I believe I can fly: Traditional afternoon tea at the Park Plaza

Not your typical traditional setting perhaps for afternoon tea, but the trendy interior and jovial crowd of the Park Plaza’s Laguna restaurant was a good setting to get high (on sugar)…

The Laguna Kitchen and Bar at the Park Plaza Hotel is a large open room with full windows along one side – which is where I’d have preferred to be seated (we were on the opposite side, which meant glum lighting and constant traffic – both a challenge to my photography skills!).

park-plaza-laguna-afternoon-tea

We arrived just before 3pm – and it was busy, with large tables mixing traditional, gentleman’s and Hendrick’s (curse being the designated driver) afternoon tea. On our table, I’d gone traditional and Mr. H. had opted for the gentlemen’s afternoon tea (read his review here).

A good selection of teas (including jasmine green, orange and lemon rooibos, and hibiscus berry) – however, I played it safe with breakfast tea. Mr. H. went even safer with decaf breakfast tea. Both were loose-leaved, and the waitress’s recommendation to brew for 3 minutes was spot on. Mr. H. usually ends up with warm milk and a hint of a tea, but we were both very satisfied on pouring.

park-plaza-laguna-tea-served

My afternoon tea was served on a three-tiered plate. I was impressed with the presentation, and who wouldn’t be?!

park-plaza-three-tier-tea

 

Would you like moisture or flavour with that?

The bottom tier comprised a selection of finger sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese; cucumber and crème fraiche; egg mayo and cress; and roasted ham).

tea-sandwiches-ham-egg-salmon

However, the sandwiches were a total let down – the bread wasn’t the freshest, but it was the ratio to filling that was the main culprit. Triple thick (that could be a thing, right?) slices of bread, with measly fillings – it was a struggle to even taste the egg mayo. Fortunately, Mr. H. needed some bread to mop up his bloody mary sauce, so the chore was cut short.

A worrying start – surely, it’s not that hard to make a sarnie? Even I can manage to do that!

 

How about a bag of sugar?

With some trepidation, I moved on to tier two: a sultana scone with clotted cream and jam, and a welsh cake.

Phew!

The scone was nothing special, but thanks to an ample serving of butter, and high-quality strawberry jam and clotted cream (not too sickly), this was pure joy. I do like a bit of warmth with my scone, but in fairness, I only had myself to blame for its cooling (well, the room lighting didn’t help) with my initial photography preoccupation.

fruit-scone-cream-jam-butter

The welsh cake was a nice touch (being in Wales and all that), but it was a bit dry – and I think somebody dropped the whole bag of sugar on it.

 

Just give me more tea!

Now I had to decide where to start on the pretty collection of dainty cakes on tier three (that I’d been rushing to get to from the very beginning).

On reflection (now I’m writing this!), I probably should have taken up the waiter’s offer to describe them – but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise at the time (or waste any time for that matter!).

top-tier-jelly-cake-selection

I started with the mini-cupcake. This was a coconut sponge (a little too dense perhaps) with a cream icing that simply overpowered the coconut flavour. The two-bite portion was just enough!

The raspberry macaron was a delight. Normally, I find macaron’s dry and uninteresting, but this one was perfectly gooey, falling apart after the initial crunch with an intense raspberry filling.

We were on a run. The thin pistachio sponge finger was gone in an instant, but the light sponge and marzipan flavoured cream were a heavenly combination.

tae-cakes-sponge-chocolate-macaron

At this point, my blood sugars had rocketed. I was sweating, light-headed and thirsty – drinking more and more tea to try and keep my anxiety at bay and cleanse my palate.

I stopped for a breather.

And to ask for another pot of tea – promptly delivered at no extra cost!

“I saved the best looking for last.”

Once I’d composed myself, it was time to eat the beautiful looking jelly, which served as a bit of a cleanser – even though it was probably just on there for decoration.

glass-jelly-cream-chocolate-spoon

All that was left was the chocolate tart – I saved the best looking for last. In fairness, it had more to it than an eye-catching sheen, with the light, mousse-like chocolate containing an intense orange tang. Wow.

 

The ‘high’lights

The ultimate sugar-fest. I can tell you it took me a good few hours to come down again.

But whilst I found it all a bit too much, that’s not really a reflection of a high-quality dessert offering.

However, there were issues – the welsh cake, scone (saved by the jam and clotted cream) and cupcake were all on the dry side, and the sandwiches were an abomination.

It’s such a shame as it looked so impressive, the tea and the service were spot on – and that top tier had some special little creations.

It wouldn’t take that much to make this brilliant – when I come back down to earth, maybe I’ll give it another go. – Mrs. B.B.

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I’m no gentleman… but I was still allowed afternoon tea at the Park Plaza

Fortunately, there were no signs barring bearded burpers, so I was able to partake in the traditions of scotch egg, seared sirloin, Yorkshire pudding… Err, it was afternoon tea, right?

Now I’m not sure if Mrs. B.B. is trying to fatten me up, or whether putting the bins out on time earlier in the week really won me some favour.

