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Archive for January, 2012

I don’t know if you have a Marks and Spencer cafe near you, but my closest one is in Perth and it’s somewhere I like to pop into before a bit of shopping, since it’s well placed on the High Street and serves excellent tea and coffee, and superb toasted teacakes. What’s more, they have a ‘buy 9 get 1 free’ drinks offer where you can get one of their cards stamped every time you buy a hot drink, and since I frequent the place I’ve managed to fill a couple of these cards and benefit from the odd hot drink absolutely free of charge, gratis and for nowt. Marvellous!

I wish I had a photo of the teacake but the other day when I went I wasn’t very hungry and just went for tea and a shared piece of fruit cake:

The standard tea on offer is a fairtrade one called Gold Blend, and I have never been disappointed by it – quite the opposite, in fact. When I want a really good cup of tea, I know I’ll get it in Markies, served in a lovely little bulging white china teapot. The saucer comes with a small and meltingly delicious buttery biscuit in it and I like the teacups, which have large handles and very wide tops that allow the tea to cool down to drinkable temperature quite quickly:

The fruit cake, which has slivered almonds on top, is rather nice too:

What’s more, I’ve found the service to be excellent, and I can vouch for the Perth branch being full of friendly, helpful, smiling staff.

Well done Markies, keep up the good work!

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Oops

I wasn’t quite with it this morning and I did sort of half wonder if I’d be making mistakes with my earlier post about scones. Right enough, I forgot to mention that the wonderful herb scone with the seeds on top was not from Dunkeld. I was in Dunkeld on Saturday, enjoying the blackcurrant scone, but on Sunday I was elsewhere in Perthshire delighting in the herb one. I haven’t given any clues about the location so far, but I will dedicate another post to it in the near future. Promise.

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Do you like the look of this?

This is the counter area of the tearoom where I had lunch in Dunkeld on Saturday. My nosh consisted of a bowl of delicious butternut squash soup which, according to the menu, came with oatcakes. In fact, not only oatcakes, but a chunk of granary bread and a slice of white.

I find it hard to resist a scone, and particularly one in this tearoom, so after the soup I plumped for a blackcurrant scone with wonderful home-made kiwi and apple jam (this tearoom does a number of excellent jams, but the kiwi and apple is my favourite).

Yesterday was another fine day for scones. The outstanding scone I sampled yesterday lunchtime should really have a page to itself, but I think it will get the attention it deserves in a future post. I’m not sure if I can descibe this scone in a way that conveys to you the exquisite taste sensation I experienced. To describe it, as the tearoom menu does, as a ‘herb scone’ barely scratches the surface of the thing. You simply must see a few pictures of it before I ramble on any further.

The recipe is a secret, but according to the cafe’s website, it contains peppers, spring onions, cheddar cheese, thyme, marjoram and parsley. As you can see, it also sports some sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and is a true triumph in scone creation. I devoured this delight with a slice of Emmental cheese, washed down with a glass of Elderflower presse, and the combination of all three items was a huge success.

After that rave review, I hardly feel I like to include the next scones, but here they are none the less:

I made them this morning, blueberry and lemon scones, and rather greedily wolfed two with my morning tea. I now feel rather sluggish and in need of a bit of exercise, so despite the dreich weather I’m off out for a little trot to work off some of those calories.

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My very first Tearoom of the Week is one of my favourite tearooms anywhere. I’ve visited this place on numerous occasions, often on my own, but also with family and friends. It’s been in existence for nearly 9 years and in that time has become very popular, so much so that they’ve expanded the floor space and built a bigger kitchen to cope with demand.

I do sometimes have lunch here, or afternoon tea, but my favourite time to visit is late morning, for a big pot of leaf tea and one of their consistently excellent fruit scones:

There are so many good things about this tearoom that I hardly know where to start. You can see from the teacup that they’ve paid attention to detail, with the delightful Highland Stoneware sheep range for tea and coffee cups, saucers and tea plates. They’ve also opted for high quality stainless steel teapots and milk jugs that don’t dribble, and very sturdy tables and chairs. Everything about this place is of excellent quality, and I’m always impressed by how clean and fresh the spacious toilets are, despite the high turnover of visitors all day.

When I first decided to write a book about tearooms, this was one of the ones I had singled out in my mind for special praise. There are many aspects that combine to make a good tearoom, from the quality of the food and drinks, to the service, cleanliness, décor, comfort, menu options, warmth and ambience, and every tearoom has its own little quirks and features. Most tearooms tick at least some of the boxes, but there are a fair number that, in my opinion, have too many down sides to qualify them as ‘tearoom delights’. Happily, there are also many with more pros than cons, and when you find one that ticks virtually every box with a big positive tick, you’ve got yourself a real gem.

