The Secret Tea Society shares their top 5 places for afternoon tea in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 10:56 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:16 20 March 2014
Bringing together smart, tea drinking ladies, The Secret Tea Society hosts events mainly in Surrey and London - from roaring twenties afternoon tea parties at The Dower House to tea parties in Surrey Hills treehouses. Here founder Claire Worrell shares her top five 'secret' places
The Dower House, Byfleet
First to feature on our list has to be Byfleet Manor, Byfleet. Known as The Dower House from the hit TV series Downton - the Manor has opened its doors to those pure of heart, yes, you have it, for lovers of afternoon tea.
To give you some background, Secret Tea HQ is and always has been totally besotted with Downton. We have been loyal followers from the very beginning, experienced the highs and lows and waited with baited breath for each new series to begin. I have to confess we follow them on twitter, stalk them on facebook and buy their books at Christmas. Whilst we don’t often get star struck, visiting Byfleet Manor we experienced our very first venue-struck experience.
From a sweeping gravelled driveway you are drawn to the front steps of this magnificent, historic Manor. The large imposing doors politely welcome you into the heavy wood panelled entrance where you are swept through to the elegant drawing room. Your eye is immediately drawn to the famous sky blue velvet chair that we see The Dowager delicately perched on during her shoots at Byfleet Manor and it won’t take you long before you’ll be asking for a photo of yourself mimicking the aristocratic Lady herself. The Dowager’s drawing room is everything you hope it will be and more.
We have the pleasure of hosting our Roaring Twenties Annual Tea Party in the Manor’s large summer room this May, a beautiful light room flanked with wisteria and filled with sunlight from the large windows, overlooking the gardens. The owner and fellow Secret Tea Lady, Julie has arranged for us to be served a traditional afternoon tea by ladies dressed as the maids of Downton and we really cannot wait!
The venue can be booked for small or large parties and we feel that the setting, ambience and sheer indulgence of Byfleet Manor warrants a visit for any special occasion. All teas must be pre-booked however as the Manor is not open all year round.
Fanny’s Farm Shop, near Merstham
We hosted a tea dress and wellies event in Fanny’s Farm Shop’s famous treehouse (yes it really is a small wooden house accessed via two small flights of steps and built around a magnificent tree, where even the table is set around the trunk) and whilst the vintage china, pots of tea, freshly made scones and cake are second to none, this venue offers so much more. The large farm shop stocks plenty of fresh local produce as well as Fanny’s famous jams and pickles, there is a gift barn and small playground for children, some livestock towards the rear of the site and the entrance is bedecked according to the season. We visited in October and were greeted with masses of stacked pumpkins and Halloween decorations.
Fanny’s Farm also has a Pudding Room, another outbuilding which groups can use privately for their teas/special occasions as well as seating inside the main building for those in smaller groups or couples. We have to say, we cannot recommend the scones enough and you will not be disappointed with the warm service and atmosphere found at this hidden gem.
The Chocolate Teapot Tearoom, Esher
A home from home feeling awaits you here. The owner Jane has poured a pot of vintage charm over this little tearoom and visiting is a pleasure that you will want to repeat again and again. We had a bespoke high tea at The Chocolate Teapot and spent 2 and half hours being spoilt with rounds of freshly made sandwiches served on glass platters, several stands of miniature scones, warm and fresh from the oven, served up with generous helpings of clotted cream and homemade jam. If that wasn’t enough, we were then served three tiers of sumptuously tempting mini cakes from a perfectly moist lemon drizzle to a specially designed chocolate sponge teapot – Yum! With prices to cater to all budgets and a varied menu, it is certainly worth putting the effort in to visit. We dropped in on a Saturday where parking was found easily along the residential side roads.
The Olive Tree Restaurant, Ashtead
Number four on our list has to be The Olive Tree Restaurant at The Ashtead Park Garden Centre. Located in a semi-rural position in Ashtead, the centre is flanked by lush, green fields yet still only a short drive to the nearest town. As you can imagine, it has been our duty to take tea in as many garden centres as possible and it wasn’t until we visited The Olive Tree that we realised we had a built up preconception as to what an afternoon tea will be at a garden centre. How wrong we were at The Olive Tree.
The afternoon tea here really was the best we had had the pleasure of taking in any garden centre. Expertly made on site by Chef Woody, three tiers of perfectly formed fresh loveliness is brought to your table. The bottom tier plays host to generously filled sandwiches on both white and brown bread, the middle tier offers up probably the best scones we have ever tasted swiftly followed by a tantalising top tier of delicate handmade sweet treats from raspberry macaroons to petite mille-feuille. The time and effort put in to their afternoon tea is clearly reflected in the food and service. You are also spoilt for choice with regard to the tea on offer which can be found displayed on a large stack of wooden shelves purely dedicated to numerous pots of Teapigs. We enjoyed our visit so much that we are hosting our Blooming Great Tea Party to raise funds for Marie Curie in June this year.
Ewell Court Tearooms, Ewell
Finally, we bring you to the fifth venue on our list, Ewell Court Tearooms. This venue is perfect to visit with friends, family and even welcomes well behaved dogs. It usually opens from mid-February until early December (but always closes on a Monday) and is set in the picturesque grounds of Ewell Court House, Ewell.
The Tearooms have tables available indoors and outdoors with a small but well stocked garden nursery attached. The interior heralds a rustic, vintage charm and an abundance of enticing gifts which are available to purchase on the premises. It is worth noting however that the tearoom operates a cash only system. The area surrounding the tea rooms and house are really quite picturesque – filled with sheltering trees, shrubberies, grass areas, benches, winding paths and little footbridges. There is a large pond in the grounds with ducks a plenty in front of the house and a small river flows under the footbridges and past the children’s park found a little over five minutes walk from the house.
We have visited the tearooms on numerous occasions and always received a very warm welcome. There is an excellent choice of refreshments available to order and service is prompt but not rushed. Food is always made to order with generous portions. Although for us, no visit here would be complete without a purchase from the delightful nursery before taking in the grounds armed with our trusty bag of duck food which can be purchased from the tearoom.
And that my dear friends concludes our top five places to take afternoon tea in Surrey. To find out more about what we have been up to or to join us, visit us at: www.TheSecretTeaSociety.com X
Claire Worrell, Founder
The Secret Tea Society
Discover some of Surrey Life magazine’s own suggestions in our monthly On the Tea Shop Trail column