afternoon tea · days out · reviews · tea

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

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Today’s tea review is of Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, located in Lower Goat Lane. Fortunately the locale is more attractive than the name suggests, featuring an array of boutique shops and a distinct lack of udders and goaty genitalia…

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

First impressions…

As we approached Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, the first thing that struck me was the old fashioned, apothecary style display in the big glass windows of the shop. But instead of displaying weird and wonderful pills and potions, it displays jar after jar of exotic teas. So far, so exciting… And as you step through the door, the oldey-worldy impression continues.

There’s not a theme, exactly, but if there was it would be something like Colonial Kitsch; Biddy’s is described on its website as a ‘vintage tearoom’, but you can forget the images of dainty pink lace and bunting that the phrase ‘vintage’ tends to conjure up. If other vintage tearooms tend to be designed with Miss Marple in mind, this is a tearoom for Sherlock Holmes or Phileas Fogg. The sofas are big, shiny brown leather affairs, and the walls and cabinets are stocked with curios and the occasional deer skull (although in fairness, the antlers are decked in fairy lights, presumably as a sop to any Miss Marple types passing through).

The enormous main counter is stacked with a huge variety of cakes, brownies, muffins and more to match the array of teas on offer. It’s hugely appetising and easily enough to lure even non-tea lovers into the shop…

Around the World in 80 Teas (…ish)

Once you’re seated, it’s time to pick your tea… Which is easier said than done, as Biddy’s tea menu includes over fifty different loose leaf teas. Most excitingly of all, they also promote tea “mixology” (i.e. blending different teas together) and while their menu gives a few different ‘house’ blend suggestions, they also let customers create their own blends off the cuff. Pretty cool and a bit of a unique selling point for the shop.

As well as tea, Biddy’s in Norwich offers an impressive variety of coffees, floats, milkshakes and FreakShakes (which I believe are like milkshakes but with more calories). We didn’t try any of them, because it was my birthday and that means TEA.

My husband and I actually were both originally going to go for the same tea, a black cherry tea. As it would clearly be ridiculous to both order the same tea from a menu of over 50 options – and did I mention it was my birthday? – my husband kindly swapped and ordered black almond tea instead. Both were fragrant, delicious and served in enormous metal teapots which ensured neither of us ran out of tea or needed a hot water top up.

A Cake Of Identity

And now: the cakes. As it was my birthday (did I mention it was my birthday?) the plan was always to have a piece of cake with our tea. Biddy’s Tea Room had a good selection of gluten-free cakes, which made my husband very happy; he settled on a gluten free chocolate brownie and I went for carrot cake. They also had a number of vegan cakes, so it felt like they catered well to special dietary requirements.

We realised our error when the cakes arrived, however, because they were straight up enormous. I tried to take pictures to show them to scale, but in fact it just looks like the teapot is small rather than showing how big the cake slices are. You’ll just have to take my word for it… You could easily build a structurally sound cottage for a wicked witch, using Biddy’s cake slices as bricks.

The cakes were delectable, and the buttercream that came with the carrot cake, complete with a salted caramel drizzle, was a particular triumph. I hate wasting food though, and there was just no way I could eat all that cake myself. I would happily have paid the same amount for a smaller slice or been forewarned to share a slice with my husband.

Biddy’s Tea Room Review: Conclusions

In fairness, cake sizing is a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. We spent a very contented hour or so lounging on the comfy sofas in Biddy’s, sipping tea, munching cake, and trying to work out what exactly was going on in some of the stranger Victorian-era artworks on the wall (I’m pretty sure the artist had never seen a hippo, for one thing). The staff were friendly without being overbearing, the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy, and there’s a surprising amount of space inside meaning you actually stand a good chance of getting a table. I’m planning to go back soon and curl up in a cosy corner with a fancy cup of tea, my latest gender swap book, and another enormous brick of cake…

If you love great loose leaf tea – or you’re in the habit of eating two slices of cake in one sitting – I can thoroughly recommend you check out Biddy’s next time you’re in Norwich. You can also find them online, with tea and cakes available to order from their website. Or, if you love a themed afternoon tea venue, why not head to my review of the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizards Exploratorim…?

afternoon tea · food · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wizard Exploratorium, London Soho

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Continuing on with my love of all things tea-related, today’s blog post is a review of the Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea, currently available at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium in Soho, London. I visited this tearoom in June as part of a mini hen party for one of my best friends, Cherry, after we had to rearrange her main hen do to take place after her actual wedding (thanks, coronavirus!). So happy hen, Cherry!

