Tea and scones at Dimbola The Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron made her home for a short time at Freshwater Bay. During her stay...
Tea and scones at Dimbola
Tea and scones at Dimbola

The Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron made her home for a short time at Freshwater Bay. During her stay she took some of her most notable photographs, and named her house after the tea estates in Ceylon where her husband’s business was. More than a century later Dimbola Lodge 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.

Matt and Cat settled in and promptly ordered cream teas. There were probably quite a few other things on the menu, but on this rare occasion the expeditious delivery of tea took priority over thoroughly researching a review. The tea room also serves cakes and light lunches, but Matt and Cat did not put these to the test this time.

The order arrived quickly, and, pleasingly, the tea came in one big pot, with a jug of real milk. As befits an establishment named after a tea plantation, the tea was excellent. The milk jug was inadequate for the three in the party, but a request to the waiting staff soon rectified this. However, when a similar enquiry attempted to elicit more hot water, this was less successful.

The scones were not too bad, with good rations of cream and jam. As only one scone each was supplied, your reviewers did have a half an eye on the impressive display of home-made cakes. However, it seems that at Dimbola the advertised 5pm closing time means that at 5pm you’d better be out of there, because by 4.30 the cakes had been cleared away and the staff were cashing up. Maybe another time.

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. In some ways it is pleasing to be served by volunteers, and escape the relentless mill of contracted-out ‘heritage’ tea rooms in larger historic establishments. Dimbola would polish their successful formula to an even higher lustre if they could manage to implement more of the service standards of those larger establishments without losing their own individual charm.
Dimbola, Freshwater Bay

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  • TeggieIOW

    28th December 2014 #1 Author

    Having been a less than regular but enthusiastic supporter, today was our first visit in about a year and we were somewhat disappointed. It appears to be being run by someone new and is now called Julia’s Tea Room. We opted for the parsnip soup which was parsnipy but not much else and no longer comes with crusty bread but supermarket sliced brown and a tuna fish and cucumber sandwich. Whilst it was great that they could meet my request for gluten free bread, it arrived without the aforementioned cucumber and also minus the crisps that were promised on the menu. The ‘colourful salad’ consisted of a some anaemic iceberg, red peppers and onions, the missing cucumber and tomatoes and apples – sorry those last two should never be on a plate together! The cakes on display certainly didn’t match up to the selection I remember and the specials board was pretty pedestrian. A real shame- I won’t be rushing to visit again.

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  • Kerstee Fairy

    14th January 2013 #2 Author

    On visiting recently we didn’t bother with the exhibitions either, the entertainment provided by vivacious staff, a delicious menu and beautiful and unusual shop were enough for us 🙂

    The food was outstanding

    Of our party of 3, two had soup; one butternut & pepper and the other french onion (with cheese topping). The third meal was a roast pork baguette. Not only was there a choice of cheese for the french onion soup topping, but the waitress went to great trouble to ensure we were happy with our meals, as did the chef.
    The food was outstanding, all utterly delicious, and the baguette was fresh from the oven served with a beautifully fresh local salad.
    We stayed for pudding; bakewell tart and plum crumble served with a generous jug of superb custard. I was allowed my shameful request of ‘squirty’ cream alongside custard, the can was brought to me so I could put my own on and I was even encouraged to squirt as much as I could, although they admonished me by explaining the can of cream was only good for hot chocolate! The portions were enormous, luckily I had a friend to finish both my soup and my pudding for me!
    They’ve obviously changed their policy on extra hot water, too, as a jug came with the pot, and I got the impression there would be no issue should we have asked for more.
    The staff were greatly entertaining, enthusiastic about the displays (the chef showed us her favourite cameras) and hugely accommodating, I can’t wait to go again.

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  • Liz Hoyle

    30th April 2011 #3 Author

    We were staying near Dimbola and saw their poster for the Royal Wedding Screening and booked a table with breakfast.
    What a delightful morning we had. The service was excellent and the food cooked to order, nothing was too much trouble. Later a piece of cake was devoured and was moist and scrumptious.
    We are regular visitors to the island and this was a great find. We look forward to our next visit to Dimbola.
    Liz Hoyle

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  • Nick Churchill

    2nd August 2010 #4 Author

    My Fiancee and I visited Dimbola on Sunday 1st August and I have to say the cream teas are fantastic, we ordered at 4.30 and although they only had one fruit scone left, I had a plain one, the scones were still warm, and enormous. The tea was delicious (served in ‘Churchill’ china). We did have another cream tea over the weekend at Carisbrook Castle, and as a comparison Dimbola’s was 5 star, Carisbrooks would only rate a 3 star!

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  • David D. Ballard

    11th April 2010 #5 Author

    Never disappoints. Morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. A favourite.

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  • Da yw Wyth

    5th April 2010 #6 Author

    Well, the quality of the scones has certainly gone up since your visit – a visit in early March found massive scones of such quality as to be better with butter alone without the distractioon of cream!

    Today went for lunch and tried the vegetable soup. Great, but what a shame it was served in one of those deep bowls that take ages to cool down – much better had the proper shallow ones been used.

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  • Wendy

    28th July 2007 #7 Author

    We stopped for lunch at Dimbola Lodge yesterday before a walk over Tennyson Down. It’s the first time in ages I’ve eaten there, and all five in our party rated it highly. Two went for the soup of the day (a creamy mushroom soup), two went for the tasty sandwiches on organic bread, served with salad, and I had the smoked haddock kedgeree, which was delicious. My son and I shared a piece of chocolate refrigerator cake afterwards; also yummy. Everything from the service to the nice china pots of tea for two (with extra hot water for topping it up) was really good. Very reasonable prices, too, and plenty of veggie options. It’s nice to find somewhere that offers real variety and caters for a range of appetites.

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