Devon Unpacked: Cream Teas
The search for a perfect cream tea
I have to admit I have a strong weakness for clotted cream and an even stronger weakness for cream tea. Yes, I know the previous sentence is loaded with oxymorons but I use them deliberately because I am unlikely to pass up the opportunity to sample a really good cream tea especially in Devon or Cornwall. These two counties claim to be the home of the scone, jam and clotted cream though neither can agree on the correct way to eat it. Is it jam first? Or is it cream first?
A sign outside a tearoom in Closely, North Devon says a cream tea should be…,
…two warm scones fresh from the oven – a dish of strawberry jam – a dish of clotted cream and…
I agree with that. Definitely the scones should be warmed and homemade; the jam should also taste like strawberries (or raspberries if the alternative is served); and there should be lashings of clotted cream. Notice too that the jam and the clotted cream are served on a dish and not in tiny glass one portion jars and plastic containers with peel off lids.
A great view or special ambience also helps. Too often cream teas served in a great setting are very mediocre at best.
On my quest to find the perfect cream tea it is currently Devon 4, Cornwall 2. However, there is still time for Cornwall to catch up as I am scheduled to visit at the end of August.
Here then are the 4 places in Devon that I have discovered that serve a perfect cream tea.
I first visited the tearoom at Watersmeet back when I was a boy. I remember it fondly and it was where I tasted my first cream tea. It was love at first taste. Little has changed over the intervening 50 years and the cream tea was just as I remember as a boy.
They served one of the best cream teas I have had in a long time. It is served, as it has been since 1901, from an old fishing lodge beside the river. The lawns stretch down to where the rivers meet. The scones were lightly warmed, soft and fluffy on the inside and tasted great. The jam was good quality strawberry conserve or, as a local speciality, whortleberry jam. I tried both and while the whortleberry jam was delicious with the cream and scones it did not seem like a cream tea. The strawberry jam on the other hand was perfect with the score and the thick, rich clotted cream.
The setting is perfect for a cream tea. The land and the Victorian fishing lodge are both owned by the National Trust. In a steep sided valley the two rivers tumble over rocks and waterfalls before meeting and continuing their journey to the sea. There are walks along the river banks and, for the more energetic, a stroll of two miles to Lynmouth. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/watersmeet
Docton Mill Gardens and Tearoom, nr. Hartland Point
We found this tea room by a serendipitous accident. On the A39 to Bideford we saw a sign for Docton Mill Gardens and followed it. The gardens were a real gem but tucked away at the far end were the mill and tea rooms. The outdoor tables are surrounded by plants and vegetation so lush and abundant that it seems like they are all jostling for a place at the table to join you for a cream tea.
The cream tea comes with the scones in a basket and the clotted cream and jam in pots. The scones were a generous size, warmed and were obviously homemade. The jam was good quality strawberry and, I discovered, homemade locally. The cream was smooth rich and creamy and served at room temperature so did not have that solid buttery texture I have often encountered on my quest. www.doctonmill.co.uk
The Garden House, Buckland Monochorum
After walking around the 10 acres of gardens we rewarded ourselves with a stop in The Garden House Tearoom. They serve one of the best cream teas west of Dartmoor with beautifully light scones that almost float off the plate. Served with local Boddington’s jam and Language Farm clotted cream they keep the food miles down too. When the weather is not inclement there is a terrace to sit on and enjoy views across the gardens.
Also worth trying is their savoury cream tea; cheese scones with chilli jam and cream cheese. The cheese scones are as delightful as their more traditional variety. www.thegardenhouse.org.uk
Two Bridges Hotel, Dartmoor
The cream teas at the Two Bridges Hotel are renown across Dartmoor and beyond. Whether you eat inside or out the setting is fantastic. Outside the lawns stretch to the river and the two bridges from which the hotel takes its name. The cream tea is served on a slate.
Everything here says “luxury”. Good quality raspberry jam that tastes like raspberries, rich clotted cream and home-baked scones that are light and fluffy on the inside and a generous size. Indeed everything here was in plentiful supply and we were told that there was more clotted cream and jam if we needed it. We didn’t as I was hard pressed to use the generous amount that came with the scones in the first place. www.twobridges.co.uk
How not to serve a cream tea
These four are the best I have found in Devon. There are others I have tried and too often they are disappointing because, the scones are dry or not warmed, the jam is cheap and inferior or there is a mean amount of cream and/or jam.
These are my personal finds and I am sure there are numerous others to be discovered in Devon. If you know of any please do tell us in the comments below. Do you have favourite cream tea haunt in Devon? Please share it with us in the comments too.