As for what you, personally, look for in a tearoom, everyone has their own likes, dislikes and personal preferences, but I feel confident that, should you ever visit this place (and I do hope you will), you can expect high quality in all areas, including very good tea and coffee and consistently delicious freshly baked scones.

Since I would, ultimately, like you to buy my little guide book (or, indeed, encourage your local library to stock it so that you can borrow it), I’m keeping the names and exact locations of tearoom delights secret in these reviews, but I can tell you that this one is in Perthshire and will most definitely be featuring in the book when it comes out.

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Re: my previous post, I’m delighted to report that Dundee was full of jam today!

I did go for the scone this morning, not because the tea breads didn’t look tempting enough (they did, it was a dreadfully difficult decision) but because, as predicted,  I simply couldn’t resist the glorious raspberry jam.
 

 

 
It looks as if I didn’t slobber on much jam in the above picture, but I piled on as much as I could without it slopping off the scone too much (I got it all over my hands, if truth be told, and enjoyed licking it off).

An excellent tearoom visit and, what’s more, the parents chose a different tea bread each (date and walnut, and fruit loaf) so I got to taste those as well. As tasty and delicious as the tea breads were, I’m very pleased I went for the scone.

Incidentally, the jam is for sale to take away.  I tried to buy some but although they had the jam, they had run out of jars. It was suggested that I might like to bring in a jar of my own and have it filled up, but since I was about 20 miles from home and on my way somewhere else, that wasn’t really feasible. I did briefly consider going to a shop, buying a jar of inferior jam, emptying out said jar and then going back to the tearoom for a refill, but I thought that might be slightly ridiculous. Far better to go back another day, have another wonderful scone and jam experience and take an empty jar with me, just in case. I’m looking forward to it already.

The next food stop was Arbroath, which was bathed in lovely sunshine this afternoon, but in order to work up a bit of an appetite we went via Monikie Country Park for a stroll. If you ever happen to be driving around in the Dundee/Angus area wanting a bit of exercise and wondering where to get it, I heartily recommend a stroll in this excellent park. In the summer it even has a cafe in the grounds, which makes it worth visiting even if all you want to do is haul yourself from the car, fill up with goodies and then slump back behind the wheel again.

The park is very flat, with tarmac paths through some woods and wide, flat, grassy banks running around three reservoirs. This makes it an excellent choice for anyone with a buggy, pram or wheelchair. There are also toilets, an adventure playground and other interesting features. (If you click on the first mention of the park above you’ll find out more about it). Parking is free at this time of year, although between Easter and September it costs £2 for the day. It got the thumbs up from my dad too:
 

 
Just before leaving the park I gave the Arbroath tearoom a ring and booked a table. I was glad I’d done that, because when we arrived they were very busy and a queue was forming. Our table was in the conservatory, which was a little unfortunate due to our position being out of the line of sight of the waitresses. They forgot to bring us menus, and then they forgot to take our order. However, they apologised, and after we’d ordered what we wanted, the food came quickly, and was exellent. I had one of their specials, beer battered fish with chips and petit pois, and a glass of Elderflower presse.

If you’ve been to Arbroath, you’ll perhaps have noticed how fish-dominated the town is. There are a number of fish shops, selling a variety of seafood, but Arbroath smokies are the big thing. There are several suppliers of smokies in Arbroath, and Spink’s is perhaps the best known (click on Arbroath smokies above for Iain Spink’s website and a definitive answer to the question ‘what is an Arbroath smokie?’). My mum had Arbroath smokie pate with oatcakes, which I tasted and thought was superb.

Any visitors to these shores searching for somewhere to taste some top quality Scottish fish would do well to call in at Arbroath. There are other fishing villages and towns up and down the country, but Arbroath can compete with any of them, in my opinion.

Thus filled with fresh fish, we had a gentle wander round the harbour, enjoying the sunshine and watching the waves crash onto the stony beach, dragging the stones back with a loud roar. The roaring stones were very good free entertainment, and I was slightly loathe to leave because I found it so absorbing, but hot beverages were calling, not to mention little sweet somethings, and so it was off to our third tearoom of the day. I hadn’t actually planned to go to three today, but it’s always nice to have a wee bonus.

Number three was an old favourite in Edzell (see previous post ‘A wee bit of Angus’), and I again opted for the cafetiere of decaffeinated coffee, this time with a chunk of deliciously moist carrot cake:
 

 

It was jolly tasty, and I enjoyed it greatly, despite having stuffed my face with fish and chips not long before.

