Afternoon Tea At The Birdcage In LeabrooksPublished On Tuesday 3 Jul 2018 by Sticky Beak
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When something fabulous is on your doorstep, it’s so easy to take it for granted and think “Yeah, we’ll go there again next week”. This is exactly the trap The Man Bird and I fell into with regard to The Bird Cage tearoom, resulting in us actually not getting around to visiting for an absolute age. Luckily, owners Mel and Richard (both super gentlemen, and more than a smidge dashing) are a tad more on-the-ball, and when they spotted we were visiting venues ahead of Afternoon Tea week in August they invited us over to sample their own take on this fashionable past-time.
Since our last visit, Richard and Mel have had a bit of a change around – perhaps the biggest understatement I will ever make! Half of the premises have been transformed into a gentlemen’s barbers shop, but not just an ordinary barbers – this one looks like it could be from Colonial times. It is furnished VERY chicly, and there is even a bespoke child’s chair with steering wheel to keep littlies occupied. Great for killing two birds with one stone chaps; nourishment for the body, care for the Barnet under one roof!
Where the tearoom has its own resident Canary, the barbers has “The Famous Five”; a quintet of goldfish. They have their own spherical bowl and are indeed named after Enid Blytons’ characters – Julian, Anne, Dick, George (Georgina) and Timmy the Dog, who is obviously a dogfish in this case!
The other side is now given over to the tearooms; regular customers will remember this as the area that housed the large display cabinets, sofas and chairs, with George the Canary in the window. George Von Trap (pronounced Gay-Org, btw) is still the master of all he surveys, in the middle of the window space. Gone are the large cabinets, and sofa; instead the tables are now in front of the kitchen area, which means you can chat to Mel as he prepares your food – lovely and sociable.
There’s still the smaller cabinet that houses the items of jewellery to buy, thankfully; I got a fantastically unique brooch from there, and people always remark on it, so if ever you want to buy something one-off for a friend, The Birdcage at Leabrooks is the place to try!
His Nibs and I picked a gloriously sunny day on which to visit The Birdcage, and I don’t think there’s a better time to enjoy Afternoon Tea than when the sun is blazing down. Mel asked what teas we would like; I had breakfast tea, The Man had Earl Grey. Both teas were served in teapots with china cups and saucers, of all differing designs and colours which looked very cheery. At The Bird Cage you can enjoy unlimited drinks within the price of the Afternoon Tea package - £12.50 per person, and advance booking is essential.
Rather than serve the Afternoon Tea items all at once, Mel brought out our savoury selection on two rectangular china platters. Instead of a uniform arrangement of finger sandwiches, there was an assortment of open and triangular sandwiches, all carefully arranged in little non-uniform mounds to show off different colours and textures. Interspersed between them were slices of mini pork pie, crisps, Sausage and Olive mini sticks, and a gorgeous jewel-coloured salad containing fruit as well as vegetables.
We both enthusiastically tucked into the Ham and Mustard sandwich, and took great pleasure in the nicely balanced pair of flavours. The bread used was nice and fresh, so it was soft and springy to the bite, which always makes a huge difference to the overall enjoyment of Afternoon Tea savouries I think.
His Nibs isn’t a fan of Green Olives – or any Olives for that matter – so he gobbled the slices of Sausage and passed me over the Olive from his stick. For something so simple and just a little different, this worked really nicely within the Afternoon Tea selection; both texturally and visually.
The Pork Pie had a lovely pastry to it and not too much jelly either – I don’t mind a little jelly on the top of my meat in a Pork Pie, but too much makes the whole thing a bit of a damp-squib in the mouth. Luckily the one Mel uses is a very nice example; it wouldn’t surprise me if it came from Owen Taylor and Sons butchers, they’re only a few yards up the road after all!
Crunchy ready salted crisps just gave a different sensation in the mouth and again provided a little something different to many other Afternoon Teas that we’ve had. Personally, I loved the salad too; in amongst the lettuce, cucumber and tomato were green Grapes and slices of sweet, juicy Orange. Again, it was different to the usual offerings and really kept the taste buds on their toes.
