One of Britain's best-loved attractions now has a fantastic extra string to its bow: an afternoon tea served in the Orangery that has been put together by Lady Emma herself. But is it as good as it sounds? We went along to find out.
A big day out with the children in the summer holidays is always a joy.
Okay, so that’s a bare-faced lie. Anybody who has spent an hour and a half queuing for a minute and a half’s thrill ride at a theme park will know all about the down-side of some of Britain’s most well-known attractions.
And as for the food? You’ll be lucky to get change from £10 for a dried-out hamburger at most places, while a cardboard cup of tepid water with a teabag dunked in it can easily set you back £3.
Thank heaven, then, for Longleat, where they have had the utterly marvellous idea of serving an afternoon tea that would make a London hotel proud in a beautifully peaceful spot away from the park’s hustle and bustle.
The tea is the brainchild of Lady Emma, aka Viscountess Weymouth, who has personally selected the different elements of the tea herself and even provided several of the recipes. Longleat’s food festival in June was the testing ground, and the afternoon tea is now being served in the spectacular orangery of this magnificent Elizabethan house.
This is a quintessential English afternoon tea: finger sandwiches made with soft, fresh bread and the classic fillings you’d expect, with the standouts being the roast chicken in velouté sauce and the salmon mousse that was stupendously rich and moreish. Of the savoury elements only the cheese and watercress quiche was slightly underwhelming, a touch heavy and lacking in seasoning.
The scones, cakes and fancies were anything but disappointing, however. The meringue rosettes pulled off the trick of being airily light without falling to pieces at the first nibble; the scones with clotted cream and Emma’s own jam were spot on; and lemon curd tarts were so bursting with tangy flavour that our six-year-old constantly asked for more (her requests, like all those for ‘just a few more of those sandwiches’, were cheerfully fulfilled by the friendly waiting staff).
As for the tea itself, both of types we requested arrived in a huge china teapots that you’d almost imagine were borrowed from the main house itself, furnishing endless refills of our dainty cups. It was all as far away as imaginable from a burger and a cardboard of tea – in terms of quality, setting and value.
Originally, Longleat planned only to trial the afternoon tea until the start of September, but we were told during our visit that they are now plans afoot to keep it running indefinitely. Let’s hope so, because this is one idea that deserves to become a new tradition at the park.
Lady Emma’s afternoon tea at The Orangery in Longleat; Adults £15.95, children (under 15) £9.95. A lighter tea without the savouries is also available at £9.75/£5.25, while you can add a glass of Longleat Champagne for £7. Booking strongly recommended.
While you’re there…
Longleat has been running as a safari park for half a century now, and the appeal of coming up close to lions, tigers and giraffes is as great as ever. As well as the drive-through element you’d expect, there is also a boat trip past hippos and gorillas, walk-through areas where you can wander freely among penguins and meerkats, and indoor areas where the keepers will let you hold snakes and tarantulas.
And then, of course, there are the infamous monkeys. Once famed as destroyers of many a car aerial, Longleat’s rhesus monkeys have developed a new and even more troubling skill: plucking parking sensors out of car bumpers, and particularly Ford bumpers.
It takes them mere seconds to remove – and to replace one apparently costs about £200.
Suddenly the £79-per-person bronze VIP tour seems outstanding value – you leave your own car behind and get driven around by a guide in a Land Rover Defender. As well as driving you off road and right up to the wildlife, you’ll also be regaled with stories of the animals’ lives and loves… and hair-raising tales of the guests who decide to open their doors and get out of their cars in the big cat enclosures.
Hard as it is to believe, the latter is an almost daily-occurrence at Longleat. Our favourite story was of one chap who started rummaging around in his boot in the tiger enclosure. The reason he gave? He was ‘looking for something to eat’ so that he could throw it towards the dozing animals to ‘liven them up a bit and get a better photo’.
Park entry at Longleat for the day costs around £100 for a family of four (two adults, two children) when booked in advance online at www.longleat.co.uk.
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