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!
One of Matt and Cat’s particular favourites is the Smuggler’s Haven, Bonchurch. This location looks unpromising from the outside, set as it is in a shady spot next to the main road, but its south face receives plenty of afternoon sun and from the terrace is one of the finest views over the English Channel. 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.
Chessell Pottery Cafe is an old favourite which has recently had a refresh. In 2018 the lovely 1970s pottery studio has been given a makeover and is now a magnificent modern tearoom, serving up big, hearty cream teas in lovely rural surroundings. There are, apparently, still pottery bits to paint if you so desire; but our interest in ceramics was purely functional. Service and food are still exemplary, and we love to sit in the courtyard listening to the tinkling fountain and throwing crumbs to the birds.
If you’re in town, you can find a charming oasis of civilisation and calm at One Holyrood in Newport. The café is the front end of a boutique bed and breakfast venue situated in the centre of Newport. On a sunny day, the little walled garden is the perfect spot. Many’s the cuppa and cake Matt and Cat have had in this cottagey idyll. And if it’s a cream tea you are after, you’d have to go a long way to beat this one. Fresh scones, copious jam and cream, cups with saucers and endless proper tea in a real pot – with a tea cosy if you want one. Yes, a knitted tea cosy. That should tell you all you need to know.
Adgestone Vineyard is a relative newcomer to the cream tea stable, and a good one. Hidden away in the quiet lanes behind Brading this place serves up tea and cake in an idyllic little venue. And then there’s always the wine, if you’re into that. The cakes alone would have made it worth the journey down the back-lanes of Adgestone; but coupled with the enjoyable setting and decent tea, the whole experience was one that Matt and Cat were very taken with.
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.
Best of the rest
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.
The grassy lawn of Isle of Wight Pearl is delightfully simple – the temptation to clutter it with bins, signs and play-structures has been admirably resisted insofar as is practical, and from our bench we had an unparalleled and unobstructed panoramic coastal view that you’d be hard pressed to equal anywhere in England. The jolly chap at the counter couldn’t have been more accommodating as he prepared our cream tea for two. Twirling a fresh China cup like a gun-slinger, he stacked up our tray with the regulation trimmings. Better still, he pointed out that if more jam, butter or cream was required, it was available. Bottomless clotted cream? Matt began to get excited. Cat decided that the fruit scone was the better of the two; the sultanas and currants helped maintain an even and pleasingly moist texture. It was a satisfying cream tea which, if not a particularly original example of the genre – with its Rodda’s clotted cream and Tiptree jam – did not fall short.