Friday, 3 August 2012

The Cavendish Rooms, Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Canny business people, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The Chatsworth empire must have an economy larger than some smaller nations. What with entry fees for the house, gardens, farmyard and car park; the restaurants, cafés, garden centre, farm shop, gift shop and homewares emporium you're not sort of ways to spend a few quid.

All this could seem grasping, but I think they get away with it. The place is just so spectacular. The colossal baroque pile of a house, the extensive and intricate gardens, and the lovely natural setting: grassy valley, meandering river and wooded hills. There aren't many finer settings for a Sunday stroll followed by afternoon tea.

In practice the English summer intervened, a hefty shower putting paid to the stroll and replacing it with a wander round the pricey homewares, Duchess endorsed jams and so forth before we sat down for a not so well earned feast.

Afternoon tea is served in the Cavendish rooms, under a sort of cloister that runs around the stable block. It's not the most scenic part of Chatsworth, but it's hardly shabby with its imposing stone walls and smartly attired waitresses.

If you go for the works, the champagne afternoon tea, you get a starter before the tiered stand of goodies arrives. I had the advertised crayfish cocktail and they were happy to substitute this with a goat's cheese tart for seafood allergic AS. Both were perfectly nice but crayfish are just a poor man's prawn really aren't they? I liked the champagne but it would have been far more enjoyable if they'd remembered to refrigerate it.

On to the main event, the much anticipated arrival of the stand. Places serving afternoon tea on ordinary plates are really missing a trick as the ceremony is all part of the fun. It's just not the same without the high-rise buffet on stilts.

The sandwiches were in the 'could try a bit harder' category. Serviceable but not containing any fillings of particularly great quality. One or two of them should have found the bin rather than the plate too, being curly edged and a bit stale. Having said that they can't have been that bad as we still had a few more when offered. More tea is also offered whenever you need it. We drank Earl Grey and one pot was plenty.

Happily more effort had gone into the sweets. The scones were light and fresh, strawberry cream meringues cracked on biting to reveal soft, chewy innards and the brownies oozed rich, high cocoa chocolate. Although they were good they really ought to ditch the brownies for something a little more English. Surely a refined Victoria sponge would be more fitting with the surrounds than some gooey American upstart?

Best of all was the lemon posset. For some reason I had in mind that a posset was more like a fool or mousse, lightly whipped in texture. This was more like a lemon crème brûlée, dense and smooth, but cut through with bright bursts of zest. Delicious. Why the hell have I never eaten this pudding before?

Like Chatsworth itself, I think they just about got away with it. Lukewarm champagne and average sandwiches were countered by lovely pudding-y things and polite, generous service. It's not cheap (£16.50-£22.50 for afternoon tea) but you'll almost certainly have a good time.


Chatsworth House
DE45 1PP

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