I am regularly asked where my favourite places around Cambridge are for afternoon tea and I honestly struggle for suggestions at times. There isn’t a lack of afternoon tea in and around Cambridge, but it takes a lot to wow me and I haven’t found a wow-factor afternoon tea venue in this region…
… until now that is.
Welcome to Carriages of Cambridge, the newest kid on the block and a quirky one at that.
Not only does this very unique afternoon tea location serve delicious, homemade goodies, it offers an entirely new and novel experience that I simply hadn’t expected on first booking my table here one snowy Saturday afternoon in March.
This isn’t just any afternoon tea venue, it’s a set of old (stationary) 1920’s vintage steam trains, dressed up to the nines and dripping in luxurious decor, complete with real steam effects to make you travel back several decades.
On arrival, you drive into the car park for Bannold Supplies, a paving and landscape company, so it doesn’t quite feel like you’ve arrived at a vintage railway station… It makes it all a little more exciting, as you’ve not seen your destination at this point and you have no real idea what to expect.
Walking through the main entrance door of a big timber barn at the side of the car park, we were greeted by a man at a desk and offered a seat in a high wingback leather chair and a studded green leather armchair to wait a moment.
The suspense was almost killing us, it felt quite exciting, almost like we were off on an a mini adventure – as silly as this may sound, it really did.
We were greeted by a smiling “conductor”, kitted out in a beautiful vintage outfit – complete without timeless floor length coat, buttoned up to keep him warm on his walks to and from the station in the bitter cold and snowy conditions, he really looked the part.
Taking our names and ticking us off his clipboard, he opened a side door and allowed us to step through into a tree-lined avenue surrounded by Bannolds stone structures and artwork, it was an intriguing garden to wander through as we made our way down to the venue itself.
What can I say? The sight of the yellow & green station was a real “wow” moment, one we hadn’t quite been expecting before we arrived. Old fashioned lampposts lined the pavements, an old clock tower nestled on top of the station entrance and we could just make out the old steam train carriages peeking out at either end of the platform.
We were ushered in through the old booking hall and into the waiting room to wait by the real roaring fire for a moment whilst we waited for our train, such a fantastic touch.
Our carriage was ready and we were led outside onto the platform, past the Station Masters’ office and down into our own Pullman style carriage called “Louis” at the very bottom of the tracks overlooking the signal box.
There are three carriages to choose from, including “Oliver” and “Lancelot” – do note, Louis and Oliver are Pullman style Carriages, so the corridors are narrower than today’s train corridors. If you need wheelchair access or have younger children who might want to move around, Lancelot may be advisable to book, but chat to the team, they are super helpful on booking a table.
There is a normal lunch menu, or you can book/reserve afternoon tea for a very special treat (advisable to do so, as it’s made fresh for you), of which we did for our visit.
Our table for two was beautifully laid, with a white linen cloth over the table, white bone china, good quality (and heavy!) silver cutlery, an ornate table lamp and even fresh flowers in a vase.
There is a Carriages Cream Tea served at £7.50 per head to include two scones with all the trimmings and a pot of tea or you can choose a full afternoon tea at £21.50 or go the whole hog and have a High Tea (with a more filling selection of hot food) at £25.95.
We tucked into a stunning afternoon tea tier filled with finger sandwiches – we had a choice of egg mayonnaise, smoked salmon, ham & mustard and beef & horseradish.
I would say the only downside to the finger sandwiches were that there was no cucumber (my ultimate fave) and there were 7 fingers between two of us… One or two of the fillings were only used in one finger, so we didn’t both get to try some of the fillings – it was a little unusual not to be symmetrical on the sandwich front, a real shame.
I’d always like a little more savoury than sweet on any afternoon tea, so this little niggle will hopefully be ironed out in future perhaps.
There were two scones each, served warm with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam, there was plenty to go around which pleased us. One scone was plain and the other was orange blossom and raisin – it was beautiful, you could taste a hint of Orange, it wasn’t overwhelming, but enough to make this an unusual and different take on a scone, I loved it.
The sweet tier was a little unusual too, with a stunning chilled panna cotta topped with a fresh blueberry compote, this was a great palette cleanser and one that passed the “spoon test”… some afternoon tea venues serve something chilled in a small shot glass, but the spoon never fits, it drives me nuts, but this one did….every detail is perfectly thought out here.
We also tucked into cute little Macarons (again, 3 between two of us, why not one each or 4 for the table?…) and a healthy-sized slice of chocolate tart topped with fresh raspberries, super rich and chocolatey with pastry that melted as you bit into it, yum!
A separate sweet plate might have been a nice touch, it’s one of my biggest issues when it comes to mixing a messy savoury plate (and knife) with a sweet scone or cake, but it’s not a huge issue.
As we dined, we could hear train noises playing in the background and it really did feel like we might just pull away at any moments, it’s almost a shame it doesn’t, but the authentic train sounds certainly help.
There is a pot of tea or coffee served with your afternoon tea and, whilst the tea selection is Single Estate loose leaf, it’s not a huge selection to choose from. We went for English Breakfast between us and we were offered fresh pots throughout our stay. The only niggles would be that due to the size and height of the cake stand, we couldn’t pour each other a cup of tea, it was quite the mission to share the teapot around the side of the cake stand and over the corridor – could be interesting on a busier day haha.
It would also be fantastic if the tea leaves could be taken out of the pot easily once brewed, as after a teacup or two, these leaves went very bitter and were barely drinkable.
There was more than enough food on this vintage Art Deco cake stand and I was easily defeated, so I asked to take some of my cakes away for later. They passed the doggy bag test perfectly, packing my treats into a neat little box with a clear lid to keep everything from getting squashed, very impressive.