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizard’s Exploratorium

Harry Potter and the Unaffiliated Afternoon Tea

Right, first things first: this is a Wizard’s Afternoon Tea and definitely not a Harry Potter Afternoon Tea in London. If you’re looking for Harry Potter themed tea and confectionary, you better look elsewhere, friend – the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium is very clear that it is “broadly inspired by fantasy and science-fiction and is a place for fans of magic. It is not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling or otherwise connected with Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It is also not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Rivers of London, The Magicians, Dune, The Name of the Wind, Star Wars, or otherwise connected with any one specific text or series.” Phew. It seems the folks at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium are understandably keen to avoid being the subject of a Bat-Bogey Hex from J.K. Rowling’s magical team of lawyers.

Our table (just a little bit crowded)

Now, onto the actual review…

A Magical Setting

When you step into the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium, the first thing you’re likely to notice in the downstairs shop area is the full-size unicorn’s head mounted on the wall, which dispenses (vomits?) a colourful punch drink – with a little encouragement from a real magic wand, of course. You’ll be led up a narrow staircase that’s more than a little reminiscent of some of the quirkier shops in Diagon Alley, to a teeny tiny room draped in flowers and buzzing to the sounds of a jaunty selection of folk tunes, where there’s just about enough space for three parties to sit down to tea at separate tables.

Your potion chest

Unfortunately, I do have to note at this point that this currently is definitely not an accessible experience. The tiny, very old-fashioned building in Soho features a steep and winding staircase. There is no wheelchair access and if you struggle with steep stairs or claustrophobia, I wouldn’t recommend it either. They do cater for different dietary requirements and allergies, although as my husband wasn’t with us, I didn’t try any of the gluten-free options (sorry).

Interactive Tea Brewing

Your table is crowned by an enormous multi-tiered cake stand, topped with a glowing dragon’s egg a la Game of Thrones. Your friendly out of work actor waiter wizard will show you how to use a glowing magical wand to unlock a chest full of potion ingredients, and then it’s time to get creative and brew your own wizard afternoon tea. This was actually my favourite part of the whole experience, and something that really sets it aside from other quirky afternoon teas on offer around London – the opportunity to pick and mix ingredients, add them to a teabag and brew up your own unique tea blend. The dried ingredients on offer are pretty diverse, including nettle tea, hibiscus, rose petals, camomile, and plenty more – and there are also a set of flavourings that can be added to the finished product, including honey and rose water. When you require hot water – sorry, I mean ‘magical elixir’ – you just wave your wand to summon a helpful waiter (very nearly as convenient as a simple aguamenti spell), and enormous Time Turners (a.k.a. hourglasses) are available so you can measure exactly how long your tea is brewing.

Our first attempt at blending tea

Using a magical QR code (okay, it’s not that magical) you can access a range of suggested blends that can be made with the ingredients. We made three different teas in total from our tea chest – the first one being a total wash out, because I added far too much black tea and the result tasted exactly like a completely normal cup of breakfast tea. Oops.

Oddly, probably the best blend was the final one, which we created by adding all the ingredients we hadn’t yet used into a teabag and seeing what happened. The resulting infusion of peppermint, lemon and ginger, nettle and camomile was actually surprisingly good.

Crushing rose petals in a pestle and mortar

As well as creating your own blends with the magical tea chest, there is a second interactive wizarding tea experience on offer as part of the standard Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium; a series of three teas which start out a rather startling blue and then change colour before your eyes as you add the final ingredients – and wave your magic wand, of course. If you’re prepared to pay extra, you can also add a bottle of prosecco or a cocktail to your experience (and yes – we did get the prosecco, of course!).

