Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Afternoon Tea at Malmaison Cheltenham

Us Brits do love an afternoon tea. It's an act steeped in history thanks to that early nineteenth century pro-snacker Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford, and has always had this high society, upper class feel to it. Elegant and indulgent; sipping tea and nibbling crustless sandwiches and delicate fancies. Oh how the other half live!

It's no secret that I'm a lover of this ritual - at half past three, everything stops for tea - and have written about a few of my experiences before (see here). However, it really is one of life's little luxuries, and I only ever really go for afternoon tea on special occasions. Lets face it, if I were to scoff copious amounts of cake on a regular basis, I'd definitely start resembling the Michelin man in no time at all.

So, with that in mind, I was delighted when a little email arrived inviting me to Cheltenham's Malmaison to test out their afternoon tea (permission to gorge without cause granted). Soon enough, after a much needed half day at work on a Friday, off I went - friend in tow - to see what all the fuss was about.

In case you've been living under a rock for that past couple of months, Malmaison has found its home in what used to be Montpellier Chapter. From first glance, you can't really notice any change, other than maybe a couple of widescreen TVs in the lounge areas and a completely different menu coming from the kitchen, but that's fine; it was lovely hotel before anyway, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it - capiche?

It was gloriously sunny and were sat in the conservatory - slight risk of feeling like an ant under a magnifying glass on such a day - though surrounded by all the big leafy greens, with a gentle breeze coming through the open door, and a cold glass of Mumm Rosé Champagne in hand, we could hardly complain.

Malmaison's afternoon tea is a bit more contemporary than most - especially in comparison to the countrified Cotswolds versions. The triangular sandwiches have been ousted, instead being replaced by wraps and a burger; there's not a tart in sight, and we have a selection of gluten free goodies alongside a fruit smoothie?! Don't worry though, I very much doubt that there's an inch of health in that smoothie (healthiness doesn't come into question with afternoon tea - ever); it's basically a mini milkshake, and delicious it is too. Oh and there's a fruit scone, obviously.

Starting savoury, we headed to the burger first. A perfectly formed shiny bun, with a decent sized patty in the middle. Despite my doubts, it was super juicy and had just enough sauce, with a crisp lettuce leave adding a bit of crunch. Being a little pedantic though, we both felt it could have done with a bit more seasoning.

The wraps were a good touch - slightly less bread to fill up on - but I couldn't find much crème fraîche with my salmon. And with the chicken and avocado one, although the chipotle mayo had the right reddish hue, it wasn't smoky or spicy at all. C'est la vie.

The scones were crumbly and packed with fruit, but we were surprised that they came with mini jars of Bonne Maman - classic - but a jam made in-house or something local would've been more impressive. And we couldn't quite put our finger on what was different about the clotted cream either; it didn't have that thick gloopy texture you usually get, as if it was maybe a lower fat version…?! Clearly we're too used to Rodda's Cornish cream.

Struggling slightly, we worked our way through the sweet treats (admittedly not being able to finish everything). The lemon and polenta cake (GF) was just my cup of tea; slightly sharp, sticky and nutty. And I always approve of jazzing things up up with pistachios. The salted chocolate brownie was also gluten free, making it super moist and almost truffle like.

The pavlova was a welcome 'lighter' addition, and the meringue base held itself well; had it have been any more mallowy in the middle, I can imagine it'd have been near impossible to pick up and eat. The frozen summer berry smoothie acted as some sort of palate cleanser between each sweet, and I saved my favourite until last - the rhubarb cream. Tangy pieces of rhubarb in syrup lay at the bottom of a shot glass, topped with a set rich vanilla cream and a final layer of rhubarb jelly. A pick me up at the end of a weighty afternoon, although the tea spoons were a bit too big to reach the bottom of the glass - doh!

All in all, a hotel afternoon tea with a twist, and at £17.50pp with your pot of tea (more if you opt for champagne or cocktails), Malmaison has it at a really good price too. I'd say it's a lot more man friendly than most, and an easy crowd pleaser for the family. Perhaps not snazzy enough to take your mum for Mother's Day though - stick to Ellenborough Park for that.

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