Mel likes to play around with more common pairings and try something a little different, and given his extensive experience in the trade he comes up with some great combinations. Instead of Brie and Cranberry, we had mature Cheddar and Redcurrant Jelly! Now I can imagine the faces some of you are pulling, and all I can say is try it for yourselves, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Both The Man Bird and I loved it, which caught me off-guard somewhat as Him Indoors isn’t always keen on change.
The two open sandwiches on the platters were Cream Cheese and Cucumber, and Salmon and Lemon. A lovely deep layer of silky cream cheese had been topped with semi circles of Cucumber and in the heat of Midday this combination was just the perfect morsel to savour.
I didn’t think anything could top that classic Afternoon Tea sandwich, but when I bit into the Salmon and Lemon number I discovered the zenith of the sandwich world! Lovely succulent slices of Salmon had been curled and twirled on top of the bread and then a small piece of Lemon flesh lay on top; the sweet and sour partnership was just sublime. The fresh citrus texture was something so unique in the context of Afternoon Tea sandwiches, top marks for inventiveness Mel; you’re a maestro, sir!
With our savoury selection all finished, Mel came and cleared the platters away, refreshed our pots of tea, and came back brandishing assiettes of sweet treats every bit as generous as the sandwich one had been. Good job we’d taken our appetites!
There were two slices each of Malt Loaf, so we decided to start with one of those. Both of us love Malt Loaf, and this one was deliciously rich in taste with oodles of fruit in it; plenty of butter had been spread on it too, so it seemed a really indulgent treat to start the sweet things off with. Fresh Strawberries and cubes of Turkish delight on sticks had been used to garnish the sweet platters - His Nibs absolutely loves Turkish delight, so I let him have my cube too.
A beautiful heart-shaped Apricot Scone had caught both our eyes, so that was next on the hit-list! The scone itself was a lovely texture and had a deep filling of fresh cream and Apricot conserve, with a topping of fresh sliced Apricot popped on. A more summery treat you couldn’t wish for.
Before we tucked into the Chocolate muffin we demolished the second butter-slathered thick slice of Malt Loaf – it was too good to resist any longer. I used to regularly have tea and Malt Loaf at my Grandmas house when I was a mere chick myself, and the happy memories associated with this made me smile.
The mini Chocolate Muffin looked lovely and dainty on the platter and had a beautifully rich cocoa flavour to it, enhanced by a swirl of Chocolate buttercream on its top. Sometimes less is more, and given the richness of this little minx it was definitely an apt saying. It was very satisfying in the mouth and the chocolate taste lingered nicely. We popped the fresh Strawberries into our mouths straight after the Chocolate muffin; the cocoa seemed to enhance the fruit notes, making them even brighter on the palate.
All that remained on the platter was the Lemon butterfly cake and Sherry Trifle that had been presented exquisitely in miniature teacups. We tossed a coin and the Lemon butterfly cake was our penultimate morsel.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I had butterfly cakes, they seem to have gone completely out of vogue; yet at one time I used to make them myself almost every day. My Mummy Bird and Chickadee used to whip up batch after batch of them when my baby was learning to bake. We dutifully used to sit around the table eating them all saying they were the best thing we’d ever had. Mel had filled the middle of his ones with a gorgeous lemony buttercream swirl, popped on the “wings” and placed a piece of candied Lemon in the middle; it was simple yet very effective in its presentation.
The Sherry Trifle looked superb in its teacup confinement, adorned as it was with fresh Strawberry slices and flakes of dark chocolate. Teaspoons were the perfect size for scooping it up and you could see all the tiny pieces of fruit suspended in the jelly underneath the layer of cream. You could definitely taste the Sherry in it, which was nice; there’s nothing worse than an insipid trifle. This was a great end to what had been a most enjoyable Afternoon Tea selection.
Hot Wings definitely deserved by this quirky venue and super-polite host. For £12.50 per person, it represents excellent value; our tummies were full, there was a great selection of sweet and savoury offerings, and unlimited drinks are always a bonus. The Afternoon Tea MUST be booked in advance. For other meals you can just walk in, but given its popularity and smaller capacity (approximately 20 people at a time) I would heartily recommend booking a table – especially if there’s a few of you in a group.