Rufflets Country House Hotel, Strathkinness Low Road, St Andrews
Afternoon tea – the very words conjure up a picture of gentility, napkins, bone china and tiny sandwiches, a ritual.
But in recent years afternoon tea has staged a revival with food outlets large and small breaking out the cups and saucers, cutting the crusts off their doorsteps and baking cakes fit to rival the Great British Bake Off.
For many, the meal, as an affordable alternative to dinner, can be the chance to cross the hallowed portals of some of the country’s great hotels and restaurants.
Gleneagles, the Ritz, Claridge’s have all been on my list for afternoon tea, most memorably the charming waiter at the Ritz bearing a huge platter of cakes, insisting: “No, madam, you must have two,” as I chose one delectable delight.
Rufflets Country House Hotel on the outskirts of St Andrews certainly has been up there in my top afternoon tea venues for several years, and a recent repeat visit did nothing to spoil its reputation.
It’s a glorious place, set in beautiful gardens, with a very modern take on country house interior design that still includes big, squishy sofas and arm chairs.
Afternoon tea is a meal that has evolved immeasurably since the Duchess of Bedford started the ball rolling in the mid-19th century when she decided she needed some sustenance to keep her going between breakfast and dinner and demanded a pot of tea and a snack, served in her private quarters at Woburn Abbey.
It has also evolved at Rufflets where, on my last visit, it was served at occasional tables and presented something of a challenge from those soft seats. Now it is served at a higher table, though the comfortable seating remains.
Rufflets offers a no-choice menu that takes the diner through sandwiches and sausage rolls, scones with jam and cream, to a selection of cakes. They also offer a choice of teas and coffee for the non-tea drinkers, and, if you’re feeling flush a glass of Prosecco or Champagne to make the afternoon extra special.
Despite it being a set menu, those attentive waiting staff assure you that if there’s something you can’t eat or just don’t like on the menu, chef will make something else.
Four different types of freshly cut finger sandwiches come perfectly lined up, without crusts, on a variety of white and brown bread on their own platter. A separate plate bears tiny, warm, home-made sausage rolls.
The star, though, is the laden three-tier cake stand – scones, individual lemon meringue pies and Bakewell tarts, tiny trifles in shot glasses and a rich chocolate marquise.
We did our best but, tiny though the individual parts of the meal were they amounted to a mighty whole and we were defeated.
No waste, though – a cake box was produced and we left with our own ‘carry-out’ to enjoy later in the evening.
Your choice of freshly brewed tea –
Rufflets house blend
Tregothnan Cornish peppermint
Orange and passion fruit
Chamomile and lavender
Earl Grey and wild flower
Rooibos and wild honeybush
With a selection of finger sandwiches –
Free-range egg mayonnaise
Smoked salmon and cream cheese
Honey-roast ham and tomato chutney
Cucumber and dill crème fraîche
Homemade sausage roll
Fruit and Plain with clotted cream and Rufflets’ preserve
Also available at Rufflets