Ah, the cream tea, staple food for holidaymakers in the English countryside for generations. This classic afternoon treat has never gone out of fashion and is a good barometer of a venue.
Is the tea in a pot with ‘all the trimmings’? Fresh milk? Clotted cream? A generous dollop of jam? And yes, it’s probably a West Country thing, but there are definitely two divergent schools of thought about whether or not to have butter on it. So to guide you to the best, Matt and Cat offer their quick guide to the essential Isle of Wight cream tea destinations this summer. There are links to the full reviews, and of course you can add your own favourites below!
Ask a random Islander where their top spot for cream tea is, and you stand a good chance of hearing about the delightful Warren Farm, Totland. Right up near the Needles, this old-fashioned farm shop and tearoom has stunning views and great tea. Nowhere else in the developed world would you be served food from a hatch on a willow-pattern plate with a doily and the daintiest butter knives. Piled high with flavoursome jam and cream the scones were so vast and fluffy that when Matt and Cat visited, Cat, queen of the cream tea, could not finish her second one and Matt had to do his duty. EDIT March 2016: Warren Farm Cream Teas is now closed (although the farm shop is still very much open)
One of Matt and Cat’s particular favourites is the Smuggler’s Haven, Bonchurch. This location looks unpromising, set as it is in a shady spot next to the main road, but its south face receives plenty of afternoon sun. From the terrace is one of the finest views over the English Channel (see bottom picture). Down the slope is the extraordinary and wildly undulating landscape of The Landslip. The café is in the traditional style, and its little tables, lino floor and old-fashioned tea urn are all very smart and clean. It even sells a few souvenirs, and, like much of Ventnor, is pleasantly reminiscent of a bygone age of tourism.
A long-standing tourist attraction, Chessell Pottery, near Calbourne, also has its own Courtyard Café which comes in for an honourable mention. The Pottery is sometimes viewed a bit warily by locals – perhaps they think it’s more suited for visitors. If so, they’d be wrong. Any such preconceptions were rapidly dispelled when Matt and Cat strolled into the pleasant courtyard of the barns one afternoon, which appeared to be a delightful location for anyone looking for a light snack en route around the Island. In the sizeable café Matt and Cat swiftly ordered the standard cream tea for two, found a corner table and settled down. The cream tea had two large home-made scones each, two separate pots of Fairtrade tea and plenty of milk. Some of the crockery, predictably enough, was of local origin. In fact, the whole establishment had a commendable emphasis on Isle of Wight information and produce. It’s a good spot to take a family, with plenty of room.
Dimbola Lodge, in Freshwater Bay is not only a photographic museum but also a delightful tea shop. You can guess for which purpose Matt and Cat visited it. The tea room is set in the front room of the imposing Victorian house and has views over the surrounding countryside and undulating coastline. The views are slightly interrupted by the plants in the well-stocked garden and all sorts of authentic Victorian impedimenta in the tea room, including old cameras, a leather sofa, busts of famous people, and even a grand piano. The scones were not too bad, with good rations of cream and jam. This atmospheric location provides a unique experience, and what’s more, patrons can be comforted by the knowledge that their money is going to support a small charity with impeccable cultural credentials.
Finally, no survey of cream teas would be complete without reference to The Royal Hotel, Ventnor which, whilst far from being a tea shop, still serves up a very grand Afternoon Tea in its luxurious conservatory. Long a retreat for the genteel of Ventnor and beyond, the Royal takes afternoon tea seriously. Guests can linger over tiny but exquisite sandwiches, a vast supply of extraordinary fresh cakes, sweets and pastries that won’t fail to delight and as much tea as they can drink. It’s not cheap, mind you, but if you fancy a cream tea to remember, this one will not disappoint.