Sunday, 29 July 2012

Scone or Scone?

"I asked the maid in dulcet tone
To order me a buttered scone
The silly girl has been and gone
And ordered me a buttered scone."

The age old question: is it pronounced skon or skoan? Our Twitter vote so far is 12 to 3 in favour of skon. But what is a scone and where does it come from?

Well, the Oxford English Dictionary reports that the first mention of the word was in 1513 in a Scottish poem - a translation of The Aeneid.  But I think they must be much older than that. 

Just look at this in Isaiah 16:7
Therefore the Moabites wail, they wail together for Moab. Lament and grieve for the raisin cakes of Kir Hareseth
Clearly the Moabites were missing the fruit scones of  Kir Hareseth.  I wonder if they had them with jam?

And in the Canterbury Tales Chaucer writes:
 I wol bothe drynke and eten of a cake
Scholars* of Old English have suggested this could be a griddle cake or scone.

The word scone derives either from the Middle Dutch schoonbrood (fine white bread), from schoon (pure, clean) and brood (bread).  Or perhaps from the Gaelic term "sgonn" meaning a shapeless mass or large mouthful.   I hope we don’t come across any like that in our reviews.

The original scone was round and flat, the size of a tea  plate. It was made with unleavened oats and baked on a griddle, then cut into triangle shape for serving.  Today,  the large round cake is often called a bannock, and the quadrants, scones. 

Apparently the modern  scone – baked in the oven  - didn’t come into being until baking powder became commercially available in the mid-19th century.  Which would explain why Jane Austen doesn’t mention them.

Scones, however they are pronounced, are an integral part of the afternoon tea experience.  And so we salute them, especially when they are served with jam and clotted cream.  But which goes on first; the jam or the cream?  That's a question for another day.

 I will leave you with the immortal words of the Monty Python Lumberjack song.

“I cut down trees, I eat my lunch
I go to the lavatory.
On Wednesday I go shopping
And have buttered scones for tea.”

And Mary Berrys recipe for scones 

*me mostly
Posted by: Mo

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - Camellia's Tea House

Camellia's Tea House - Afternoon tea £17.50

EDIT: Camellia's has closed their tea room in Kingly Court, and they are currently looking for an alternative site for their premises.  We'll keep an eye out and let you know when and where they reopen.
Camellia's Tea House was established in 2007 and according to its website, was 'borne from a desire to create a wellness range of teas which would not only be founded on the well known health properties of tea but also on the quintessentially English heritage of tea drinking'.  Their premises is in Kingly Court, Carnaby in Central London and doubles as both a speciality tea seller and a tea room.

We chose Camellia's for our first review completely arbitrarily.  We wanted to start with somewhere central that wasn't too expensive and was a tea room rather than a hotel.  As we walked into Camellia's, we couldn't help but be impressed by the wall of tea that greeted us.  This is clearly a place run by people who are passionate about tea.  Most of the shop is given over to the display of Camellia's teas and various tea paraphernalia for you to buy (and we were all sorely tempted). The decor is tea-based, with a huge variety of teapots, cups and saucers on the walls and in the window.  In fact, there's not much space left for the tables, most of which are for two people, so we were glad we booked a table for three in advance.

There was no table service, but the lady who met us was very friendly and explained how we should order and what the afternoon tea would consist of.  The tea menu showed us a lovely selection of 94 teas to choose from, and after a bit of thought, we chose Afternoon Tea (Caroline), White Tea Snow Buds (Charlotte) and Darjeeling Goomtee (Mo).  We also had to order a slice of cake each that would arrive with the tea, and our choices were Green Tea with Oreos (Caroline), Lemon (Charlotte) and Chocolate and Cherry Blossom Tea (Mo).  We sat down to wait for the arrival of our afternoon tea with great anticipation.