Getting The Magical Munchies

And so – onto the food. We started with a round of sandwiches (or rather, sand-witches, as they’re referred to in the menu) which were certainly tasty and generously proportioned, but didn’t seem to come with any particularly magical gimmick. I can’t help but think that some slightly more unusual flavours or even shapes for the sandwiches would be a bit more in keeping with the theme – and with the level of effort put in to the rest of the menu.

Our second tea blend ended up unexpectedly blood red

The scones are a nod to elven lembas from Lord of the Rings, and come wrapped and tied neatly in banana leaf. They were perfectly tasty, but again it would have been fun to see the scones shaped and scored to look a little bit more like lembas and less like a scone that’s been randomly plopped into some foliage. Also worth noting: Cherry had to ask for extra clotted cream because the amount provided for three of us was wayyyy too small. This is a common issue with afternoon teas and offending tearooms should be ashamed – seriously, how much additional cost are you really incurring by adding an extra tablespoon of cream to your offering?

The other sweet treats ranged from fairly standard afternoon tea fare (raspberry mousse cake, macarons), to the more interactive (chocolate brownies with syringes of raspberry or chocolate sauce), to the downright quirky (freeze-dried salt water taffy in mystery flavours, freeze-dried skittles). Okay, so the quirky options leaned heavily towards the freeze-dried end of the afternoon tea spectrum, but they were actually surprisingly delicious and definitely felt like the kind of experience you wouldn’t get elsewhere. My only criticism is that the freeze-dried sweets didn’t seem to be available in the gift shop downstairs, which frankly felt like the company is missing a trick – I certainly would have bought some more of the taffy on my way out.

Freeze-dried taffy

Wizard’s Afternoon Tea: Overall Impressions

I would definitely recommend the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea experience at the Wands & Wizard’s Exploratorium in London. It’s all great fun – and certainly much more interactive and engaging than the average afternoon tea, where you just sit and slurp your way through pre-prepared drinks. I’d say it’s perfect for a small hen party or group of friends, or great fun with kids (and yes, a Little Wizard’s Afternoon Tea is on offer). Just make sure you remind the kids that it’s definitely not a Harry Potter afternoon tea. At £35 each (or £19 for under-11s), it’s not a cheap experience – but equally, afternoon tea at a nice hotel in central can easily set you back that much or far more, while being much less fun. The campy wizarding vibe is just right, the staff are fully committed to the experience, and most importantly – the tea and cake is pretty magical too.

craft · days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · Seasonal

Window Wanderland: Making An Illuminated Window Display

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For the last couple of weeks, I’ve used pretty much all my spare time when Little Man was sleeping or doing his settling-in sessions at nursery to work on creating an illuminated window display for Window Wanderland 2020. I themed the display around the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, because a) it’s one of my favourites, b) I assumed there would be lots of families out and about with kids, and c) honestly the characters have nice simple designs that should be easy to recreate in a papercut.

I was really happy with the final result!

The front view

In this blog post, I’ll talk about how I created my window display, and also share some photos of some of my favourite illuminated window displays from my local Window Wanderland event this year. Hopefully others will find it useful for information, ideas and inspiration if you’re planning on creating a illuminated window displays yourself. But first things first…

What Is Window Wanderland?

Window Wanderland is a scheme encouraging communities to set up “fun, local, all-people-friendly, window-display-based walking trails then share them with the world.” Illuminated window displays are set up by individuals or families in their homes over a couple of days, and then you can look up a map of your local area showing you where to find displays. It’s a really fun scheme, and obviously it’s especially great this year with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, because it’s all outdoors and compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

How Do You Make Illuminated Window Displays?

The flippant answer is: however you want to! As I walked around the illuminated window displays in my local area, I would say that it looked like most people (like me!) did displays using coloured crepe paper and black card. I did spot what looked like a display that had been painted onto tracing paper (?) so that it illuminated beautifully, which I thought was a great effect and allowed for a lot of detail:

How Did I Create My Window Wanderland Display?