Either way, having cooked me her signature rack of lamb dish on the Friday, treated me to home-made blueberry pancakes Saturday morning:

pancakes-breakfast-park-plaza

…and then driven me 1 hour to The Walnut Tree Inn for 3-courses that very same evening, it was now Sunday and time for the Park Plaza’s (well, technically, Laguna Restaurant & Bar’s) afternoon tea – with a twist.

Yes, it wasn’t any old afternoon tea.

In a bid to curb my sugar intake, I opted for the savoury (gentlemen’s afternoon tea), whilst Mrs. B.B. went hyper with the traditional version.

Mrs. B.B. has covered the décor and service in her review, so let’s get straight down to (gentle)man’s business…

gentlemens-afternoon-tea-park-plaza

 

Finger sandwiches or STEAK?!

Ok, it was £2 more, but, “honestly, if I don’t have slightly stale finger sandwiches whose filling I can barely taste given the thickness of the bread, I can have steak ciabatta?!”

It seemed an absurd trade off, and as a result I didn’t have high hopes, but it was some of the best steak I’ve ever had.

It wasn’t tough or chewy – a little bit of gristle – and they didn’t feel obliged to do anything to distract from the flavour. Caramelised onion, a few sautéed mushrooms, but mainly tender, seared sirloin stake. Perfect.

“It was comfortingly warm and crispy.”

Saying that, I couldn’t resist dipping it into the bloody mary sauce which came with the chorizo Scotch eggs – possibly the highlight of the meal.

chorizo-scotch-egg-park-plaza
It’s worth a second, closer viewing!

The egg yolk was still runny, the chorizo was slightly spicy and moist – and it was comfortingly warm and crispy. The glisten from the juices after my first bite was a beautiful sight – and it sent my taste buds into a frenzy.

The only things I didn’t dip into the sauce were the desserts (I’m not that much of a lout!), and the two fishy options…

 

Can we get back to the meat already?

Not a huge fan of prawn cocktail – and it was a bit awkward to eat out of the shot glass – I kicked it over to Mrs. B.B. after a couple of tentative nibbles (don’t worry, I stole plenty from across the table – including a finger sandwich to finish mopping up the bloody mary sauce).

salmon-caviar-tea-park-plaza

The smoked salmon was… smoked salmon – on a dry blini (not a fan generally) with crème fraiche and tiny bit of caviar you could barely taste.

“More of the sirloin steak! Yes, please…”

Both the fish dishes were perfectly fine, but I was eager to get back to the meat – and the mini venison burger, which was a delight. I expected something fairly dry, but it was so moist and clearly made with high-quality mince – again, no need for fuss: a big slice of tomato, a lettuce leaf and a thin layer of mayo. I was more than content – even if I (thankfully) couldn’t make out the advertised juniper berry or redcurrants in the mayo.

venison-burger-park-plaza-tea
Venison or tomato burger?

I made the mistake of leaving the Yorkshire pudding until last – so it was a bit cold and had lost its crunch. However, more of the sirloin steak! Yes, please… The creamed horseradish dip had some serious kick – my senses took a battering at this point, but it was almost addictively painful.

 

Sweets… but not to be savoured

Boy, the sweets were… well, sweet!

rasberry-dessert-park-plaza
What will it contain? Well, not what was advertised!

I don’t know if they were trying to overcompensate, but they could have taken it down a notch or two with the rum baba filled with Chantilly cream and raspberries.

“The raspberry chocolate shell reminded me of those cheap pink chocolate mice of my youth.”

I did like the effect of breaking through the thick outer shell with a spoon to get to the creamy centre – my very own MasterChef judging moment.

The raspberry chocolate shell reminded me of those cheap pink chocolate mice of my youth, which, even then I would struggle to consume too many of – with the Chantilly cream it was way too much. I also seemed to be missing the advertised raspberries – however, there appeared to be pieces of rum soaked sponge hidden within.

The duo chocolate mousse was smooth, but it wasn’t light and airy. It was also very rich and intense – although the bitterness (and the fact it was served in an espresso’s cup) saved it from being overwhelming.

chocolate-mousse-espresso-park-plaza

 

Did the sugar leave a sour note?

So, I’d opted for the savoury afternoon tea, but still left with a sugar sweat and a requirement to hit the exercise bike when I got home.

To be honest, I could have done without the sweets entirely – this is where the kitchen faltered, and I started to worry about my long-term health.

Maybe I’m too much of a rough man, but a few veggie side dishes (maybe a homemade coleslaw), or just a pint of the bloody mary sauce, and I’d have left completely satisfied – rather than lightheaded from the sugar rush.

However, I booked it for the savoury; on that score, it really delivered, with some high quality ingredients and top drawer cooking.

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Close-up of scones topped with jam, cream and fresh fruit at Pettigrew Tea Rooms.

Ladies had (and have had) their day at Pettigrew Tea Rooms

You can never have too much cake. Or can you? Meeting up with a group of friends at the picturesque setting of Pettigrew Tea Rooms had been highly anticipated, but would it provide a fairy-tale or a fairly lame experience?

