This weekend I caught up with a friend from work and travelled to her neck of the woods for Tea & Cake. I know the north of the county reasonably well and lived in Stevenage for a few years when I was younger. Despite this I had never visited the neighbouring village of Walkern, but having been advised it boasts an award winning Tea Room I didn’t take much convincing.
Stevenage is unmistakably a new town, concrete tower blocks, new build estates and supermarkets. I have nothing against this concept as I live in a new town myself but there is no sense of history or interest so I drove in one end……and out the other, scooping up my partner in cake on the way through! The bland, beige landscape of the new town is soon forgotten, like Dorothy leaving Kansas and stepping into technicolour Oz the winding, narrow lane guides you past golden fields of harvested corn, hedgerows come alive with wildlife as the sky opens up above you welcoming you to the countryside. Wind down the windows and breath in the fresh air.
Had I not had a local guide I would have driven straight past the Brewery Tea Rooms. Despite being on the High Street it’s facade is understated, heavy wooden doors open onto a small cobbled patio area lined with tables and chairs. As the name suggests the building is an old Brewery which was renovated into a house. The current owners, Sarah & Nigel, reside in the main building but converted part of it into the Tea Room which has been open to the public for the past 7 years.
You enter into a charming tea parlour with a combination of tables and chairs to sit and chat or you can relax in the comfy armchair and sofa with a book from their collection. There is a classy combination of antique pieces and up cycled chairs covered in vintage hessian sacks. Like an Aladdins cave there is much more space than it would appear from outside. The cozy parlour leads through to a lighter and brighter seating area for larger parties. Natural light floods in from high windows and glistens off two chandeliers, brightening up the space. The walls are used to display echoes of the buildings past, the original bond from 1848 when the brewery was born as well as black and white photos of the building and its workers from the 1940’s. The piece de resistance is the gift shop to the rear of the room, the ceiling lowers again and your eyes cannot rest as they flit around the burgeoning shelves and side boards. Gifts for all occasions in new and vintage styles. Gorgeous things that no one needs but they make life that much prettier. Make sure you allow time to loose yourself amongst the treasures.
Even more tempting than the trinkets for sale was the array of cakes on the counter. The serving hatch has a country kitchen feel with chalk board menus and old fashioned dressers displaying their homemade produce. Sweet or savoury scones, Rocky Road, Apricot slice and Meringues the size of an ostrich egg!
The Raspberry Ripple Victoria Sponge called my name from under it’s glass cloche, it was muffled but I definitely heard it! The cake decision was a quick one, the tea decision took a little more time. Behind the serving hatch was a shelf lined with vintage, oriental, tins containing loose leaf teas from around the globe. From the delicate sounding Rose Congou and Jasmine Flower to the slightly more intimidating Gunpowder blend! I played it a little safe and choose Lady Grey feeling the refreshing citrus would compliment my fruity cake choice.
The teapots were modern, containing a removable tea infuser which allows you to choose your own brew length. The rest of the crockery was vintage china to compliment our historic surroundings. It may surprise you to know that I am not a huge fan of Victoria Sponge and I can’t explain why I was drawn to it on this day, what I do know is I’m glad I was! If I had dropped the sponge from the table I’m convinced it would have floated delicately to the ground like a feather.
Thankfully I did not waste a crumb, each exquisite bite filled my mouth with the taste of summer. Between the layers of golden sponge was light buttercream swirled with fresh, crushed raspberries. As the familiar flavours burst on my tongue I was transported back to a childhood of raspberry ripple ice-cream on hot sunny days. The freshness of the ingredients took this slice to another level stunning us both into an enchanted silence.
The attention to detail at this venue is impeccable, respecting the past but looking to the future. Family run with Sarah & Nigel front of house and mum up early baking fresh produce for the table. There is a real sense of belonging with regulars being called by name and the business supporting local charity events. With villages like this being taken over by commuters and younger generations moving away to new towns of convenience we risk loosing the heart of the British countryside. It was a joy to spend the morning in Oz and I would urge you to follow the yellow brick road and support local businesses like this one in restoring our community spirit. After all there’s no place like home.
The Brewery Tea Rooms, 198 High Street, Walkern TEL: 01438 861930