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Time for tea

PUBLISHED: 06:06 18 August 2014

Summer tea party at Strattons Hotel, Swaffham.
Pouring the tea.
Photo: Denise Bradley

Summer tea party at Strattons Hotel, Swaffham. Pouring the tea. Photo: Denise Bradley

©Archant Photographic 2010

A rushed cup of tea and a couple of biscuits standing up in the kitchen before walking the dog or picking the children up from school is the nearest most of us get to afternoon tea indulgence.

So wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit down at a beautifully laid table for bite-size sandwiches, melt-in-your mouth biscuits and cakes that simply don’t take no for

an answer?

Enjoy the wonderful weather, invite your friends, set up a table in the shade, and prepare for the perfect tea party.

Picture your ideal setting, and start planning. Naturally there have to be cups and saucers – not mugs.

Borrow and mix and match from friends, or consider hiring fabulous vintage floral crockery from Norwich based Flowers for Tea (www.flowersfortea.co.uk). If heading for the mismatched look that is so popular this year, ensure there is a theme of colour, shape or pattern.

Remember milk jug, sugar bowl, tea plates and serving platters too.

Browse the selection at stores such as Bakers and Larners, Aldiss, Jarrold, Palmers, and Loose’s, or hire from companies such as Ashwellthorpe’s Anglia Elite, which can provide a small numbers of items as well as large (www.angliaelite.co.uk).

Sparkling teaspoons and knives are next, and then on to the star of the show – the teapot. It needs to be large enough to give one cup full for each guest before it’s refuelled; have more than one pot if you’ve more than five guests. If buying or hiring, test it pours impeccably too – and remember a tea-cosy!

Linen makes all the difference to a well-dressed table. A plain tablecloth and runner is best if the crockery is patterned, unless heading for the multi-coloured vibrant look. Press, and if it doesn’t cover the table put a contrasting sheet underneath and lay the cloth diagonally.

Crisp napkins are essential, roll up and tie each with ribbon, tucking in a flower. The same ribbon can be used to add a bow to each chair, perhaps with a flower too – not a huge bow, this isn’t a wedding! A tiny matching bow on the handle of each cup, tea pot, jug and around the sugar bowl is a lovely touch.

Beautiful flowers in a low vase, teapot or teacup are essential. Too high and they’ll be knocked over as guests reach for another sandwich!

Proper old fashioned roses are gorgeous; it doesn’t matter if they are in full bloom as falling petals look beautiful. Otherwise a bunch of wild hedgerow flowers and greenery can be charming.

A pedestal cake stand helps create space on the table for everything, and remember a serving tray, cake server, possibly a knife rest if cutting slices and a proper tea strainer and rest – this is not the time for teabags!

Paper doilies may feel too suburban for many, but how about crochet linen doilies? Look out for them in antique shops. Add bunting or ribbon or fabric bows to the surrounding trees or shady pergola if it needs extra interest.

For food, think light bites. That’s small sandwiches made from very good bread, filled with cucumber, or smoked salmon, tomato, or egg and cress.

Then old-fashioned homemade favourite biscuits, such as lemon melts, almond piped biscuits, coconut squares, walnut kisses, shortbread and gingernuts. All can be made in advance.

Follow these with little indulgent cakes. If they’re small, guests will try two or three rather than just one elaborate cup cake. So icing-topped fairycakes decorated with sugar flowers, baby butterfly cakes, meringues, iced petits fours (cut sponge cake into various small shapes, cover with icing, or brush with jam and roll in chopped nuts, or swirl butter icing on top and serve in individual paper cases) and slices of lemon drizzle cake.

If you haven’t time to make your own, buy from your favourite baker (Samphire make an amazing lemon drizzle, www.samphireshop.co.uk) and cut into smaller pieces.

Add tiny chocolate éclairs, a chocolate Victoria sponge filled with buttercream icing and a lovely pastel Battenberg cake.

Now just keep the hot tea flowing!

Afternoon tea is all about the food at Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, where the newly opened deli and tea room, Co Coes, is incredibly popular.

Afternoon tea is served on simply white crockery with open sandwiches and fresh cakes presented on slate platters. With cakes such as rhubarb and blueberry bustrengo, zesty lemon slice, raspberry and choc brownie, caramel nutty squares, giant meringues, marzipan and apricot cookies, chocolate swirl shortbread, beetroot passion cake, chocolate orange and olive oil salted sponge and sticky lemon polenta among the 20 or so cakes on the menu, the food certainly says it all.

Cook Maggie Cooper and owner Vanessa Scott say afternoon tea always feels like a treat, so delicious food is a must. “We like to get away from the fuss and let the food speak for itself,” said Vanessa.

Co Coes is open 8am-7pm, takeaway is available. See www.strattons-hotel.co.uk; 01760 723845. Thanks to the Strattons team for providing the food and garden location for afternoon tea.

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