Review: Spa Tea Experience at Slaley Hall
Afternoon tea. It's a much-loved British institution - sandwiches, scones and sweets. What's not to love?
But a warning to the purveyors of this foodie feast: you get one of these equally-important elements wrong, the whole experience will not be the same.
You don't want a soggy sandwich, a burnt scone or a cake that's too sickly finishing off your tower of treats.
So, on a quest for a bit of weekend indulgence I visited Slaley Hall, Hexham, to sample the new Spa Tea Experience.
Combining a relaxing spa treatment with a platter full of tasty delight equals a very decadent treat indeed, so a Sunday afternoon seemed the perfect time to give it a try.
After being greeted at reception with complimentary robe, slippers and towel, there was time for a quick tour of the facilities before taking a turn in the pool, Jacuzzi and sauna.
It was quiet and calming - the perfect way to prepare for the QHotels' Rebalancing Ritual (a personalised facial, plus a leg and foot exfoliation and massage) which was waiting for me.
Therapists Carol and Claire really took the time to learn about our skincare needs - there was no 'one size fits all' mantra in this spa.
So, to the tea.
Served in the spa restaurant, we were presented with separate afternoon tea towers as my guest to Slaley Hall has Coeliac Disease. Both the gluten free and regular towers were piled high with treats - and we did our best to polish it all off.
It was a refreshing change to see sandwiches with a little bit of character - we've all had the usual ham, egg and cucumber. Note for the Coeliacs reading - your sandwiches differed slightly in terms of filling, but I'm told that the white bread they were served in was fresh and soft.
My sandwiches were - in a variety of breads, no less - beef, smoked salmon, duck and cheese and tomato. They were generously filled - but still light enough for us to attack our next plate (scones, with a choice of butter, cream and jam) with some vigor.
A word from Ma Fox on the gluten-free scones - they were warm, homemade and (most importantly, I'm told) didn't crumble to bits when set upon with the knife and preserves.
The rest of her tower didn't differ too much from my own - the sweet treats on the final plate were a macaroon, a chocolate cake square, a mini lemon meringue pie and (instead of a fruity mousse cake) a piece of coffee fudge.
By the time we'd finished (afternoon tea is a marathon, not a sprint) we were full to the brim - we really didn't want to leave behind a single crumb. All that survived was half a piece each of chocolate cake - it was gorgeously rich, but defeated us both in the sweetness stakes.
A couple of quibbles which stop this becoming a full marks review - there seemed to be no record of mam's dietary requirements, which were made upon booking and checked before arrival. We had a longer wait for our food because of this.
I also had to go on a bit of a quest to get some teaspoons for our hot drinks - and cream for the coffee as nothing was offered to go with it.
In a venue so grand, you expect these basic staples to be nailed down.
But if you're looking for an experience which helps you forget about life's little stresses and is fit for a special occasion too, this it it.
QHotels' Spa Day with Afternoon Tea Experience starts at Â£65.