Cost – £17.50 (July 2019)
Parking and Access – There is a small car park across the road from the building. However, we did not manage to park in the car park and ended up having to park in a residential street some distance from the café. We were seated upstairs but there were some tables downstairs and also outside. The main toilets were also upstairs but there was a disabled toilet near the counter.
Background – We were looking through my massively long list of Afternoon Teas to be tried for somewhere different and interesting to go. We had not been to the Epping Forest area before, so we thought we would try it.
The Butlers Retreat is a restored Essex barn. It has been used as a place to buy refreshments since 1891 and is now part of the small Larder group. It has been nicely painted in white and is an attractive building just next door to an historic Elizabethan house. The building overlooks Chingford Plain in the Epping Forest.
Inside there were old beams decorated with pinecones
and rustic lamps made to look like they were created from deer antlers.
Contents – Four sandwiches in pieces of rolls (ham and mustard, cucumber, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cheese and pickle). One large plain scone, a dish of strawberry jam and a dish of clotted cream. A small finger of lemon drizzle cake, a small finger of carrot cake and a small finger of millionaires shortbread. A pot of tea.
Options Available – There are no options available.
Comments – We had booked our Afternoon Tea through the afternoontea.co.uk site. On that site it said that we would receive a call to take a deposit. We never received a call so, despite having an email confirmation, we rang to check our booking had been received. It was lucky we did as it had not! We forwarded a copy of our confirmation as requested and were told some time later that we could still go. This was not a problem caused by afternoontea.co.uk but was a problem within the Larder group.
On arrival we had to join a queue to say we had arrived. We were then shown to a table that had been reserved for us in the upstairs room. Although the place was heaving with people downstairs, there was only one other table in use upstairs, also for an Afternoon Tea.
The table was laid with a round white plate each, plus a paper napkin and a fork and knife.
There was also a jug of chilled water on the table and a glass each.
Our drinks order was taken straight away. We asked for a pot of tea.
The tea arrived fairly quickly in a traditional round white teapot, along with a white milk jug and tea cups and saucers. The tea was made with loose tea leaves in a strainer within the teapot. We did later ask for a refill but it was so weak we could hardly drink it!
The Afternoon Tea arrived a while after on an attractive three-tier spindle type stand with slate plates.
The sandwiches were small, poorly filled and had been made without any butter etc!! For instance, the cucumber sandwich was a small piece of roll with a small slice of cucumber in it and nothing else!! Very bizarre! Also, we had asked for our sandwiches to be made without mustard but it had been ignored. Luckily, we do not have an allergy to it, we just don’t like it. We assumed this was due to the mix up with our booking. Although it was quite prominently noted on the confirmation we had received and which I had forwarded a copy of to the manager at the café.
The cafe’s website had promised ‘rustic sandwiches on locally baked bread’.
The scones were much better. They were large, freshly made and had been warmed up. There was plenty of jam and even enough clotted cream.
Then came the cakes. Well, they must have had trouble cutting such small fingers of cake! I had noticed as we queued downstairs that the café had run out of all cakes on their counter. However, they had known we were coming, even if only from the morning. They could have put something aside for us.
The carrot cake was tiny and rather dry. I suspect it would have been tasty if it had not gone dry as it smelt nicely spicy and had a good topping.
The lemon drizzle was also on the dry side and rather lacked any lemon flavouring.
Finally, the millionaire’s shortbread was really good. Unfortunately, it was just ridiculously tiny!!
Unfortunately, the toilets were upstairs. So there was a constant stream of people and children coming up and down all the time.
Service was not brilliant. We were on our way downstairs to try and get our teapot refilled when a member of staff happened to come up. She did sort it for us but the tea was then too weak to drink! The only other time we saw any staff was when they came up with their own food and disappeared into an office. Finally, at the end of our Tea we had to queue again with all the people ordering food in order to pay.