By taking over the dining room table for about two weeks! Apologies to my very patient husband. I’ll outline exactly how I approached it and some of my top tips for how to make an illuminated window display with paper and card…

Step 1: Measure your windows

We have quite a complicated downstairs front window set-up, with 10 panels of varying shapes and sizes, so the first thing was to measure them up. I did a really bad job of this and actually got the measurements for six of the panels wrong, which I only discovered on the night when I went to put my display up in the window… Oops. They were only about 1cm out, but still! I recommend measuring everything twice…

Step 2: Buy your supplies

For my display, I bought a pack of 10 sheets of A2 black card, and a mixed pack of 20 sheets of coloured crepe paper (I already had a lot of the dark blue crepe paper that I used for the background colour). I didn’t use tracing paper as a backing, but lots of people do, especially if you’re going for a more collage-style effect.

My dining room table is in there somewhere…

I already had a craft scalpel in the house, which was essential for the finer lines, and a cutting mat. I also already had Pritt Stick glue in the house, but I ran out on the last day and had to run to the shops to get more – so make sure you have enough glue, as if you have large windows you can end up using a LOT. I also used blu-tack to stick the panels to the windows.

Step 3: Plan your design

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but I first cut my panels of black card into the right sizes for all the window panels – in some cases I also had to stick extra bits of card together to get the right size and shape for my windows. Then I outlined a reasonably thick border around the outer edge of each panel, and then started designing.

I did this as an iterative process, working panel by panel and outlining a design in pencil – rather than designing every panel from the start, before beginning to cut and paste, and I’m glad I did, because the first panel I did was way too complicated and took forever! After that, I simplified my designs a little, and also learned what shapes were easy/difficult to cut etc. as I went. You can see my excessively complicated first panel here – the top one with all the leaves:

I definitely think that when coming up with your design, less is more! I saw some amazing illuminated window displays around town that were just done with two colours – black card and a white background (for instance, see the Halloween themed Window Wanderland display below!). I think the simpler panels of my design have more impact as well.

Spooky…

Step 4: Cutting and sticking

My method was to cut a design out of black card, using a craft scalpel, and then stick coloured crepe paper in the gaps. For a few features, such as the eyes, I then glued more bits of black card on top of the crepe. It was quite fiddly, but I definitely got faster as I went along.

Actually one of the trickiest things was just finding somewhere I could put the panels while the glue was drying!

From indoors, you can see the construction more

How To Illuminate Your Window Display

I simply used blu-tack to attach my pieces of card to our front room windows. We then put the lights on in the front room. To make the display brighter, I also placed a lamp on a table by the window. If you’re wondering how to make your Window Wanderland display brighter, using extra lamps or even a projector will help light up the windows perfectly.

Window Wanderland Ideas and Inspiration

Before I started making my Window Wanderland display, I really wanted to see other people’s displays, for inspiration! So I thought I’d share a few more illuminated window displays that I particularly liked from my local area. Perhaps they will give you ideas for your own window display. Personally, I think windows work best when they have a strong theme – I really liked some of the Halloween themed windows we saw, and those themed around literature or music. As we get closer to Christmas, I imagine that Christmas themed Window Wanderland displays could be really awesome as well. Anyway, here are a few photos of displays from my local event… and my thoughts on how to make something similar.

Koi carp and irises window:

This beautiful display looks like it was made in a similar way to my display: cutting the design out of black card, and backing it with crepe paper.

Abstract colours window:

This abstract design is so beautiful and I think something like this would be easily achievable if you’re not feeling confident about making your window display. Again, it looks like it’s made with black card backed with crepe paper.

Prehistoric ocean window:

This lovely prehistoric ocean display looks like it was made by glueing strips of crepe paper onto tracing paper, and then sticking black cut outs on top.

Your Experience of Window Wanderland Events

I hope this post has been helpful if you’re looking for some inspiration and ideas for a Window Wanderland illuminated display!

Are you taking part in Window Wanderland in your local area? I’d love to see your designs and ideas! Let me know in the comments or tag me on social media for a share.

days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · reviews

Review : Lavender Picnic at Castle Farm Kent

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Queen Victoria allegedly loved lavender, even eating lavender jelly with her roast mutton, rather than the more traditional mint. When my mother plans a picnic, it’s typically on a similarly extravagant scale, and to be honest you’re guaranteed a grand feast even if you end up eating it in a car park. So when we set off for a ‘lavender picnic’ at Castle Farm, the UK’s largest lavender farm, we knew we had the ‘picnic’ part covered. It was up to Castle Farm, Kent to provide the lavender.

