Jacqui – Nov 2014
When the female quartet of myself and three ex colleagues (L, R & C) get together, it typically involves three things – alcohol, food, and lots of raucous laughter. For the last four years though, either myself or C have been pregnant pretty much every time, like some kind of tag team. This has led us into the rather dignified world of Afternoon Tea. We’ve visited stately homes with huge mounds of scones. We’ve driven up long, winding, peacock-flanked drives. We’ve been crammed into tiny Victorian cafes. We were yet, however, to take high tea atop a roof terrace, alfresco style.
Arriving on the front steps of The Ashmolean Dining Room, you can’t fail to be wowed. This stunning piece of Greek inspired architecture has stood in place since the 1840’s. Older even than it’s handsome neighbour, The Randolph. As the world’s first university museum and Britain’s first public museum, The Ashmolean houses a stunning collection of art and archaeology.
Take the elevator to the top of the museum and you’ll find yourself in a modern, expansive restaurant, with floor to ceiling patio doors spanning the width of the space. Furnished with simple wooden seating, giant pompom style lampshades and pale walls, the space is light and airy. On a nice day, the patio doors are flung, or rather slid, open allowing diners to flow out onto the roof terrace.
As for the menu, they start by pitching well to an upper-middle class audience, with a selection of aperitifs, followed by a choice of pricey but appealing starters and mains – seven of each – plus a sprinkling of small plates and sides. The British/European menu includes ox cheeks, slow cooked duck and salads (the cheapest main being the market salad for £12.50), though our interest lay purely in their cakey offerings.
Their afternoon tea certainly sounded appealing, and comfortingly traditional – loose leaf tea, finger sandwiches, petit fours (or cake) plus freshly baked scone with jam and cream. £13.95 without champagne, £19.95 with, or £5.95 for a standard cream tea. We opted for the bubbles, with a jug of Pimm’s for good measure. I may have even had a mimosa – it was a celebration after all, I don’t see these girls that often.
Having been somewhat disappointed with the food on a prior visit, my expectations were slightly limited, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a well presented and perfectly proportioned selection of goodies arrive on three-tier cake stands. They tasted as good as they looked. Sandwiches were neat and well-filled with salmon, cheese and egg. Scones were of the fruit variety (my preference, though some see them as an offensive intrusion), fresh, warm and one per person, confusingly doused in icing sugar. Petit fours were small in number, though elegant and luxurious, most notably the fudge and chocolate truffle.
There isn’t much more to say of the food, other than it was a very solid effort, possibly equal in Oxford to The Grand Cafe and The Old Parsonage, The Randolph still holding top spot for me. Service at The Ashmolean was efficient and helpful, for the most part – one waitress was a little less so – and drinks were well executed. It’s not one I’ll be rushing back to, though I’d certainly revisit again, definitely for afternoon tea and more inquisitively for lunch/dinner, just to see if my previous experience of the main menu had been the exception rather than the rule.