Is it me, or has afternoon tea dropped off the radar a bit recently in Suffolk? Around five years ago you couldn’t move for the cream and cake billowing from the county’s kitchens. Now, I struggle to find places (other than the most obvious ones) to recommend when I’m asked. 

Thank God for word-of-mouth, which led me to the doors of The Swan in Southwold, where a little birdy had told me the tea was “absolutely extraordinary”. 

High praise indeed. And I was curious to find out if it really would cut the mustard. 

Tea can be taken in the pretty-as-a-picture lounge, where pops of acid neon brights bring alive the otherwise elegantly pastel-shaded décor. 

But we were perched at a sunny windowside table in The Still Room, from where we had a proper nosy parker’s view of the centre of the seaside town. Cake, tea and people-watching...what more could we ask for? 

The Still Room has the feel of a European brasserie, with a long, dark, dramatic banquette seating arrangement splitting the space in two, high ceilings adorned in swanky industrial lighting, and a ‘wow factor’ bar, whose striking copper embellishments nod to hotel owner Adnams’ distillery. 

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It’s worth pointing out from the offset that the hotel staff are delightful. The GM popped over to say ‘hi’, and told us she asks the team to treat guests like they’re a member of the family. I forgot to ask what the deal is if your family does your head in! 

Suffice it to say, we found every single member of the front desk, lounge, restaurant and waiting team we encountered warm, professional and bright. They really did make us feel at home. 

It was clear the business has put a lot of effort into training to create a good customer experience. Case in point is water service. Two bottles are brought to the table. One for filling your glasses, the other full bottle left with you for top-ups. 

And when it comes to afternoon tea, pots are refilled at your request – well, actually they bring you fresh crockery, unless you’re a stickler like me who’s adamant your teabag should be reused unendingly. 

Tea at The Swan is £27 per person. For that you get the aforementioned tea or cafetiere coffee, or can upgrade to prosecco or Champagne. There’s the option to go off-piste with cocktails from the list too (charged per drink), crafted with Adnams’ own spirits. 

Cuppas poured, and the experience proper begins with three tiers of savouries – both hot and cold. 

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We attacked the warm bites first. Saffron arancini, presented in a cute copper pan, were egg-yolk bright inside, smacked you round the face with the world’s most expensive spice and, most importantly, were on point texture-wise. No one likes claggy risotto, except maybe weaning infants. 

They were served in a yummy cheese glaze (which I held onto for dipping rights later). 

Sandwiched in the middle layer were a cheeky pair of faux newspaper parcels brimming with piping hot, juicy battered monkfish, and superlative chunky chips, with crackly, amber-coloured gnarly edges.  I only wish the schmear of mushy peas on top had come in a separate little bowl, as they got a bit lost in the fray. 

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A cone of whipped honey truffle goats’ cheese crowned the tea, and came in a tiny metal bucket of pebbles – a trend that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. I’ve heard reports from other restaurant chefs of diners trying to eat these...please don’t follow suit! 

Rounding off our savoury banquet was a trio of some of the daintiest brioche open-face sandwiches I’ve seen in a long time. Care had been taken to ensure they’re easy to eat – ie, everything was cut in a fashion that meant it wouldn’t end up (unless you’re really careless) down the front of your best top. 

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Egg with truffle mayonnaise (you can’t have too much truffle on these occasions), almost translucent ribbons of Adnams gin-cured salmon with pickled cucumber and ginger, and soft, pink beef with horseradish cream were the toppings of the day. And demolished tout suite. 

As we adjusted our top buttons and took advantage of another pot of tea, tier number two was placed on the table. 

I’m awarding an extra ‘tick’ to the hotel for providing fresh plates for the sweets, as well as a cake fork and butter knife. 

I also like how the kitchen had thought not only about flavour, but texture, colour and temperature when putting together their menu. Often afternoon tea is a bit ‘samey’ when you get to the cake stage. Not here. 

Again, we went in for the ‘time sensitive’ bits first. My friend doesn’t ‘do’ coffee, but I was more than willing to wolf down cutesy cones of the kitchen’s own espresso ice cream – smooth, luscious and not too powerful (I didn’t tell her that, no way I was giving up the chance for an extra bite). 

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At the top of the cake pile were a pair of lip-lickingly good warm doughnuts bursting with apple compote. 

In the middle, coconut dacquoise with creamy, tart lemon cremeux and raspberry was perched next to a fat wedge of real honey honeycomb for my friend. This raspberry allergy sufferer instead had a piece of honey-infused tart, with a pleasing brulee’d top. 

Our individual carrot cakes, with cream cheese topping and feathers of dehydrated carrot, erred almost towards the savoury, being well-spiced, fruity, and packed with little crunches of seeds, balancing out the overall sweetness of this course nicely. 

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Earl Grey cake pops with milk chocolate had been accidentally missed off, but soon arrived at the table. Though they didn’t really redeem themselves. The cake inside hit the mark on flavour, but was unforgivingly dry. 

The absolute best thing we put in our mouths from the patisserie selection was the scones. Glistening under an egg wash shell, they were well-risen, easy to split, crunchy on the outside, and all warm and tender in the middle with a sweet, soft crumb. 

Enough clotted cream was provided to pile a toothsome amount over each piece, alongside strawberry jam. I’ll leave it to you to decide which order they go on in! 

Final impressions then? Well, I’ve definitely found another tea I can recommend. Bar the disappointing cake pop, our food was truly delicious, fresh-tasting, and delivered with a generous dose of playfulness from the kitchen. 

Service was faultless. And we felt like we’d been utterly pampered afterwards. Which is the whole point of afternoon the in the first place. 

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