Camellia's brew the tea themselves, leaving it for a certain amount of time until they judge it to be the right strength, then they remove the bags/leaves before they bring it to the table.  This presented us with a couple of problems.  Firstly, it made it evident that we were only getting one pot of tea with no refills, so we had to make it last.  Secondly, it meant that we couldn't have the tea at the strength we wanted it, only at the strength Camellia's had decided upon.  We all found this disappointing, however all of the teas we had chosen were excellent, even though we could have done with a couple of them being slightly stronger.  Good marks for quality and selection, but really let down by quantity.  We scored this at 24 out of 30.

The sandwich selection were finger sandwiches, crusts cut off and consisted of egg, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and cucumber and cream cheese.  There was one of each sandwich per person.  They were freshly made but quantity and quality were really lacking.  The cream cheese overwhelmed the smoked salmon and the cucumber, while the egg sandwich tasted principally of onions.  Considering the amount of sweet things that were about to follow, we could all have done with a greater quantity of savoury sandwiches to balance out the meal.  This section only scored 16 out of 30.

The scones were a good size, warm, with clotted cream strawberry jam and a small dish of fresh raspberries and blueberries, which was a nice touch.  There were two per person, one plain and one fruit.  They weren't incredible but they were certainly tasty, and we were given more clotted cream when we asked for it, although there were no spoons provided for the jam and cream.  Overall, we thought they did well here, scoring 23 out of 30.

The cakes were a bit of a mixture when it came to scoring.  They all looked amazing, and we were given large slices.  The easy favourite was Mo's.  The chocolate, cherry and tea flavours all came across incredibly well to give a truly delicious flavour.  Caroline's green tea cake was also tasty but Charlotte's lemon cake was a real let down as it was quite ordinary, and slightly dry with very crystalline icing.  Only being able to choose one large slice of cake, rather than having a small selection of cakes between us wasn't ideal.  It left us very full and by this stage we had all run out of tea to wash the food down.  Thanks to Mo's chocolate cake though, and the fact that there were a good range of cakes on display, including a gluten free one, the cake section scored well at 23 out of 30.

The atmosphere in Camellia's Tea House is relaxed, bohemian and eclectic.  The tables, chairs and crockery are all mis-matched, giving the place a nice quirkiness.  It's a nice place to stop for tea and cake, and a great place for a tea lover to buy interesting, good quality tea.  The service was friendly and knowledgeable and the top floor of Kingly Court provides a lively setting.  However, the thing that stood out for us all as far as the afternoon tea itself was concerned was the overriding feeling as we left that we all wanted a cup of tea.   The lack of refills and no provision of tea bag/leaves with extra pot of hot water meant that we couldn't take as much time as we would have liked over the whole experience for fear of the tea going cold/running out.  It also meant that we were a bit overwhelmed by the sweet food.  We did feel that this place provided good value for money though, and had a lot to recommend it.  We would certainly go here to buy teas, or to have a nice cup of tea, and will probably visit it again in the future to do both of these, but not for afternoon tea.

In conclusion:  This is a place for people who like tea rather than people who like aftenoon tea.

Pros                                                                                                         Cons
Great tea                                                                                             No table service
Good cake                                                                                          Poor sandwiches
Quirky atmosphere                                                                     Lacking in elegance


7 out of 10

Friday, 20 July 2012

Time for Tea

Caroline, Charlotte and Mo are three ladies who like tea.

We like tea so much that our kitchen cupboards overflow  with different kinds of tea. Green tea, white tea, black tea, herbal tea; you name it, we’ve probably got it.

But more than a variety of beverages derived from the Camelia plant, we love the ritual of afternoon tea. There are few greater joys than that of sitting down to indulge in relaxed conversation over a selection of sandwiches, scones and cake, all washed down with a refreshing cup of tea.

We three have visited various London establishments that offer afternoon tea.  A few years ago we started making notes on the ones we visited and scoring them on how well they met our exacting standards but we were younger and more frivolous then, so after a while that fell by the wayside.

However, now we are taking up our teacups with renewed enthusiasm and intend to bring to you, the great tea-loving public, a record of the places we go to indulge in afternoon tea, with reviews, pictures and ratings.

We plan to begin this Sunday so look out for our first review up on the website on Sunday night.