Inside the region's newest afternoon tea experience
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
“Oh my god it’s so cute.”
“This is too cute.”
“Isn’t it just the cutest?”
You get the picture. I have to point out the above bleatings are not mine (although I did agree with her) but my nearly 16-year-old daughter’s.
I think she spent about 15 minutes gushing over the interior of new dedicated cakery, Tea at The George. With the décor (pastel pinks, gilding, huge Insta-friendly flower displays), her platitudes, and the fact she was wearing the kind of chequered dress I’d have rocked circa ‘96, it felt like I was inside the set of hit romcom Clueless.
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The eatery, one of the only spots in the area solely dedicated to afternoon tea, is attached to The George – a 500-year-old property on Colchester’s high street. Owner the Surya Hotel group (which also operates The Mill at Sudbury) has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the refurbishment of this property, where lavish lounge and bar spaces meld into an elegant dining room, and fancy, covered al fresco space.
We were some of the first customers through the door at the newly opened, chequer floored salon. I had worried it was going to be stuffy (the booking reminded me ‘smart dress’ was required), but we needn’t have got het up over wearing our finery because the atmosphere at Tea at the George was super relaxed. In fact, it was a broad medley of clientele. A table of mums with their young daughters enjoying a (very well-behaved) girly tea. Clusters of girlfriends gathering over tea and cake for a chat. Some ladies that lunch.
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Snuggled into a banquette, surrounded by plumped up cushions (Ella still cooing over the décor) I only wished I couldn’t see Shoezone out the window...maybe they should get a blind?
But that was a minor distraction, because we were soon drawn towards the experience we’d arrived for. A feast of cakes, sandwiches, scones and tea.
Tea menu in hand (they also do fizz and cocktails), it wasn’t long before one of the lovely servers brought over a palette of jars, each one filled with a tea sample, so we could sniff to our hearts’ content.
The fruity hibiscus tea smelled lush. Like an exotic summer holiday. But I went for lemongrass and ginger, and Ella (usually an Earl Grey fan) for the classic English breakfast.
Rather than loose leaf, tea arrived as a bag each, to be draped into our gorgeous stripy cups, and topped up with water from Tea at the George’s bespoke-designed pots. Disclaimer here – I was very jealous of the table opposite. Their teapot was in the shape of a typewriter! Water could be refilled as often as we liked. And, thankfully, we were given a little saucer for the bags – often an oversight. To Ella’s joy, tea came with a cleanser of strawberry granita. Lovely. Only.....the golden spoon alongside it was too big to get the ice crystals out without flicking it across the table. We let it melt a little and enjoyed the concoction as a slushy drink.
Soon after, our waitress brought over a tower of sweet and savoury treats. Now I’ve eaten in places like this before (mostly further down into Essex and London) and they can be all fur coat no knickers. But I can honestly say that Tea at the George is not style over substance.
It was clear to see, just at a glance, how much care, effort and attention to detail had gone into not just ours, but everyone else’s afternoon tea. Pastry chefs (especially in the current climate) are like gold dust....the hotel has clearly struck the culinary jackpot.
There’s no right or wrong way to attack an afternoon tea, but in our house it’s always sarnies first. And they were top notch...as sandwiches go. Freshly made. Soft bread. Sharply cut crustless edges. The selection included cool cream cheese and cucumber, egg mayonnaise, ham with grain mustard mayonnaise and, my favourite, pieces of crayfish and prawn bound in a light dill dressing on granary.
Up a level and it was scone time. Still warm, these were clearly freshly baked if not to order, but on the day we visited. We had two plump scones each – one plain, one fruit, with lashings of clotted cream and jam. These were beautiful. Slightly sweet, a touch of salt, a little buttery, crisp as a biscuit on the outside, but soft and yielding within.
The top level of confections was almost too pretty to eat. A white chocolate ganache macaron decorated with a clock design rice paper wafer and served with a pipette of fresh peach gel.
A creamy vanilla scented, strawberry compote filled cheesecake, in the shape of the summer berry, glazed, topped with black sesame seeds, and presented on a crumbly brown butter shortbread.
Dainty slices of Battenberg cake, filled with apricot jam to cut the sweetness, and deftly coated in the thinnest layer of marzipan.
My favourite (of course) was a plant pot of bubbly milk chocolate mousse which had been infused with the bergamot notes of earl grey tea...with a hidden centre of lemon curd, and a sprinkling of dark chocolate ‘soil’. Nom.
The kitchen aced every single element. Service was knowledgeable and friendly. And nothing was too much trouble. What more could we ask for?
Needless to say, we left with three “super cute” boxes of leftovers to share with the boys at home.
My only criticism would be the balance of sweet to savoury is a bit off. Instead of two scones destined for the jam and cream treatment, I’d have loved a really peppery, cheesy scone....or perhaps a quiche or sausage roll.
Traditional afternoon tea is £27, but there are also gin and cocktail afternoon teas, a summertime tea with a jug of Pimms, gluten-free, veggie, vegan....oh a whole plethora of options. I imagine it’s going to prove very very popular booked out in its entirety for birthdays, anniversaries and hen parties.
Booking is required in advance, but they also have a menu of stand alone cakes and cream teas you can turn up and enjoy without a booking if there’s space.