You’ve got to look for the positives in life.

Friends moving back to their home town: sad times.

A reason to meet-up with the girls for cake: happy days! Plus, I’d always wanted to try Pettigrew Tea Rooms.

 

Oh, it was all so Buteful

Conveniently located in Cardiff city centre, the old 1860s West Lodge Gatehouse to Bute Park provides a suiting venue alongside the River Taff, with both outdoor and indoor seating.

As well as cake and afternoon tea, the tea room offers breakfast, brunch and lunch – seven days a week. Yep, you can have cake seven days a week! Sounds good doesn’t it?!

Afternoon tea for one will set you back £16.95, and tea for two is £29.95.

The tea room boasts homemade bread and cakes, and sourced locally ingredients.

 

But it was nearly flushed away in instant

I made the mistake of popping into the ladies as my first port of call… I was horrified.

There was a notice that there are renovations scheduled, but leaky toilets and wet floors is never a good look – and I’d prefer to lock my cubicle.

“The tea room has a quaint traditional British tea room feel.”

Fortunately, the charming little tea room I found on exiting dispelled any bad vibes. The glass cabinet cake display looked magnificent – showing off some seriously impressive baking!

The tea room has a quaint traditional British tea room feel, with antique furniture and china crockery, bowls of sugar cubes, bunting, and vintage tea-themed paraphernalia. However, the multitude of modern looking pictures that adorned the walls did confuse the experience somewhat.

window-sill-tea-pot-display

pettigrew-tea-room-tables-pictures

 

Sandwiches, and lots of them

Once we were shown to our table upstairs, our waitress handed out menus and explained how tea was to be served. We would choose our drink, which would accompany our sandwiches and a scone. Later we could make an order for cake, one choice each.

Fourteen different teas were on offer, or alternatively you could have coffee or a cold drink (primarily traditional type lemonades, juices or water). It was a relief they offered an alternative. It was absolutely roasting, and I just needed water (bottled – but they do supply tap).

Customers can choose their sandwich fillings and bread type (granary, white or mixed), which is the first time I have come across this at a tea room. An excellent idea, especially given the eight available filling varieties, and dairy free, gluten free and vegan options were also offered on request.

“The bread was as fresh and light as you like, and the fillings generous.”

Given that we were a party of eight, we opted for the ‘chef’s selection’, which basically provided a bit of everything – chicken; beef; brie and chutney; egg mayo; cheese and tomato; cucumber and cream cheese; smoked salmon and cream cheese; and ham and cheese. It was all served on a tiered tea plate.

tiered-plate-variety-sandwiches-scone

Seriously good sandwiches. The bread was as fresh and light as you like, and the fillings generous. I was also pleased to see that the egg was free range and the brie organic. Mr. B.B. doesn’t buy into the whole ‘organic thing’ (“it’s just a marketing con”), but I think more effort should be made to use organic ingredients – and maybe Pettigrew could extend their organic offering and serve free-range chicken in their sandwiches, too.

For those that took tea, they each received a decent size pot – certainly enough to see you through an hour of cake scoffing.

 

Time for cake… and CAKE

The top tier of our plate was occupied by scones. There were served with quality strawberry jam (nice chunky strawberry bits!), clotted cream and butter, presented beautifully with fresh strawberry pieces, blueberries and mini-meringues.

Although a little on the small side (a slight relief given I was already pushing the limits of fullness following the mountain of sandwiches I’d consumed), the scones, served warm, were perfect. A slight crunch to the outside, light and delicate inside – and taken to another level by simply dusting with icing sugar. Even without the cream and jam (nope, I couldn’t either), you would no doubt munch through a few of these quite happily.

And then it was time for the grand finale…

We were offered a slice of a cake of our choice from the mouth-watering creations in the display cabinet. But this is where it all went wrong for me.

“It’s a bit of a tease to have all these wonderful cakes available… but you’re only allowed to try one.”

Afternoon tea is not sandwiches, a delicate scone, a nice cuppa and then…a massive slab of overly sweet dense cake that I cannot finish and must take home in box! Where was the traditional selection of dainty bite-size treats?

It’s a bit of a tease to have all these wonderful cakes available – twelve alternatives in total – but you’re only allowed to try one. Maybe it’s a ploy to keep you coming back?

I also think offering some lighter choices would be a welcome alternative – perhaps a meringue or pastry, maybe a fruit tart…

With a bit more variety, perhaps I would have avoided that sickly feeling from overindulging in one sweet thing.

My peach melba cake was actually pretty good, but it was too heavy and overwhelming.

plate-slice-peach-melba-cake

big-slice-chocolate-beetroot-cake

I did try a mouthful of the chocolate and beetroot cake and the coffee and walnut cake – again, tasty enough – but I would have struggled through a slice of either.

I left Pettigrew tea rooms feeling a little disappointed, and with mixed opinions. It’s in a lovely location, offers quality fresh home made food and great service, and is not too pricey. I would certainly like to return (maybe once the toilets have been renovated), but I’ll be sticking to savoury. I’m all caked out!

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