A romantic afternoon tea in gothic Victorian splendour?
Looking for chandelier-hung, vintage glamour and velvet sofas this Valentine's Day? Whittles at Binswood in Leamington Spa, a grade II listed gothic Victorian mansion and former school, should suit you nicely!
Afternoon tea, madame? Well, if you insist…
Whittles at Binswood is on the first floor of a beautifully restored Grade II listed Victorian mansion just a two minutes’ walk from the centre of Leamington Spa’s Regency shopping parade. It is part of Britain’s ‘most exclusive luxury retirement villages Audley Binswood with apartments costing up to a whopping £800,000– and that’s according to an article in the Daily Mail (2016). It comprises of 114 properties, a health club, swimming pool and library. The imposing period restaurant, bistro and bar are open to members of the public.
Once upon a time this was a French catholic convent school designed by architect Daniel Squirhill, who was tasked with designing a grand property reminiscent of the Oxford colleges. Tudor revival style. It then became a boys’ grammar school, North Leamington College.
Famous former pupils included inventor of the jet engine Sir Frank Whittle, who studied there between 1918 and 1923, and Lytton Strachey founder of the Bloomsbury Group who was allegedly the victim of savage bullying at the school. become one of it best students. The author of Eminent Victorians, biographer and critic was widely known as gay but lived with painter Dora Carrington. The building lay empty for several years, before it was restored to its former glory.
‘Old-school’ glamour…! Like walking onto a period film set. The setting is enough to make you swoon with swathes of teal velvet covered chairs and sofas, gorgeous chandeliers and huge paintings – everywhere!
You walk up stone steps to the grand main entrance under a wide stone arch with original carved wooden doors and into a modern stylish dark blue-teal bar with stools which looks very inviting like something out of a film noir. I’m tempted by the cocktail menu and it’s only 1pm.
The appealing blue bar is next to the library and lounge area decorated with antiques, tall patterned feature vases, panelled walls and period grandeur.
The elegant and historic restaurant and bistro is up another flight of stairs on the mezzanine-style first floor from where you can peek down onto the lower floor. It’s the perfect atmosphere for the occasion.
As you’re sitting in splendour of the restaurant you can’t help but admiring the architecture. Built in 1847, Binswood Hall was inspired by Hampton Court Palace with pattern brickwork, Bath and Caen stone and octagonal turrets.One of the most amazing features is the hall’s succession of striking traditional carved arch diamond windows creating a warm opulent light.
I was informed that some of the wonderful fine art is on loan from the town’s art gallery.
From above, the bar and library look like rooms in a doll’s house.
THE AFTERNOON TEA
I confess I wasn’t in Whittles for an amorous romantic sojourn, but to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
The afternoon tea at Whittles at Binswood is an indulgent and traditional affair, with two tiers of finger sandwiches, fluffy freshly-baked warm scones and a collection of sweet treats, served with a selection of tea and optional Prosecco.
My friend Elizabeth chose the Savoury Afternoon Tea while I opted for the Vegetarian with a glass of Prosecco, followed by a pot of fresh ground coffee. The veggie one (pictured above) comprised of cheddar and green tomato chutney and egg mayonnaise finger sandwiches, chocolate cake with strawberry filling, a mini chocolate slice, macaroon, lemon and berry posset and scone with clotted cream and jam.
The Savoury Afternoon Tea replaces cakes with savouries and included classic meat and tuna finger sandwiches, a cheese scone & bacon jam, mini quiche, scotch egg and mini pork pie. It’s attractively presented, freshly baked and tasted delicious! Service was polite and pleasant.
Teas include English breakfast, Earl Grey, Assam, Darjeeling, Peppermint, Camomile and a selection of fruit teas or speciality coffees. Worth noting, the tea isn’t loose but tea bags. Vegetarian, Nut and Gluten free options are available on request. Other choices include themed afternoon teas and the ‘G and Tea’ – traditional Afternoon Tea with a contemporary twist… a quintessentially English gin and tonic served in a vintage china teacup. There’s a Cocktail and tea too. How terribly civilised!
We started chatting to the group of very charming, smartly dressed gentlemen in their 80s (above) sitting on the table next to us, who were actually former pupils at the boys’ grammar. They meet up every year and this was their annual gathering. One of the group regaled us with amusing stories of how he was caned for to going to meet a girl on the tennis courts! “I don’t’ regret it to this day!” he winked with a real twinkle in his eye. They showed us an album of their school photos – a handsome bunch!
BOOK NOW for a romantic themed Valentine’s Day afternoon tea: For the Love of Chocolate Afternoon Tea (Feb 10 – 16)
This pretty red-and-white themed afternoon tea, served between 2-5pm, will include a cocktail on arrival, a choice of sandwiches ranging from ham and sun-dried tomato to smoked salmon, cucumber and creme fraiche; cheddar and green tomato chutney and egg mayonnaise. Sweet treats include freshly baked plain scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam, ruby chocolate and Baileys mousse, chocolate truffle tart; red velvet chocolate sponge, white chocolate macaroon and tea or coffee (£21.95 per person). On February 14 and 15 there’s also a special Valentine’s Day For the Love of Food menu served 6-8pm.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Romantics, history lovers and anyone who loves restored period architecture, celebrations, birthdays and get-togethers with friends.
Not for: It’s a classic afternoon tea for ladies that lunch, not ladies on the lash. I couldn’t see a Kids Menu. It’s quite a trad, formal dining room with white tablecloths and fine china, it may feel more relaxed to come with older children and teens.
The damage: At £18.95 an affordable way to gather friends for a special celebration (£22.95 with a glass of Prosecco). The ‘G & Tea’, Cocktail and Tea and themed afternoon teas are slightly more at £21.95.
Whittles at Binswood, Leamington Spa, Binswood Avenue, Leamington Spa, CV32 5SE, Tel: 01926 258 848.