We are often asked where the best place is to eat. That, of course, depends on the circumstances. You might not want to hold your toddler’s birthday party in a venue which is mostly populated by vertical drinkers yelling football-related expletives at Sky Sports on a muted telly. Similarly, an intimate candlelit dinner for two could be misinterpreted if you invite your boss – though it could mean that your promotion is assured!
Much like a wedding, an afternoon tea can take its toll in a few pounds – and we don’t simply mean to your waistline. The cost of a few crustless rounds of sandwiches and some dainty gateaux can be puzzlingly expensive when served on a tiered cake stand.
If you are looking for a venue in which to have a pretty tea party without breaking the bank, then the redecorated cafe at Dimbola is a fabulous place to have it. We took along a bunch of friends one Saturday and settled at our circular table, awaiting the first course.
For a modest eatery, there is a decent selection of soft drinks and some alcoholic ones, plus the afternoon tea comes with a choice of teas and coffees included. Cat had a pot of aromatic Earl Grey. Looking at their significant dates, it’s actually conceivable that the building’s former occupant, pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, might have snapped the eponymous first tea lord in her series of portraits of the great and good of nineteenth century society. Dimbola is of course named after the Cameron family coffee plantation in Ceylon, so even if the photographer and Prime Minister never met, she will have certainly have enjoyed a cuppa – so Cat fantasised about some strange time-disruption synergy as she poured her hot beverage through the strainer in the erstwhile parlour. Yes, please note: this was a brew made with real tea leaves, people.
You have to pre-order afternoon tea and Dimbola is happy to accommodate various dietary sensibilities, with a choice of veggie, fishy and meaty butties. We had a mixture of the first two. The cucumber sandwiches were simplicity itself. The salmon and cream cheese, and egg mayonnaise sarnies too, were as standard; both crustless – one on white and the other wholemeal bread. All were served with a sparky rocket-based salad garnish.
We’ll come on the sweet course shortly, but much praise must first be lavished on the savoury scones. The freshly-baked red pepper and cheese scones were the optimum texture: fluffy, but not insubstantial, crumbly without disintegrating – and tasty too, particularly when pimped up with butter and onion marmalade.
Afternoon tea p/p £17.50 x 2
Straining out another cup of the twiggy earl grey, Cat cleansed her palette ready for round two (if you’ll pardon the sandwich pun). The vintage china cake stands were cleared away and replaced with slate ones bearing all manner of cakes and several more scones, this time of the sweet variety.
What might have been an on-theme Victoria sponge was substituted with gin and tonic cake. A wedge of moist, almost Madeira-y, sponge was topped with G&T butter icing and a sprinkling of green-hued hundreds and thousands. A good deviation from a classic.
An afternoon tea is nothing without strawberries and, as well as in the Wilkin and Sons jam, we had fresh fruit a-top a heart-shaped biscuit. There is a very able hand in the Dimbola kitchen, creating this decent shortbread, cakes and yet more of those light scones. Also the chocolate brownie was noteworthy; chockful of textures (as it were!) and with a rich flavour.
As with any respectable afternoon tea, there is always the early moment when you think that there won’t be enough yet, by the second half of that last scone towering with Rodda’s clotted cream and sweet jam (or the other way round if you are disordered by these things) we were moaning with satiated pleasure.
Dimbola tea rooms was recommended to us by a long-standing follower of our eating out antics and it was a blinder of an endorsement. From the polite and charming service, nice ambiance and decorating, to being given space to natter at the end of the meal even though there were other people waiting for a table. We thought the experience was fab. And, if you ever ask us where to take a bunch of people for afternoon tea, we’d be delighted to suggest you stick your pinky in the air at Dimbola.
Dimbola Museum & Galleries, Terrace Lane, Freshwater PO40 9QE 01983 756814
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- A very able hand in the Dimbola kitchen
- Scones the optimum texture
- Plenty to share