The golden city of Bath, where Jane Austen once lived and was inspired to write hilariously brutal observations on the society of the day, is a jewel of Georgian architecture and elegant streets of honey-coloured stone that still takes my breath away year after moving here from London. Bath is understandably synonymous with that most refined and enjoyable of English pastimes, afternoon tea, and where better to enjoy it than on Great Pulteney Street – the city’s most impressive street of townhouses, which you may recognise from countless period dramas and the cult, love-it-or-loathe-it Netflix series Bridgerton.
Afternoon tea at No.15 by GuestHouse, Bath, is served in their elegant, yet quirky bar, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of modern art and kitsch decorative objects, souvenirs and trinkets – some encased within Perspex table tops – making it a fun and inviting interior to while away a couple of hours with a girlfriend (or husband in my case) and one of my favourite afternoon tea venues. The service is not formal but always unfailingly friendly, while the bar is also dog friendly, meaning that our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Clemmie, could come with us and settled down, with a bemused expression on her face, beside a shelf filled with antique statues of King Charles Spaniels just to make her feel at home!
One thing I love about afternoon tea is that you don’t have to spend an age looking at a menu trying to decide what to choose – you get all the cakes! The only choice boils down to your ideal tea and No.15 serves an excellent selection of Jing (including the wonderfully fragrant organic rosebud), several from the local tea importer Comins, along with No.15’s own blend of Earl Grey and Breakfast teas. What would Jane do? English sparkling wine is an optional extra, or why not try some of the newly created low or no alcohol free cocktails? Several feature zero proof spirits from one of my favourite drinks brands, Anon: the bartender’s ‘Mock Tai ‘ is a vibrant blend of Anon Spiced Cane (a rum-inspired spirit), almond syrup, pineapple juice, pink grapefruit juice and lime, served with a lime crisp. while my husband went for the holiday-feeling ‘Garibaldi’ with Anon Bitter Sweet (a Campari-style aperitif) and orange juice served with an orange crisp.
You might think yourself actually intoxicated when the three-tier cake stand is presented suspended over the table on the branch of a wrought iron ‘tree’ in Alice in Wonderland fashion – a guaranteed conversation piece. Then comes the moment you have to exercise some restraint as the waitress goes through the entire selection and you ooh and ah over the array of treats before greedily diving into the traditionally English finger sandwiches of cave aged cheddar & Branston pickle, coronation egg mayonnaise, smoked salmon, cucumber and dill cream cheese and pulled ham hock, mustard and tarragon. No.15’s homemade plain and fruit scones with classic strawberry jam and Devonshire clotted cream are so good it’s a struggle to save yourself for the top tier.
This afternoon tea will surely make anyone do a convincing impression of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s greedy Augustus Gloop, especially Darren McGrady’s chocolate biscuit cake which is death by chocolate topped with silver leaf. More nostalgic sweetness follows – a bite-sized lemon meringue pie with the most delicious, melt-in-the-mouth pastry – a cherry & coconut lamington guaranteed to take you back to your childhood, while the utterly perfect matcha tea & white chocolate macaron reminds me of Paris and the bewildering array of exotic macaron flavours available in every patisserie counter.
I always think that there is a Paris-feel about Great Pulteney Street due to the grand terraces and the boulevard-style width of the street and pavements leading towards the Holburne Museum, one of the city’s most beautiful examples of Georgian architecture, and unusually a stand-alone building. But whatever you do, I advise you to take in any sights before you indulge at No.15 by GuestHouse – for not only are you going to be unlikely to move very fast or very far, but time will escape you, always the mark of a good afternoon tea. As evening falls and you realise that the shops, museums and galleries are closed anyway, you decide you might as well stay for (another) cocktail hour. Besides, there’s one cake left which isn’t worth boxing up, and it would be a shame to waste it.
Afternoon Tea at No.15 by GuestHouse, Bath, is priced £32 per person or £40 with a glass of English sparkling wine. Served Monday – Saturday 12:30-17:00 and Sunday 14:30-17:00. For reservations please visit the website.
Photography (c) Rebecca Lipkin