Booking Your Lavender Picnic

I had booked our picnic at the last minute, thinking it would be something fun and a bit different to do after months spent in lockdown, while remaining safely outdoors and socially distanced. Tickets were £10.25 per adult, which to be honest is pretty darn steep for the privilege of spending two hours in a field. In fairness, the price does include access to a porta-potty. I’m charitably assuming that Castle Farm need to make a bit of extra cash after the impact of coronavirus.

Our Evening At Castle Farm Kent

But if the ticket price matched the rather steep gradient of the lavender fields themselves, we were far from the only ones prepared to pay up. Although the event was definitely busy, the field we were in was so large that there was more than enough space for everyone to set up their picnic rugs at a safe distance from each other, but right up close to the rows of lavender plants. This was no mean feat when some of the picnics were as lavish as ours (for context, the meat selection alone included roast beef, corned beef, salami, ham, chicken drumsticks and scotch eggs).

Of course, it’s possible that we actually had no need to worry about coronavirus transmission, as the ancient Greek surgeon Dioscorides noted lavender’s protective effect against the plague, and centuries later during the Black Death, plague doctors stuffed their masks with lavender to try to prevent themselves from catching the disease. Castle Farm make no such claims about their lavender. Perhaps their gift shop is missing a trick, given the new requirement for face masks to be worn in shops.

Instead Castle Farm, Kent emphasize the relaxing properties of lavender, even marketing their own range of natural sleep products. Relaxation was certainly in the air as we sat and enjoyed our picnic in the gently cooling breeze. Little Man had a very cosy nap in my arms, meaning I had to ask Martin to cut my food up for me so that I could eat it with one hand. Before we knew it, an hour and a half had slipped by and we had barely stepped beyond the first two metres of lavender.

So, with a newly-awake Little Man, we set off up into the heart of the fields. If the scent of lavender on the breeze was beautiful at the site of our picnic, it was incredible when you were right in the middle of the field. Along the rows of purple flowers, there were hundreds of bumblebees and honey bees hard at work; when you stood still, you could hear a gentle buzzing in the air. Little Man was fascinated by the flowers and the bees, and he enjoyed smelling the lavender as well. Older children from other parties were having a wonderful time running up and down the neat rows of plants.

The views across the purple hillsides were stunning with the sun just starting to set, and the bullocks in a field nearby were in a playful mood, treating us to the sight of them gallivanting about and going for a swim in the river. It seemed only fair that they enjoy life before achieving their ultimate destiny as Castle Farm Beef. I haven’t tried the beef myself, but I can attest that it does indeed seem to come from happy cows.

Picnicking on a slightly overcast evening, amongst cascades of British lavender, felt like an experience that was at once very English (the weather), very French (a la Provence’s purple fields of lavender*), and somewhat Japanese (a la hanami, the celebration of the transient beauty of flowers).

Overall, it was a wonderful, memorable experience that was more than just the opportunity to get some instagramable photos. I’d be interested in the future to try one of the Castle Farm lavender walks, and learn a little more about the farm and how they produce their lavender and essential oils.

Accessibility at Castle Farm, Kent

The car park was nice and close to the field, so if you have reduced mobility, it would still be possible to access the site – although the ground is uneven and flinty, which may be a challenge for wheelchairs or anyone very unsteady on their feet. There are no designated car park spaces for disabled vehicles although you could park away from other cars if you needed the space. We put Little Man in his carrier rather than test the pram’s off-roading capabilities.

Toilets and baby change facilities were provided, albeit as temporary portaloos with steps up to the door, which again could prove challenging if you have mobility issues.

* Actually the “lavender” in Provence is lavandin, which is distinct from British lavender. Both are grown at Castle Farm, so let’s not quibble too much…

More ideas for days out in Kent

Check out this list of other family days out in Kent for inspiration for your next day trip!