I’ve been to a fair few places in the course of this blog, but being invited to review an afternoon tea in a retirement village was a new one. Not any old retirement home, though. Probably one of the swishest, fanciest retirement places going. (Of course, I haven’t really been into that many old people’s homes, but I’m fairly sure this is up there with some of the nicest ones).
Weirdly, Audley Binswood in Leamington Spa is just round the corner from the school my husband and I went to many moons ago (yes, we went to school together but that’s a whole different story). Back then it was used as a sixth form college but its history goes far beyond that.
The building itself, Binswood Hall, was built in 1847 as a boys college, then later became a training school for girls brought over from convents in France. It later turned back into a college but in 1994 was left abandoned. Enter Audley Retirement, which brought the building in 2013 and restored it into a luxury retirement village.
You kind of have to see it to believe it. Tucked up at the top of Leamington, the main building is as imposing as it must have been back in the 19th Century. Imposing, and beautiful. Inside it just gets better and better. The main building is now home to an elegant, ornate library and seating area, a stunning health club including a pool and a gym in the former chapel, and Whittle’s Restaurant Bar/Bistro – named after the school’s most famous pupil Sir Frank Whittle.
It was Whittle’s that I was invited to to try the afternoon tea. Serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, it’s open to the public as well as residents of Audley Binswood. It’s certainly an impressive setting and it’s not every day you swan into a 19th Century gothic hall for tea and cake with your family.
We visited on a Sunday and there were a fair few people having either lunch or afternoon tea, of whom I’m pretty sure not all were retirement residents. The waiting staff are all warm and welcoming, oozing the feeling that nothing is too much trouble. That included my mum’s many questions over which mocktail she should order as she planned her move into one of the luxury apartments in about 20 years time.
Despite the options to upgrade our afternoon tea with prosecco, a cocktail or G&T, we stuck to the traditional version and pretty soon were presented with a modern-looking tea stand laden with all the goodies you’d expect, and some slightly different from the norm.
On the bottom shelf, a selection of finger sandwiches, all with the crusts neatly cut off. My personal faves were the egg mayonnaise and the cheese and chutney, which beat the salmon and ham for me, though they were all enjoyable. The top shelf was dominated by clotted cream and jam to accompany the scones underneath, as well as a small glass each of watermelon and orange smoothie. A strange addition to a traditional afternoon tea and I’m not sure it worked.
The scones themselves were great, exactly as a good old scone should be. Sometimes when Mr M and I are all out of snacks I make scones for us, and this is how I aim for them to be. Light, fluffy, with a rich butteryness that means you can eat them on their own or with anything else you fancy. The perfect vehicle for a shedload of jam and cream (jam first please, always jam first).
And so to the middle shelf. Full of the stuff I always save until last – you know, the sweet treats that make your teeth furry, your eyes sweat and cement your sugar high. A toffee Victoria sponge was a nice twist on a classic and while the buttercream frosting and toffee fudge chunks on top were a winner, we found the sponge a tiny bit on the dry side.
Next for me was a chocolate and raspberry ‘kiss’ – a tiny tart filled with raspberry and chocolate, with a cute pink swirled meringue on top. I enjoyed it, the rich slighter bitter chocolate, buttery pastry and sweet meringue, though Mr M and my mum didn’t agree. They were delighted by the white chocolate Rocky Road which I on the other hand couldn’t handle more than a mouthful of. It was possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten and for me, not in a good way, but sweet-toothed Jamie was more than happy with it so hey, just goes to show some of this stuff is pretty darn subjective.
We washed the lot down with several pots of tea and coffee for mum, trying to balance out the inevitable sugar rush that always comes with afternoon tea. At £16.95 it’s not a cheap afternoon tea, though not the most expensive I’ve seen either. The setting itself is impressive and well up there with some of the country house hotels you might go to for something like this, but the tea itself was a tiny bit hit and miss, some bits great but others slightly wide of the mark.
Not the end of the world, and I’d be the first person to say that even the best of places have off days, so it wouldn’t put me off returning. I just know that if every sweet treat on that tray was as impressive as the backdrop to that afternoon tea, I’d be there every week.
Two of our three afternoon teas at Whittle’s Restaurant were complimentary. We paid for the rest. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review, just an honest account of our experience.