Overall, this was one of my all time favourite afternoon tea offerings, the food was delicious, the scones were fresh and warm, the hospitality was superb, it felt like a very special treat and one that put a smile on my face for a day or two after.
Things To Note:
There is a bar next to the kitchen, so you can have cocktails, a beer, wine or a glass of something sparkling with your food. I spotted a lady next to us drinking from a cute champagne dish and I immediately got cocktail envy!
If you wish to book a private four-seater compartment, there is a £20 supplement to do so and you will need to specify on booking.
Check your days – these guys are only open Tuesday through to Saturday currently, so you won’t be able to enjoy a Sunday afternoon tea, which is definitely worth noting!
To be fair, we booked a table for two in a “first class” carriage and we felt there was plenty of space and because of the height of the seats, we felt tucked away enough from everybody around us without booking a private compartment.
The team grow their own fruit and vegetables within their kitchen garden and Victorian greenhouses, all of which are used on their menu where possible. You can wander down to the end of the tracks to see this stunning garden, of which was covered in a blanket of snow on this particular day. I can imagine this will look stunning during the spring and summer months.
The idea for Carriages of Cambridge came to the creative mastermind behind this new venture, Michael Attle, when he acquired the old Oakham railway station platform and decided to rebuild it on this piece of land in Fen Drayton, alongside the A14, just a few miles from Cambridge.
From there, he dreamt up this fantastic afternoon tea and dining destination, one that’s worth venturing out of Cambridge to enjoy. Teaming with Alex Adomeit (of local food trucker fame with ‘Holy Schnitzels’), they’ve developed a menu and idea that we’ve just experienced for ourselves.
Alex, our “conductor” for the afternoon pointed out to us that along this platform you’ll find some words etched into the paving…. “I Love Ringo xxx 1964” and he challenged us to go and find it. Nobody knows who put it there initially, but they obviously had the hots for a certain rock star and this graffiti still lives on today! I love this.
You truly are transported back to the romantic 1920’s, full of luxury and decadence, you really won’t want to leave… We certainly didn’t.
On that note, I guess all there is to do is go back very soon – I’d love to take a group and occupy a whole carriage to ourselves, so much fun to be had!
And now it’s happening!
Join me and my afternoon tea-loving friends on board at Carriages of Cambridge on Saturday 9th June 2018, 3pm-5:30pm!
You can find out more by visiting my Facebook Event Page for this date here!
Hands up, who wants to have afternoon tea on a vintage steam train?!
Who’s coming with me?….
Update – 9th June 2018
Following on from our visit back in the winter, I decided to host the above event as a chance to support the venue and welcome a group of guests who may not have visited otherwise. We were very lucky with the weather, it was a stunning, sunny day and the food was even more delicious than the first time around – they really have got the food spot on, just beautiful!
We were treated to some stunning floral green teas, with dried flowers that opened up in spectacular fashion as they were served to our table, they really did have the wow-factor. We enjoyed the “Heart’s Desire” which was a green tea with lily and jasmine – it wasn’t a strong tea and even though I don’t normally opt for a green tea, this was a fantastic light tea and worked perfectly with our afternoon tea treats.
One negative element of this afternoon tea event was the slight embarrassment I experienced on arrival. The first time we had visited, a ‘conductor’ met us at reception and walked us down to the station – a really fun way to get excited about the venue and the location of our afternoon tea. On arrival this weekend, I reported to the main reception and was advised that the rest of our party wasn’t yet there, so we were welcome to take a seat and wait there. We waited for half an hour, were passed by various members of the team, including a lady with a clipboard who smiled then left again… I asked the receptionist if we were ok to head to our table, as I felt the rest of the group weren’t actually coming…
We were then told that this welcome has now changed and we were to walk ourselves down to the station, through the gardens and somebody would meet us on the platform. The lady with the clipboard greeted us, then advised the rest of our group had been there for some time waiting for us?! Why was this not relayed to us in the first place? It was embarrassing, frustrating and not a fantastic start to the afternoon. My guests had in fact been sat on the carriage for over an hour waiting for me… The team here really need to get this sorted, communication was non-existent and very unimpressive in this instance.
Also, on paying for our afternoon tea, a couple of guests left earlier than I did as they had been waiting so long for me on arrival and had to head off, but they were told they couldn’t pay unless we all paid together… what was this logic? Another couple of guests tried to leave and pay, but again, they were told we must pay as a group (even though they then let us pay separately?!) and I truly didn’t understand this logic. This payment system was perplexing and again, very slightly embarrassing for me as host to this afternoon tea gathering. This event had been hosted purely to support this venue, for no financial gain of my own, but they really did let themselves down on the service on this day, a true shame.
The food was lovely, the table service was perfect and we even got to purchase some locally grown peonies from a friendly local lady selling them at the gates as we left, giving us some advice on growing and buying these stunning seasonal flowers for the future – a welcome added detail to the afternoon. (Note – these flowers actually did not open up at all haha… she told us that supermarket peonies don’t open up too well, but these didn’t open at ALL and dies still closed… hmm, not so great after all!)
I would still very much recommend this afternoon tea for the food and the location, despite the embarrassment caused at the very beginning of this particular event – I’m just one again, VERY sorry to my guests that they has to wait for some time for me to arrive, I was as frustrated as they were! And thank you all for coming along, what a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I loved the company as much as the food, just wonderful!
My feedback went to this venue, but they did not reply at all. I have since nudged them and I am still ignored (they were quick on replying on the build up to this event, so the feedback isn’t taken seriously once it’s negative it seems), they’ve let themselves down, not just from my experience, but the experience of others at that table on this particular day, a real shame.
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