It was on a hot and sunny Saturday with Ollie away for the weekend that I took my Mum and Aunty out for an afternoon to the Ashburnham Orangery tea room, ten minutes from Battle in East Sussex. Having been on my list of must visits since it opened last year, we found it well sign posted off the main road.
Turning off, we meandered along the winding lane through some gorgeous woodland before driving over a bridge into landscaped grounds surrounded by three huge lakes. This grand estate has not been open to the general public before as the main site is used as a Christian prayer centre. In its heyday this was one of the finest houses in the Southeast but was damaged when a fully loaded Marauder bomber crashed nearby during the Second World War, and dry rot set in. In 1959 much of the house was demolished reducing the central section to two floors and the wings to a single story. After a hunt around the internet I found a photo of it in its former glory to compare then and now.
|Ashburnham Place nowadays|
|Ashburnham Place in its prime, not sure of the date when this was taken but isn't it amazing!|
Following signs to the car park, we abandoned the car and made our way to the tearooms. Entering through a pair of huge wrought iron gates we were not expecting to be wowed as much as we were. The impressive orangery with its huge elegant windows was built around 1777 by Capability Brown, a famous English landscape architect. Fringed with a well kept box hedged boarder and freshly mown grass it was picture perfect.
Although hot and sunny it was fairly quite with only a handful of other people around. We really felt like we had stumbled across a secret haven, so much so I almost don't want people knowing about it!
Tables and chairs were set up on the lawn around a huge water fountain trickling gentle away in the background but we decided to sit in the orangery so we could admire from inside. Welcomed by the friendly staff, we took a pew on some metal chairs with comfy cushions and studied the menu choices - sandwiches, paninis, soup, afternoon tea as well as a daily hot meal.
The interior was original with the serving counter obviously an add on, but tastefully done. Blackboards listed a few new drink choices which looked tempting and the staff were very friendly and attentive as we made our decisions.
For the drinks choice we went for two Elderflower & Pear's and a Strawberry & Rhubarb Posh Pop served with ice. They were fantastically refreshing, made on a farm in Cambridge and have no artificial colours, flavours or sweateners which is always nice to know.
Our food order was taken and whilst waiting for it to arrive we admired the orangery from the inside. The huge windows let the light flood in with a few slightly open giving a welcoming breeze. Growing along the walls are some of the oldest Camillas in the UK, dating back to the 1800's which must look amazing when out in flower.
Lunch appeared promptly - cheese and local chutney sandwich (photo above) and a smoked salmon sandwich both served with fresh salad and crisps which we all shared between us and tasted great. The bread used was not as good as our sandwiches in No 12 Tearoom but were a lot cheaper at £4.25 instead of No.12's sandwiches at £6.50.
After a pleasant lunch where a few other customers came and went, as well as a young family making use of the fab little play area at the end, we felt it time for cake and a brew. Arranged on the counter under glass domes where seven cake options - Cherry & Almond, Apple Strudel, Toffee, Carrot, Lemon & Almond Meringue, White Chocolate & Raspberry and Tiramisu. Spoilt for choice I decided on my favourite combination of White Choc and Raspberry with my other two testers going for a slice of Carrot and Tiramisu. The carrot was the best of the bunch, mine was very hot and slightly melted due to it being such a hot day and the others said the same of theirs. No way as good good as the cake in The Dolls House. The Afternoon Tea on a table nearby looked very good so we will have to try that out next time!
The Tiramisu just tasted of coffee and was a little too sickly with the many layers of icing but the Canton Tea Company English Breakfast brew was a good level. My Americano was middle of the road, but this is a tearooms so I wouldn't expect coffee to the standard of Loaf. The friendly and relaxing atmosphere lends itself to be a great place to meet friends or stop off solo for a quiet cuppa.
Our refreshment stop over we wanted to stay a bit longer so took a walk around the beautiful grounds which looked stunning in the sunshine. It really is a tranquil place to come to, very quite and peaceful.
The Verdict? Hidden Gem
Although not bowled over by our food choices they were of a good standard and not over priced. Overall this is such a great place to come for a light bite. Very friendly and happy staff, wheelchair friendly (just park in front of the house and go through the iron gates), clean and well organised tearooms all within a beautiful setting which feels like you are being let in on a secret. You can go for a wander around the huge landscape gardens or along the lakeside. All in all we will definitely be coming back for try out the Afternoon Tea.