Sometimes the day just gets away from you. By the time we had ambled through lots of counties with ‘shire in the name, we had managed to miss lunch at the Vineyard, a short trot away from Newbury. A shame, since our intention had been to polish off the Michelin starred dishes on the Vineyard’s a la carte. Less of a pity when we read the daily ‘fusion of food and wine’ (£85 per person with wine, £55 without), an underwhelming set menu featuring a salad of marinated trout, roast chicken wing with scalded scallop, cream of new potato, roast lamb and crŹme brulee. Hopefully the matched wines (would have made the experience more interesting but if you’re driving, you’re not drinking. But we did have a lucky escape from the ‘Ladies Luncheon, Diamonds and Pearls’ on 20th September – a 3 course lunch with wine and drinks on the theme of Jewellery in Fashion. Help me God – what would I have worn?
So, after a quick buff of the cubic zircon (my husband is fond of costume jewellery but I only let him wear it on weekends), we settled instead for afternoon tea. This is served in either the conservatory, furnished with large comfortable sofas in early Italian Palazzo meets John Lewis, or in the small lounge area near the bar which looks like a nice house in Fulham, but with staff. The latter is hushed and decorated with patterns of the gently disagreeing, endlessly repeating sort (a bit like cucumber) from a palette my mother would approve of – something between khaki and olive green, which she would claim ‘hides the dirt’. I’m beginning to think this isn’t such a bad idea after recently redecorating our house in singing, vibrant shades straight from the Luscher colour test, and which has resulted in the husband yelling ‘take your hands off the walls’ at the kids at regular intervals. We’re surely candidates for the Colour your Life ladies lunch at the nearby Donnington Valley Hotel but, darn, we missed that one too.
Tea arrives in proper style, borne by a diminutive waitress with knees buckling under the weight of the tray containing all the necessary paraphernalia; Wedgwood china tea pots, clattery cups and saucers, and a three tiered silver stand groaning with goodies. ‘Homemade tea sandwiches’ (I should hope so) come in the obligatory terrine of alternate brown and white sliced bread containing miniscule amounts of grated cheese, smoked salmon, ham and mustard, and my personal favourite egg mayonnaise. It’s a hangover, believe me - exactly the right word, from the numerous children’s parties where I’ve performed the single-handed mopping up operation of eating the leftovers. [Kids, sadly, eat nothing but hula hoops. And yes, I love cocktail sausages too.]
These sandwiches were fairly uninspiring, the edges of the topmost and bottom a tad harder that those in the interior showing that they had been cut in a batch a little earlier. The scones were delicious, dusted with icing sugar, crumbly and warm from the oven. ‘Oh I was going to warn you about that,’ said the husband as mine exploded in a crumb bomb across the room as I tried to load it with clotted cream and jam. The fruit tartlet was disappointing - a pastry case, filled with bland, chantilly cream with an artificial tang to it, then topped a with some cut grapes, a raspberry and three slices of kiwi, all-in-all, not much of an effort. The people on the next sofa had a different assembly of fruit, but the principle was the same. A chef in a famous London hotel once told me hotels hate room service, viewing at a necessary evil, which diverts kitchen time away from the more serious matter of bums on seats in the restaurant, but surely afternoon tea is enough of a set piece to produce without any loss of the standards and quality in evidence elsewhere?
My Earl Grey tea though properly made with leaves had no noticeable flavour or scent of bergamot oil and though I’m not a lover of the highly perfumed brews, the tea had absolutely no taste. My daughter asked for mulled fruit from their collection of ‘herbal tea’s’ (sic) but was given instead a selection of Twinings mixed fruit tea bags to chose from, and the promised shortbread biscuits and Lancashire Parkin seemed to have been replaced by the fruitcake and the lemon cake. No complaints there – both were sliced wafer thin were sweetly moist and satisfyingly sticky.
‘You must come to the loo,’ mummy, said the daughter as we prepared to leave. ‘Look, the walls have material on them and are all soft and squidgy.’ And at the sight of the decorative pond outside, complete with flames ensuing from what looked like gas burners on the surface of the water, she was filled with Zoroastrian glee, asking hopefully, ‘do you think we can swim in it?’ Well, there is a spa in the hotel with all sorts of similar delights for the energetic, but no darling you can’t swim in the pond. And, incidentally, you are not supposed to dry your hands on the walls, either.
Pls cut the square brackets if necessary