19th December 2023
Each month, our food writer Bibi Roy reviews one of our food and drink partners. This month she visits The Spa Hotel to sample their Festive Afternoon Tea. Members enjoy a complimentary glass of house wine or soft drink when dining for lunch or dinner in The Orangery Restaurant from Monday to Thursday, plus 10% off all spa treatments from Monday to Wednesday in the hotel's Spa Spa.
The Spa Hotel is situated on the edge of Tunbridge Wells, overlooking the picturesque Kent countryside. A long established seventy room hotel and wedding venue, with a marvellous spa, swimming pool, sauna, steam room and gymnasium that can be used by residents or members.
I often visit in the summer for events and alfresco dining, as the grounds are beautiful. When the sun hits the pagoda it becomes the perfect spot to honour love. I can see why so many choose to celebrate with family and friends here.
The Orangery overlooks the gardens with sunlight flooding through imposing windows that creates a lovely calm environment. I have spent many an afternoon in this room, salivating over a three tier creation by Chef Chris Comer, who happens to make some of the best scones I have ever tasted. Yes there is an art to it as my friend Sudi Pigott will attest to, her partner being the well-loved Scone Man in London.
Now I adore any fruit based patisserie and Chris has mastered the latter well, his strawberry choux buns being a particular favourite, however ‘tis the season for chocolate decadence and canape abundance. Bring on the miniature morsels one can never have too many of.
The Festive Spa Afternoon Tea is served for a very reasonable £30. I have been kindly upgraded with a complimentary glass of Chapel Down Classic Brut. If you do choose this option then the price increases to £44, some would say expensive, but you are after all in very pleasant surroundings. There is a vast tea menu. As always I go with my old faithful Earl Grey and I am pleased to say this is loose leaf, not the bag variety.
Top tier finger sandwiches consist of Gravlax, cucumber and dill mayonnaise on white bread, turkey and cranberry on brown and pressed pork and celeriac on brown. The bread is soft and fillings ample, with no hint of frozen and thawed from the night before. I relish them all. Next a Camembert bonbon. Everybody loves a bonbon, this one is a very safe option but enjoyable nonetheless. The cranberry and chestnut sausage roll alongside though is delightful. Flaky pastry with a flavoursome balance of meat and fruit sweetness that is just the right size.
On to those marvellous scones. Freshly baked orange and cranberry and plain versions, accompanied by Tiptree preserves and Cornish clotted cream. They have such lovely colour atop and fluffiness within. I adore the texture and that they do not crumble to nothing, as is the case for several others I have tried. Don’t you just hate it when you endeavour to put one in your mouth and most of it disintegrates into a pile on your plate. For me the order is always cream, then jam, it just looks prettier but I’ll leave that debate for another day.
And so to the patisserie. I am pleased to see a choux here, this time chocolate, orange. It is the prettiest of the selection, adorned with red jewels and chocolate shards. The fruit cuts through the creaminess, it’s a great start and I do love a choux. The next three have a strange fondant fancy like appearance, luckily that is where the similarity ends.
A gingerbread petit gateaux has the cutest gingerbread man atop and dark crumb beneath, the spice comes through well, not too overpowering. The eggnog bavarois is rather sweet, but if you enjoy white chocolate and a whipped egg and cream custard centre, this is the one for you. It looks like a cute little candle providing a nice colour contrast to the plate. Lastly a spiced chocolate and cherry delice, always a great combination and one Chris likes to use a lot in his work. As you know I am not a big chocolate dessert lover, but the addition of fruit in different forms wins me over every time.
I finish this marvellous repast with more Earl Grey tea to counter the sugar rush. I try to convince myself I can limit the number of times I visit but who’s kidding who here. High Tea at The Spa Hotel continues to be an experience I return for, not only as the value when compared to some of the ridiculously overpriced establishments in London is excellent, but also the service and standards are extremely well executed.
The Christmas trees in the lobby, huge gold baubles and pretty ivy around the restaurant just make it a merry place to be at this time of year. Thank you to the team for a great afternoon. I recommend booking whilst there is still time this week. Go on, spoil yourselves!
Member rewards: Receive a complimentary glass of house wine (125ml) or a soft drink when dining for lunch or dinner in The Orangery Restaurant from Monday to Thursday. Receive 10% off all spa treatments from Monday to Wednesday. Find more details here.