Archive review: alas! The Roundhouse is now closed permanently. That’s it folks! Matt and Cat might as well hang up their reviewing hats as...

Archive review: alas! The Roundhouse is now closed permanently.

That’s it folks! Matt and Cat might as well hang up their reviewing hats as the Isle of Wight’s ultimate cream tea has been found.

Cream tea

After years of arduous searching, involving the consumption of gallons of tea, rock-hard to fluffy scones and the butter/no butter debate, the acme of cream teas has been located. Not among the West Wight’s rolling hills nor with a view of the county’s stunning coastline, but on the outskirts of town on the main road to Newport. For 20 years, on her daily commute to the salt mine, Cat has driven past the Roundhouse Tea Rooms with barely a second glance. However, a recommendation from the Island’s primary friend to the stars John Hannam (sorry Den, you’re a close second!), led Matt and Cat to the Roundhouse’s door one sunny Sunday in October.

Built in 1750, this distinctive cottage was once the gateway to Newport. The road has since been relocated eastwards and the old toll road is now a dead end, providing parking for the tea rooms. Not the most trumpeting of entrances but enticing enough for M and C.

Cream tea

Letting themselves in through the toll house gate, Matt and Cat followed the signs to the tea room, which lead them into the pretty cottage garden. This glorious suntrap was certainly getting the best of the autumn afternoon. The lawn was edged with flowers, and ladybirds flew lazily in the bright afternoon sun. Alas, it was too hot to sit outside at one of the little shadeless tables in the garden so M and C ventured indoors.

It was delightful, evoking the taste of childhood
Cream tea

They were greeted by a pleasant chap in a long pinny who, having established that they were there for afternoon tea, showed Matt and Cat to one of the pre-laid tables. Napkins, a jug of milk and ivy-patterned teacups with saucers were positioned ready. It was just up to M and C to decide if they wanted homemade cake – the range of which included strawberry gateau, lemon drizzle cake and ginger scones served warm with honey and clotted cream – or one of the tempting light bites, such as Welsh rarebit, or cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches. As lovely as these alternatives sounded, Matt and Cat wanted cream tea. The order was given.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Cream tea for two £9
Roundhouse Tea Rooms, interior

Before long, deliveries were made to the reviewers’ table. First a tray, the passengers of which were a china teapot sheathed with a knitted cosy, more milk, hot water and a tea strainer. Moving the little vase of fresh flowers (cut, obviously, from the garden), room was made for the two-tier cake stand, which was positively burdened with delights. Then came a plate of jams; three ramekins filled with generous dollops of apricot, blackcurrant and strawberry conserves. Ambassador, you are spoiling us!

Tea poured, Matt and Cat fell on the scones which were equitably supplied as one fruit and one plain each. The fresh cakes were as tall as they were round; fantastically fluffy and moist, and still warm. Soft curls of butter slowly melted on contact and M and C ladled jam and cream on top. Cat chose blackcurrant jam first. It was delightful, evoking the taste of childhood and memories of what her brother would call ‘Granny’s dainty tea’. Heavenly. Matt nibbled on a fresh strawberry before biting into his apricot jam-laden fruit scone. His chops were satisfyingly smeared with the sweet preserve and thick cream.

Pausing for breath, Matt and Cat tested the theory that every family has a story about tea. Matthew’s mother regularly regales her glassy-eyed audience of the time that her grandmother had a cup of tea at Bodiam Castle “… and they let the pot run dry”. No such crime at the Roundhouse Tea Rooms; Matt, mindful of this oft-told legend, kept the teapot topped up with hot water from the accompanying jug. The melange of period tableware at the Roundhouse was what is euphemistically called a ‘harlequin set’; from the India Tree patterned cake stand to the Colclough ivy leaf tea cups. The charmingly mismatched crockery plus the ambient sitting room just added to the retro feel. Cat felt right at home!

There was more jam and cream than could be prudently accommodated on the lovely scones. Matt, unaccustomed to wasting anything fatty, surreptitiously transferred the last scraping of the cream-bowl onto his finger and then to his mouth; causing sanctimonious fat-monitor Cat to primly wag her slender finger at him for taking a few more minutes off his life in the process. Still, who wants those miserable moments at the end, anyway? There were about three cups of tea each to wash down this meal of the gods and then it was all over.

Before they left, the proprietor came over for a chat. A man of many years experience in the catering trade, the conversation soon turned to eating out, not surprisingly. He was keen to share his opinions on various Island eateries and displayed a remarkable insight – this is a man who, if he ever took up writing reviews, would give M&C a run for their money. Matt and Cat were pleased to note that in many ways his thoughts concurred with theirs.

Eventually, it was time to say farewell to the civilised little world of the Roundhouse. M and C emerged replete from the neat brick house back into the autumn sunlight. The Roundhouse Tea Rooms is an oft-overlooked gem: generous rations, truly excellent cake, wonderful ambience and traditionally personal service make this a clear favourite with Matt and Cat. Not to be missed!

Archive review: alas! The Roundhouse is now closed permanently.