This week I joined a friend for lunch, and cake, at The Tea Tree in Hemel Hempstead old town. Since being revamped the old town has come into its own with antique shops, a monthly craft market and this enchanting tea room. From the outside you’d be forgiven for thinking The Tea Tree was another antique store with the original“Home and Colonial” signage (a company founded in 1883!) above the door. The window is dressed with shabby chairs, a mahogany dresser displaying local produce and a well loved selection of teddies from a bygone era. The vintage theme is continued throughout; an eclectic mix of antique tables and chairs with a splash of chintz. You are welcomed with a smile and instantly made to feel at home, it all feels familiar as if you’re visiting a great aunt.
This homely feel makes sense when you learn that The Tea Tree is a family affair. Lisa runs the front of house, her Aunty quit her job to do the baking and her mum helps out with the pastry side of things. Quite a change from Lisa’s previous life as a dance teacher, but having worked in numerous cafes’ she finally decided to take the leap and set up on her own. With their 2 year anniversary approaching on the 23rd August and every table full on a Wednesday lunchtime it seems she made a smart decision.
My eye was on the homemade cakes but being lunch time I thought it best to be grown up and sample a savoury option from the menu first. My friend and I both ordered Panini’s but due to a late delivery from the “Panini man” we were offered the same filling on our choice of bread as a toasty. The apologies from staff where not necessary as the delicious sun dried tomato and mozzarella on granary hit the spot. They didn’t scrimp on the cheese, it oozed from every side and the tomatoes were plump and zingy, crisps and a small side salad completed the plate. I found it reasonably priced for the portion size but it was significantly cheaper to take away. Being a stones throw from the beautiful St. Marys Church and Gadebridge Park this could be an option on a nice day.
Then came the big decision. The counter was laden with a variety of Aunty baked cakes and biscuits, including a gluten free option. As this was my first official review blog I thought I should start with my favourite…….Carrot Cake. The cakes looked reassuringly simple, no quadruple layered double chocolate, salted caramel with extra cream here. Traditional, homely and hearty to suit the surroundings. There was also a huge array of teas on offer, speciality blends displayed in jars like potions in an apothecary. I wanted something light and refreshing so chose the mint tea. My partner in cake today opted for a traditional Victoria Sponge and a decaf tea.
The cafe was busy but service was smooth and always with a smile. It didn’t take long for our treats to arrive on a mismatched selection of retro crockery. The tea cups may have been dainty but, to our delight, the slices of cake were not!! Fork in hand I delved into the dense yet crumbly offering before me. The carrot cake had a lovely blend of spices to tickle the taste buds and was not too sweet, which balanced out the sugar kick from the icing beautifully. With each mouthful I discovered something new, a large chunk of walnut, a juicy raisin, a hit of cinnamon dusted icing. Satisfyingly stodgy it did what a carrot cake should; filled me up with warm, spicy, carroty goodness.
The Victoria Sponge was ladylike in comparison to the carrot cakes stocky presence, an uncanny reflection of the patrons consuming them some might say!! Beautifully light in colour with a delicate spread of icing on the top and within. The fruity layer of jam could have been thicker but it kept each bite fresh. The cheeky glacier cherry on top made me smile and sent me right back to my childhood, eating them straight from the pot!
Loose leaf mint tea always takes a while to brew and I was a little impatient I’m afraid. My first cup was a tad weak but refreshing enough to cleanse my pallet between full-flavoured mouthfuls of cake. Patience is a virtue when it comes to brewing tea…….lesson learned!
After speaking with Lisa and the girls I found their approach to tea and cake synonymous with mine; a relaxed, happy time to be spent with friends and family. They combine this with hearty home cooking and generous portions which makes The Tea Tree popular for lunch, afternoon tea and private functions. If you fancy a stroll into the past I recommend this little gem. I know I will be returning………the scones looked AMAZING!!!
The Tea Tree, 23 High Street, Hemel Hempstead, HP1 3AA TEL: 01442 217354