Run - The River Cottage Canteen, Bath

And so, to Bath.  The Sconnoisseur will offer the caveat that this tea was consumed with a heavy cold, whilst also nervously glancing at the nearby clock to ensure that a parking ticket did not sully a day of Roman baths and other historical interests.

The River Cottage Canteen itself bears no relation to its more famous cookbook-spawning brethren (as far as I can tell), but is very enjoyable, with its own bakery, and obviously popular with all strata of the Bath population; the pensioner next to us was lost in her book, hearing aid turned off and enjoying the quiche.  The eager young chap applying for the open position of kitchen assistant will undoubtedly become some sort of captain of industry in the next decade.  

To the tea itself.  Initial omens were not good.  The friendly waitress was quite apologoetic that there was only scone left, and so my order was downgraded from a full afternoon tea to a quick cream tea.  But what did arrive was a highlight of this blog.  An early point winner was in the choice of tea (afternoon was chosen in this instance) in a glass infuser.  Added to this a homemade plum jam, and the generous helping of cream, and the one scone that was provided was enough to make up for any disapoointments on the journey thus far - a jounrey that mercifully ended with no parking tickets.

Where next?  To Sailsbury....

The River Cottage Canteen
22-23 Westgate Street
Bath BA1 1EP

Scone and forgotten - Selfridges Garden Café

Not much to say on this disappointment; less than two years ago, your reporter spent a wonderful afternoon on the top floor of Selfridges with old and new friends, before a very memorable weekend in the late summer sunshine.  Indeed, it could even be said that the seeds of this blog were sown at that very rendezvous. 

When one of said friends returned to these shores in May, our shared passion for afternoon tea was at the top of the agenda.  Alas, any other attempt at afternoon tea elsewhere was thwarted by a combination of bad geography and fully booked tea rooms.  In the end, returning to the scene of the crime was the final option, to see if the magic could be recaptured.  But it was not to be, though not for the want of trying.

The café itself was more of a canteen; strip lighting, unfriendly staff and, most critically,  the hardest of scones and the weakest of teas, served in grim metal teapots.  It was an effort to finish; the cream was from a plastic tub of Roddas, and not enough of it.  The Wilkins jam won points back with the choice of either raspberry or strawberry.  But it was not enough to sway either of us.  Alas.  Next time, we will try the café downstairs.

The Selfridges Garden Café

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sunshine Scone - The Mermaid Corner Tearoom, Rye, Sussex.

And so, the first lovely weekend of summer 2010 appeared.  Sunlight streamed through the feeble-at-best blinds in the new pad, indicating that it would indeed be far easier to rise early in the summer months, rather than the reluctant, morose stumble out of bed that had happened every working morning since settling in.  By 10am, the dazzlingly clear natural light did little more than highlight the crumbs of toast and other detritus that had fallen on the floor, not to mention the dust on the now brilliant white surfaces.  We had to escape, in the vain hope that some imaginary maid would turn up in our absence and make all the messy imperfection disappear.

Stopping only to gather up nearby companions, and the barely roadworthy second-hand Fiesta, we inched our way out of London, past the infamous Swanley Interchange, out into verdant green Kent and beyond to Sussex.  There were two options - fish & chips on the beach at Camber Sands, or a stroll around Rye.

In the end, we managed both, with Rye as our first stop.  Even on a Saturday, Rye is a delight. It is pretty much the quintessential English village that offers a living definition of 'pastoral'- cobbled streets, eccentric dwellings, beautiful blossoms in the churchyard, even an old sweet shop.  It brings to mind a nostalgia for an England we should have spent our summer holidays in, all fresh faced and innocent, surrounded by stonework and green fields, and a sun that sets later than it does these days.  As it happens, a few summers of my childhood were spent in Rye, but the only recollection that springs to mind is the discovery of an 8-track player and attendant tape of Abbey Road that got played repeatedly.  This time, some 20+ years later, the highlight was our afternoon tea at the Mermaid Corner Tearoom.

Anyone who prizes ceremony and etiquette as part of the afternoon tea experience should look elsewhere in Sussex.  For in this instance, there is none beyond the matching tea set and crockery.  The tearoom is connected to the Old Borough Arms Hotel above it, but is its own distinct entity.  It's at once modern and old fashioned, with outdoor seating crammed into the cobbled street outside; the desired result should be European-cosmpolitan, but next to a main road (albeit on a bend with scant passing traffic) and the menu offering afternoon tea, it still retains a charming Britishness.  In the sun, it's idyllic, the collective reverie interrupted only by a hen party who are trying to spell the word 'featuring' on a mobile phone and locating the rest of their party.

Once the expectant hens had disappeared and the tea delivered, everything suddenly seemed right in the world again.  The scones themselves (offered with and without raisins - I chose with) are delicious, seemingly freshly baked, and offering a consistency and sweetness that balances out the cream (clotted, but not fresh) and jam (strawberry) which were generously if not plentifully supplied.  Topped off with a delicious pot of Early Gray, which ceded two cups' worth, this was one of the most enjoyable Sconoisseur experiences in a long while.  Indeed it took a lot of willpower not to order a second round, and were it not for the pleas to explore the village from my fellow diners, there would certainly have been another order placed.  

In the end, though, one round was enough.  We walked round the town, half-remembering the verge where younger siblings fell down and broke off their big toenail, glumly catching the enticing bakers and churches just as they were closing.  By the time we'd got to Camber Sands, our appetites had returned, and we ended the day with a hearty fish and chip dinner sat on the beach.  If only all weekends were like this...

Address: The Old Borough Arms, Strand Quay, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7DB

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scone One: Marks & Spencer strawberry scone

It was all going to be so grand.  The idea for a blog that covers the truly English concept of tea and scones has been germinating for a while, and once a suitable title was settled upon, there were plans for a spectacular entrance. 

The Sconnoisseur intended to spend a beautiful spring day visited some National Trust tearooms with companions, enjoying their freshly baked scones and mismatched china after admiring the various old buildings to which they were attached.  Unfortunately, said companion was otherwise engaged, and the day was instead spent watching an entire season of 30 Rock.  Fear not, however; with the blog up and running, any plans for tearoom visists will surely come to fruition.

Nontheless, everyone has to start somewhere, and The Sconnoisseur has decided to begin with what should be the grand dame of high street scones.  Everyone sees those Marks & Spencers adverts at Christmas, and they're enough to convince the household matriarch that the generous budget allocated for the feast of the 25th should be spent at M&S.  No other supermarket could dream of doing that; by trying to compete, Tesco, Asda et al only succeed in making themselves look tacky.  But what of the rest of the year? 

These scones have been consumed by your writer long enough to know they've jumped in price by at least 50 pence in the last seven years (currently 1.79 in most branches), and despite various packaging alterations - where they once sat in a piece of replica gingham paper case, they're now housed in a proper box, and a plastic tray - their taste remains unaltered.  The cream is mostly sugared air, the jam far too sweet and the scone itself a crumbling fib.  It's not scone at all, more a collection of crumbs and what feels like chalk dust which falls apart too easily after the first bite, and practically disintergrates once actually in the mouth.

So, as an actual scone, it fails completely.  But as an experience - something to accompany that hastily grabbed sandwich while you run through Waterloo station and try to catch the next train to wherever you need to go, or sat at your desk - it lends an air of summery liberation to proceedings, an echo of the best picnics, a promise of things to come.  Feeling wistful?  Pick up these and you'll be counting the days until you can unroll that blanket on the green again.