Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Is the afternoon tea at The Ickworth, Suffolk, any good?

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Afternoon Tea
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I do love a good afternoon tea. In recent years, I’d say the best we’ve had is at The Ivy Clifton Brasserie in Bristol – an expensive treat, but one that ticked every box.

Our recent experience at The Ickworth just outside Bury St Edmunds – part of the Luxury Family Hotels group – was a little more hit-and-miss.

There’s no denying the beauty of the place. The hotel is housed in one wing of Ickworth House: a stunning Italianate palace that was sold to the National Trust in 1998, known for its beautiful rotunda, .

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Exterior

In fact, we’d booked the tea (with vouchers that we’d received as a Christmas gift) for 3pm so we had a chance to explore the estate and work up an appetite first. I’ll share more on that experience in a later post!

The Ickworth, like the rest of the Luxury Family Hotels group, is known for its focus on keeping the whole family happy and entertained. We could instantly see its focus, passing a long line of highchairs as we walked down to the conservatory: the more informal of the hotel’s two dining spaces. As we entered there was a stack of colouring sheets and cups full of pencils and crayons which we grabbed for the small person to keep him entertained.

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Corridor

The conservatory itself is a beautiful space with its lofty ceiling, draped curtains, trailing creepers around the walls and views out into the garden of the National Trust property. It did look in need of a little TLC, though, and our table wasn’t 100% clean.

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Interior

Once seated, we were told that our afternoon tea (normally priced at £30 for adults and £15 for children) included unlimited hot drinks or juice – we were looking forward to trying out a selection. I ordered a Blue Lady and we indulged in some colouring while we waited.

First to arrive was the six-year-old’s afternoon tea…and we were impressed. Alongside two finger sandwiches – one ham, one jam – he had a plain scone with plenty of clotted cream (Tiptree jam pots were on a stand in the middle of the table), two gooey chocolate brownie chunks, a flowerpot with hummus at the bottom and carrot, celery and cucumber sticks for dipping, plus his highlight: a gingerbread man complete with a tube of writing icing so he could decorate it himself.

It’s a great idea for an element of a kids’ afternoon tea: as well as being tasty, it’s something that can keep them occupied and enjoying themselves while they eat.

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Kids' Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Biscuit

Our hot drinks turned up just minutes before the adults’ afternoon tea…I left mine for a few extra minutes to brew in the pot and began to pour…only to realise I’d been given the Berry Sextet fruit tea instead of the Blue Lady I’d ordered. By this point, though, our food had been delivered and the front of house team had all retreated from the conservatory: there was nobody whose attention I could get to ask them to switch it over.

I decided I’d wait until someone came over to ask how our food was. This didn’t happen either – in fact, nobody came over to us at all during our afternoon tea, and nobody said goodbye when we got up to leave (we’d already handed our vouchers over when we arrived, so there was no need for payment). A little disappointing and it meant that not only was I stuck with a tea I didn’t really want, we weren’t able to replenish our drinks during our visit.

It was a beautifully-presented afternoon tea, though, on a traditional three-tiered stand with plenty of variety.

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Afternoon Tea

The four finger sandwiches – ham and mustard, cheese and pickle, egg mayonnaise and smoked salmon with cream cheese and cucumber – were all delicious, though if I’m being picky, there wasn’t a great deal of accuracy in how the crusts had been removed, with a few errant chewier parts of the bread still remaining.

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Sandwiches

The scones were beautiful. One plain, one fruit scone each: plump, still warm and liberally dusted with icing sugar. There was plenty of clotted cream to go round, as well as a choice of either raspberry or strawberry Tiptree jam from the stand in the middle of the table. Delicious.

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Scones

The sweet treats tier featured those rich chocolate brownies that were included with the kids’ version, as well as a delicate lemon meringue tart, a mini cheesecake (which was pretty hard to remove from the stand without it disintegrating) and a chocolate truffle. We ended the meal feeling satisfied and not uncomfortably full as we have done with some afternoon teas in the past – the quantities were perfect!

Afternoon Tea at The Ickworth - Sweets

It’s just a shame that the service and the cleanliness of the table were such a let-down as on the whole, we really enjoyed our experience. After we’d finished, we decided to explore the hotel grounds and loved how child-friendly they were: plenty of space to run around, as well as a small “fairy garden” with play equipment and a large trampoline, and a towering giraffe sculpture standing among the trees just outside. I’d definitely be up for exploring more of the hotel – depending on the level of service, of course.

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