Friday, 12 February 2016

Afternoon Tea at Oulton Hall - Oulton, Leeds

Afternoon tea is a sweet luxury that is enjoyed by many, whether it is for some mother and daughter(s) bonding, girlfriends catching up or a loved up couple enjoying some extravagance and overdosing on sugar and tea.

I was delighted to be invited to Oulton Hall for afternoon tea, I was intrigued by the bespoke butler service and I was surprised to find that they were more than just a golf course and wedding location.

I'm a bit of a history geek so I did a little research beforehand to find out more about the hall and estate that was (feel free to skip if you find history boring!).

*The Boring Bit*

Oulton Park started life as a farmhouse overlooking a common area of land, Oulton was predominately owned by the Calverley's and they sold this piece of land to John Blayds. Blayds was a partner in Beckett's Bank  (no not the wetherspoons but the original bank of which the pub is named after, a Leeds based bank which was eventually taken over by Westminster Bank, now National Westminster aka NatWest). Unfortunately John Blayds died childless but had stated in his will that the estate should be left to John Calverley who was his partner at Beckett's Bank... with one condition; he changed his name to Blayds. The new John Blayds decided to improve upon his inheritance and so set about building a grand house and garden, thus began the life of Oulton Hall. Through the years the estate was lived in, the house extended, there was a church commissioned for the people of the estate and the house suffered a great fire which destroyed a considerable amount of it. Following the fire the house was rebuilt and extended making it grand country mansion and some 50 years later the Blayds changed their name back to Calverley. The Calverley family moved to Canada in 1930 leaving the house empty, it was later used as hospital during the war. When the war ended the house was left empty once again. Over the 70s and 80s its owners varied and the house was subject to vandalism and slowly started to decay, there were proposals to pull the building down but a public outcry prevented this. In the early 90s a hotel group bought the building and set about restoring it to its former glory. It's now owned by QPark hotel groups.

It was a fairly miserable day when we visited so forgive me for the lack of pictures of the garden, with rain pummelling down on our heads and the cold creeping up my skirt I was forced to make a retreat rather swiftly inside.

One of the appeals of Oulton Hall's afternoon tea is the butler service, at an additional cost you can hire your very own butler to see to your every want and need. If you fancy a day in the life of Lord Crawley from Downton Abbey you're in luck.

We were seated in the drawing room in two high back chairs nestled next to a grand fire place (not lit, I'm not sure it sees or needs lighting these days). Above us hung a great chandelier that I should imagine glistens in the sun (sadly the day was too glum for us to know) and opposite me (and behind) D stood an extensive whiskey cabinet.

Although we weren't there to dance in the luxury of the butler treatment, butlers were on hand to serve us our champagne, tea and of course fingers sandwiches, scones and cakes. So gracious were the butlers I immediately felt relaxed and welcomed.

Afternoon tea was wheeled to us on the tallest cake stand I have ever seen, a concept I quite liked as it left the small table free for our separate plates, cups and saucers. Usually it's such a squeeze and a careful affair not to knock anything over or off the table.

The range of finger sandwiches on offer were of the traditional sort: salmon, cucumber & cream cheese, cheese & pickle and ham & mustard. One of my finger sandwiches on the outer edge had perhaps being stood for a little while too long as the bread had started the stalisation process.

Scones were not scrimped on by offering us both options of the plain and fruit scones with plenty of clotted cream and jam to spread on all four buns. Perfectly baked they were rough on the outside and fluffy on the inside, I am partial to a warm scone but this is more often served with the simpler cream tea.

Hidden out of sight behind the scones lies some Yorkshire tea cake (a fruit cake of sorts) and some mild cheddar.

Upon receipt of our champagne we were advised that tea would be brought out once we had finished our glasses. We struggled to pair the champagne with the sandwiches and so grabbed a butler's attention for him to fetch our tea.

A wide selection of cakes were offered, by the time we reached the top tier we were struggling and if we hadn't of been so full there may have been a fight over some of them! I happily sampled the battenburg, cherry bakewell cake and half of the front tart dotted with fruit.

 Overall it was a lovely afternoon and clearly rather popular as the room was almost full at 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon. Service was impeccable (as I would expect from butlers with years of training!), the food was a delight and of good variety. If you fancy taking a trip yourself afternoon tea (without butler service) will set you back £20 per person or £23 per person Friday to Sunday. If you fancy the full butler dining experience packages start from £65 per person and can be used for bespoke three, four or five course menus for up to 40 guests. See more on their website here.

One of things that strikes me the most is how I didn't feel that I was just sat in the restaurant of a hotel, by serving afternoon tea in the drawing room it made me forget that I was dining in a hotel whiling away my time eating cakes and scones. 

As a girl I feel as though I've been training for afternoon tea my whole life, as a child was I was often gifted tea sets for me and my dollies, I've been taught to lift my little finger as a drink a cup of tea, I know that pretty dresses are usually the standard attire. I hadn't realised quite how much this had been drummed in to me until I took D for afternoon who is one of four boys, played with cars, the mud and football. There was a slight learning curve for D during afternoon tea (such things as how to use a tea strainer, how to cut a scone, the jam and cream debate, cheese with cake etc etc) and it was this that highlighted to me quite how gender stereotyped we are as kids, and I guess throughout our whole lives. 

The day was completed with a goody bag of tea including Oulton Hall's special blend and a small pack of Yorkshire Tea Gold, both are sat on my desk at work and are going down far too quick for my liking!

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