Food Review: Afternoon tea at Knoll House in Dorset
- Credit: knollhouse.co.uk
Afternoon tea at Knoll House Hotel at Studland Bay in Dorset ticks all the boxes for a delicious and memorable experience. The world famous children's author Enid Blyton was a regular guest here, and her Famous Five would surely give their Dorset afternoon tea three hearty cheers. Discerning afternoon tea consumers, Fanny Charles and and Gay Pirrie-Weir, settle down for a proper English afternoon tea by the sea in Dorset
If there is one meal for which the English have been, rightly, famous for, it’s afternoon tea. Forget the new-fangled foams, fondants and (vegan) faux-faggots and opt for this timeless classic. Who could resist endless supplies of fragrant tea, delicate finger sandwiches, feather-light scones with local cream and artisan jam, and lots of cake?
And where better to enjoy such a quintessential English experience than overlooking Studland Bay from behind the art-deco windows of a traditional hotel with a history that includes frequent visits from the creator of the Famous Five, Enid Blyton (with indelible memories of lashings of ginger beer.)
Bought by the Kingfisher Group in 2017, Knoll House Hotel retains its familiar, nostalgic aura, but the new management has introduced a kitchen brigade and restaurant staff that do the building and its heritage proud.
Built as a summer retreat for the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy, Knoll House has been a hotel since it was bought by former tenants Francis (Chris) and Marjorie (Poppy) Smith in 1931. Blyton was a frequent visitor, staying in Room 47 and dining at her regular Number 3 table.
The success of their cream teas is down to talented pastry chef Jake Martin who came to Knoll House three years ago. Only 28, he has worked in France, Austria and Italy, countries with an enviable patisserie pedigree. Seeing the potential for creating memorable afternoon teas, and utilising his continental experience, Jake has created a tempting menu that would satisfy any afternoon tea connoisseur.
Choose from: Traditional, Bubbly, Dorset Cream, Savoury Cream, Patisserie or the Teddy Tea for younger diners. There are freshly made scones, with or without sultanas, and generous helpings of clotted cream and fruit-packed strawberry jam. The sandwich selection includes chicken with tarragon mayonnaise, ham and Dijon mustard, or cucumber, black pepper and dill cream cheese. If you opt for the savoury tea, you can have rosemary and walnut scones, with Blue Vinny cream cheese and homemade chutney – a real taste of Dorset.
The ‘Famous Five’ cakes – rather more refined than what Blyton’s adventurous chums would have packed for their picnics – are a showcase for Jake’s patisserie skills. There is blueberry and frangipane tart, a deeply chocolatey hazelnut brownie, a colourful strawberry profiterole, Jake’s award-winning (and melt-in-the-mouth) carrot cake and the spectacular mojito cheesecake, served in a shot glass with layers of crunchy biscuit, rum-infused cream cheese and fresh lime topping.
The choice of drinks is headed, of course, by loose-leaf tea, served in a proper teapot, as much as you can drink. Ten blends are on offer, including English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Knoll House garden mint, fresh lemon and ginger, and Darjeeling. If you’re up for the full decadent experience, then start with a glass of chilled bubbly – highly recommended!
Jake is known for his attention to detail and concern for his guests’ enjoyment, as we experienced. My partner’s vinegar allergy was rapidly answered with a fresh selection of sandwiches, including ham, chicken and basil, and smoked salmon and cream cheese. He had also catered for a lactose intolerant guest with a full selection of treats, including scones. Gathering up the last crumbs, she said: ‘I just don’t want to leave anything. It’s so delicious.’
Let’s book...Knoll House Hotel is open to non-residents for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea (Monday - Saturday 2.30-4.30pm). Dairy free, gluten free, vegetarian and plant-based options available on request. The hotel is dog-friendly, though dogs are not allowed in the dining room, but you can enjoy tea on the terrace. It has direct access to Studland Beach, as well as a pitch-and-putt course, tennis courts and family-friendly leisure facilities.
knollhouse.co.uk/ 01929 450450