Whatley Manor is a beautifully restored 18th century manor house, nestled in the breathtaking countryside of Wiltshire. Originally the home of Admiral Reginald Neeld and his family, it is now a hotel, spa and restaurant where visitors can unwind and rejuvenate.
After having lived away from the UK for some time, I was in need of some British-ness, so I made a reservation for afternoon tea for my mum and I in the manor’s ‘Drawing Room’. We had a lovely Sunday afternoon.
The long driveway up to Whatley Manor is lined with stone walls and perfectly manicured lime trees. When the manor house comes into sight, it immediately exudes a grandness that will make you sit a little taller and wish you were driving a slightly better car (unless, of course, you do drive a suave Jaguar or a classic vintage as opposed to our in-need-of-a-wash Renault Megane).
A gravel pathway guides visitors under several archways and through an old stable courtyard, towards the main entrance to the manor, where they are welcomed by several members of staff. My mum and I were escorted to our reserved table, on the patio overlooking the gardens and extensive countryside. It couldn’t have been a nicer day – the sun was gleaming in the deep blue sky, there was not a cloud in sight and a gentle breeze rustled through the leaves and cooled the air.
The interior of the manor evokes a rustic chalet with warm woods, cosy furnishings in deep burgundies and golds and cool flagstone floors. Bright yellow Wellington boots and patchwork blankets are even on hand for guests, and piles of logs had already been gathered in preparation for the winter.
Afternoon tea is served in the ‘sitting room’, ‘drawing room’, ‘reception hall’ and outside on the garden terraces rather than inside the two restaurants. Here, the ambiance is much more relaxed and I felt very much at home (well, if I had been wealthy enough to live in a large country manor and employ a butler who served me mini sandwiches and scones in the afternoon!)
The afternoon tea menu lists numerous teas and infusions, from black and green teas; both natural and flavoured, to herbal teas and infusions. Each comes with a few tasting notes to help you choose. Although the green teas and infusions sounded lovely and refreshing, for me, black tea with a splash of milk is the best choice to pair with rich scones and buttery cakes. I went for the Darjeeling summer tea, described as delicately flowery; perfect for this late summer’s afternoon. This tea paired wonderfully with the dainty raspberry tart and macaroon, offering a lighter taste than an English Breakfast blend.
Our afternoon tea also came with a glass of Champagne Deutz. The stream of minute bubbles rising to the surface attested to the high quality of the marque. Deutz is a “brut” Champagne, with a robust flavour, notes of autumn apples, apricots and a lively lemon zest finish.
The afternoon tea stand comprised of three tiers; cakes a pastries at the top, sandwiches in the middle and a final tier of banana cake and scones with naughty clotted cream and house-made strawberry jam.
We began with the savoury; two identical skewers of four sandwiches, de-crusted and sliced into perfect rectangles. The selection alternated between white and brown bread, filled with colourful ingredients – a well-thought-out visual that was extremely inviting. Unfortunately, the sandwiches had clearly been pre-made and refrigerated, causing the bread to dry out a little, however, the fillings were enjoyable and well-seasoned. The ham salad sandwich had a gentle kick of hot English mustard and a satisfying balance of textures with creamy butter, thick-cut Wiltshire ham and crisp iceberg lettuce. The egg salad sandwich had a nice bite to it, the egg having been roughly chopped, rather than overworked into an almost-puree. The egg whites were smooth and perfectly cooked and nice ‘tang’ came from the mayonnaise to balance with rich egg yolk. Next was the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich on granary bread. The bread was buttered before being spread with the cream cheese which added lusciousness to the fresh-tasting cream cheese and silky salmon. I saved my favourite until last; the cheese and tomato sandwich. I love this combination as the tomato gives lift to the otherwise heavy cheese and bread. There was a nice balance of cheese to tomato, and as with the ham sandwich, iceberg lettuce enlivened each bite.
Champagne finished and sandwiches eaten, we moved onto the sweets. Blushing pink maraschino cherry and dark chocolate macaroons stood proudly, secured onto the plate with a little ganache. The robust chocolate was livened with fruity notes, while the macaroon itself had a fine and shiny crust and chewy interior. I was a little disappointed with the raspberry tart – the tart shell was of the ‘snap-able’ sort, rather than a crumbly shortbread which I would have preferred. Pastry aside, the vanilla cream was sweet and light and the raspberries were bursting with juice and a slight tanginess. A garnish of bright green lime zest was a nice touch of contrasting colour. We probably should have put the cakes immediately into the shade, as the frosting on the coffee and walnut cake had warmed and was therefore a little too buttery in texture, no longer giving a coolness to offset the rich walnuts and bitter coffee flavours. However, this was entirely our mistake and despite this, I enjoyed the strongly-infused, light-crumbed sponge, flecked with soft walnut pieces.
Onto the final tier – I could just about squeeze in a freshly-baked raisin scone. The scones were well-risen and light, studded with juicy raisins. It would have been nice to have a little more clotted cream as my mum and I tend to spread the cream rather thickly, but could only manage a thin covering, having to share one tiny pot. The strawberry jam had a nice flavour, but was a little thin and ran off the scone (leaving me with sticky fingers!) Last up was the banana cake; tasty enough, but it could have been a touch more moist and I prefer a thicker slice for a more spongy and succulent bite.
After tea, we took a stroll around the beautiful gardens, which are host to a myriad of stunning flowers, a colourful rose garden and we even saw a cute little mouse nibbling on some fallen fruit.
If you would like to “take tea” at Whatley Manor, visit their website or call reservations to book. A simple Wiltshire cream tea is offered, as well as their full afternoon tea, to which you can add bubbly champagne, a fine Whiskey sour or a very English gin and tonic.
Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa
+44 (0) 1666 822 888
Afternoon tea served from 15:00-17:30 daily.