All in all, I can say that Friday 27 January 2012 was a fine day for tearooms and, who knows, tomorrow might be another corker. Tomorrow my mum, my dad, my sister and I are all meeting in Dunkeld for lunch, at a tearoom that does wonderful scones. They also have my favourite tearoom teapots, and hopefully I’ll have some photos to show you after the visit.

This has been a long post, so if you’ve managed to read all the way down to here, well done! I wish I could bestow upon you a scone with that wonderful raspberry jam slopped all over it as a prize for your efforts. 

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At this time of year, during a Scottish winter, my mum regularly wears two vests. I’ve known about this for a while, but for some reason donning two vests myself has never really occurred to me. It somehow seems so decadent, having not just one cosy vest on, but two, and yet I’m perfectly happy to wear a t-shirt over a vest, so why not two vests?

You may be thinking I’m making a fuss about nothing, and perhaps you yourself frequently go around with two vests on, but today is a big day for me, for it is my First Day of Two Vests. It’s a cold, frosty morning in Blairgowrie and if I was going to try it any day, today is a good day to give it a go.

And so to the two tearooms.

My plan today is to re-visit two recently discovered tearooms (recently discovered by me, at least), one in Dundee and the other in Arbroath. Both of them are tipped for the guide book but my policy is to visit each tearoom that gets into the guide at least twice so that I’m convinced of their merits. Both of today’s tearooms made a big impression on me on my first visit to them, so I’m looking forward to today’s little outing.

When I went before, the Dundee one made me feel as if I’d gone back in time. It had me thinking I was sitting in the late 1940s, recovering from the second world war and feeling that Blighty was getting back on its feet again. My notes remind me that leaf tea was served in a teapot that poured well, and that the place had an air of tranquility and calm about it. I am also reminded of the possibly unsweetened and slightly salty tasting fruit scone with only two sultanas in it, and the way in which it was completely transformed by the application of the tearoom’s own home-made raspberry jam. I remember that I was sorely tempted by the range of tea breads on offer, and almost chose one over the scone. Will I have an even greater dilemma today, knowing that the jammed-up scone is such a wonderful taste experience? Will I be able to choose an alternative option just to try it out? Thank goodness I’m taking the parents with me, and between us we can perhaps order both scone and tea bread. I think it will be impossible for me to pass up another opportunity to savour that glorious raspberry jam.

Tearoom two is one of those little gems beloved by locals but possibly not known about much outside the county boundaries. I may be wrong about that, but it was certainly a revelation to me. It was hotching when I went there last time for a late-ish lunch, and I was asked if I had booked a table. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll take the tearoom’s phone number with me today. During my last visit there, I had the impression I was sitting in someone’s house, but with lots of tables full of people I didn’t know. It had that friendly, community sort of feel about it.

My dad hasn’t been to either of these tearooms and so I’ll be interested to see if he agrees with my first impressions, or if something else strikes him about them. I’ve got my camera in my bag and will endeavour to take a photo or two to share anon.  I do hope they haven’t run out of that jam in Dundee…

 

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Yesterday I re-visited a tearoom in Perth I wasn’t at all sure I was going to include in my little guide book. I don’t know quite why I was so reluctant, because I’ve visited it a number of times before and as far as I can recall have never been disappointed with what I’ve ordered. Thanks to my dad, who is a staunch supporter of said tearoom and thought it really ought to go into the book, I gave it another chance yesterday and I’m very glad I did.

There’s a strong literary connection with this tearoom, and that is certainly one of its charms. It was given a make-over a while ago, possibly a couple of years ago now, and was transformed from what I used to think of as rather a dingy school dinners sort of place into a welcoming and inspiring place to take tea and indulge in a little light reading. Quotations from famous authors on the subject of tea and coffee line the walls, and there are shelves of second-hand books for sale at the bargain price of 50p a pop.

Fairtrade tea and coffee (of above average quality, in my opinion) is served, alongside a variety of cold drinks, including smoothies. There’s a good range of traybakes, sponge cakes, biscuits and scones, and everything is very reasonably priced. The location, perhaps more than anything else, attracts a wide age range, and because they haven’t packed the place with as many tables as could be squeezed in, there’s plenty of room for buggies and prams, and for wheelchairs to manoeuvre in and out.

I would like to whet your appetite with a photograph of the tea and scones consumed there yesterday morning, but unfortunately I forgot to take my camera with me.

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