We have a little obsession, the Philosopher and I. Well, I suppose we have several, if we were to really navel-gaze on the matter, but one passion does stand out above the others.
We dig cafes. We dig huge drinks menus; we dig frothed milk; we dig little round tables with cushioned chairs; we dig indie music. When we were dating, most of our outings involved meeting at a coffee shop and
playing footsie under the table studying. It was pretty hip of us to do that, don’t you think? The cafes we frequented made these two dorks in particular feel like smooth operators. Hipsters, even. Cool.
But the Philosopher tells me that coffee shops are now so cool that they have become uncool. Ah, the way of all flesh! And yet, we stubbornly persist in our old age. Also the way of all flesh, come to think of it…
So, the Philosopher and I have decided to use this blog to find the best cafe for a cream tea in Oxford.
Struggling to understand, you Yanks? A cream tea is like manna here in the UK. Real food of the gods kind of stuff: plain or currant scones are served with clotted cream and jam, complete with a pot of tea – hardly ever a single filled mug, mind you, but a mini pot with matching teacup. Its deliciousness is hard to describe but ever so easy to eat.
We began our journey at Cafe Loco, a recognized food establishment right across from Christ Church Meadow, which is one of Oxford’s best-loved tourist spots especially for the adolescent French and aging Japanese populations.
It’s the closest cream tea servery to our house, so when things get desperate Loco is our first stop to fill up the cream tea tank. But how good is it, really?
We decided on an analytical 7 point scale, to be averaged from subset scores in 6 categories: Value, Tea, Scone, Spreads, Service and Ambience. We intend to take up this task with all seriousness.
Now, this modernworkinggirl prefers butter to clotted cream (a travesty, I know, I know), so one essential in a cream tea cafe is readily available butter – for a price, if necessary. They obliged, and charged us 2p, which seemed reasonable enough, if a bit silly.
One of us, who shall remain unnamed, even scraped the jam/cream bowls.
At £5.50, plus extra for the second teapot, the bang for buck – er, punch for pound – was fairly low. We found the scone flaky with a more than summarily pleasant dusting of powdered sugar. On the other hand, it suffered from a dangerously low raisin count, was far too small to be considered hearty, and definitely lacked structural integrity. The jam was sweet but a bit too storebought (did my tongue taste Tesco?). It was also jelly-like – we go for preserves and let’s face it, who above the age of eight doesn’t – though layered with butter and cream it served its purpose.
All in all, our Cafe Loco cream tea ranked a 4.625 out of a possibly 7, and before you ask yes: every decimal point counts.
Hope your mouth is watering!
The Grand Cafe
The cream tea crawl continued this weekend, and in typical crawl fashion, we picked up some hangers-on along the way.
The Violinist has always loved a good scone, and the Chocoholic professed an affinity for clotted cream (any kind of cream, really), so we bundled up against the cold and walked to town with jam-covered baked goods on the brain.
The Grand Cafe purports to be the first coffeehouse in England (est. 1651), along with several rivals it would seem. It certainly is grand, with gold paint liberally employed and every wall covered with floor to ceiling mirrors. There were even golden arms holding golden torches sticking out of the wall. Always a classy touch in any establishment, don’t you think?
One charming element which could almost go unnoticed was a (yes, golden) teapot connected to the door which bobbed up and down when someone entered or exited. I’d like to think back in 1651 they occasionally filled it with real tea. A fine Lord or Lady would have the graces to skilfully open a door without spilling a drop.
Suffice it to say: high marks for ambience, although I must note the Violinist sensed that the background music wasn’t quite right. A little more Prokofiev, Ma?
We shared two cream teas between the four of us, plus two extra teas.
Again definite points for presentation.
I was delighted in my peppermint tea done the real way…
…but unfortunately everyone else’s English Breakfasts were so weak they turned grey with milk added. Distinctly ungrand.
We found the scones nice and big (almost couldn’t finish all four of them!), with a fluffy-floury texture instead of oaty-crumbly. I could go either way. With scones, I could probably go any way to be honest.
Although we had to ask for extra jam and butter, they obliged without extra charge, and the only thing we could really complain about was the curiously high level of cleavage on display from the service. I guess that’s the 1651 way.
We returned home fully satiated, just in time for a few rounds of Settlers, with the Violinist and Philosopher sweeping the board. Given their professions, the Chocoholic and I barely stood a strategic chance. But we did pass around a Cadbury’s bar to keep our blood sugar up.
All in all, we ranked the Grand Cafe a 5.4 out of 7. Not bad for an old joint!
Three Cream Teas of Oxenford were
Eaten up by four wanderer(s)
Satisfying, diet defyyyyying
Please can we have more, sir.
Well folks, we’ve done it again. One more Oxford cream tea conquered. This deletable scone ensemble was consumed by The Rev, ‘Guru, Philosopher and myself at one mid to high-end establishment again on Oxford’s High Street, charmingly named ‘The Rose’.We split two cream teas and a lentil soup (one bowl of soup split four ways can go farther than you think), and were delighted to find that this place, like cream, rose (pun) to the top of the milk pail.The scone did suffer a pretty bad case of the crumblies, but the decent size and overall balance of sweet and savoury landed it at a solid 5.25 out of 7 – raisins might have pushed it to a round 6. With the sun streaming in the windows, the Rose was a pleasant enough place to repose, although the front door had an annoying tendency to swing dangerously close to the back of my head. I suppose one cannot blame the door for that. The clotted cream was almost butter, so dense was each loaded spoonful; and the jam was full of strawberry juiciness (though once again, seeds were lacking so it could not be honestly called “preserves”, the queen of all jams). The service was prompt enough, although there was a single backbencher complaint about the waitress’s neon yellow tights, which we ignored.It was, surprisingly, the tea that blew the Philosopher and I out of the water. Robust, with woody undertones and spiced flavour accents, the Rose House Blend black tea left nothing to be desired.* Note also the fancy tea strainer.
All in all, we judged it 5.3 out of 7. This however, fails to take into account the fact that our standards seem to be inflating as we proceed with the whole sconological experiment. There may also be an element of unreliability in the judges. So let the record show hereby that The Rose, in our hearts and minds, is leader of the pack in terms of cream tea excellence.
*The Philosopher has a oenophile friend who has been try in vain to educate him about wine.