Towards the end of May, for England, indoor catering became an option which meant… of course, an afternoon tea needed to be booked.
The imaginatively titled Buxton Crescent Hotel (in Buxton), after almost thirty years of restoration attempts (I’m not kidding), had initially opened in October 2020 (to overnight visitors only) but, true to the last three decades’ experience, it then had to close again as a second Lockdown was imposed across the country.
We could talk about the phoenix but I think a yo-yo might better represent the Hotel, if I was redesigning its branding. It reopened, again, in May 2021 and it is a beautiful building with a chaotic history, certainly, in recent years.
In appearance, very similar to the Royal Crescent in Bath, but described by the Royal Institution of British Architects as “more richly decorated and altogether more complex”, it was designed by the architect John Carr of York, and built for William Cavendish the 5th Duke of Devonshire between 1780 and 1789.
Cavendish wanted to establish Buxton as a fashionable Georgian spa town. The town had been a spa destination in Roman times, when a settlement was built around a clear, warm-water spring that still sends up more than one million litres a day from the original source underneath the Buxton Crescent and it’s this water supply that contributed to thirty years of problems in restoration.
The Crescent had actually homed multiple businesses, including a hotel for almost 200 years but the hotel closed in the mid 1990s and the whole building had to be closed in 1992 after major structural issues were identified.
Initial attempts to resolve these problems commenced in 1993 just to make the building watertight with a £1.5M grant. The Crescent, Pump Rooms and Natural Baths buildings were then jointly marketed by the borough and county councils.
This was only the start. Work to restore, redevelop and manage the hotel and spa was put out to tender in 2003 with a £23M plan due for completion in 2007.
But…The project suffered a series of delays, including funding and technical and legal issues relating to the continued supply of water from springs beneath the buildings to Nestlé, the bottler of Buxton Water.
It was not until April 2012 that an agreement between the joint councils and the developer to start the first phase of the project could be signed. Funding further hindered the work and it was not until 2020 that the hotel was opened.
Birthing an elephant would have been easier.
After a chilly guided tour of Poole’s Cavern*, we headed (yes, for a change, I had company) for afternoon tea and the chance to warm up.
My stepdad wasn’t keen on the idea of champagne so a large glass of red wine was supplied. The waiter was keen to ensure that everything about the afternoon tea met requirements, even if drinks choices did go a little off-piste.
The restaurant was quiet – possibly only three tables filled so all of the diners were well spaced without it feeling strangely isolating. At this point, I was very relaxed about distance between myself and others. While a face mask can make communication a little difficult, I preferred to (and still do) continue using one in public spaces.
First up, unsurprisingly, the sandwiches… and we were served a traditional selection with a couple of twists: honey glazed roast ham but with a sunblushed tomato mayonnaise; Snowdonia Black Bomber (no bogstandard cheddar here) with classic pickle relish (also known as chutney); cucumber and cream cheese (of course, have you seen the setting?) and oak smoked salmon and creme fraiched on a lightly toasted brioche.
As for the others, each sandwich filling generously served on three different types of thickly sliced bread made of multiple grains, and not a dry slice in sight.
Scones… and two each! And not skimping in portion size either. One plain and one fruit filled, served with jam and clotted cream.
They were just right – there was no crumbling away into fragments at the mere brandishing of the knife.
So, onto the final tier of the afternoon tea… a selection of five each and leaning heavily to pastry rather than cake but some quite unusual inclusions. All delicious.
No individual shots here as I was busy chatting.
With this number of cakes, it was a tough to decide whether I would leave my most likely favourite to last or was I risking not being able to eat them all? Would we be able to box up any leftovers to take home?
I decided to start with the mixed berry semifreddo served in the glass, on the grounds that I didn’t think the hotel would be keen to contribute to my glassware collection. The slight tartness after the sweetness of the scones was just right.
Biscuits, I think, are an unusual addition to the cake selection of an afternoon tea. The shortbread, of the viennese whirl sandwiched with a strawberry buttercream was, buttery crumbly and melted in the mouth.
I was feeling full and chose the chocolate éclair to end my meal with, on the grounds that both the orange sponge with a swirl of buttercream topped with candied orange peel and the raspberry and almond frangipane (fitting as Buxton isn’t that far down the road from Bakewell) would survive a train ride back to Manchester. They did and were delicious with another cup of tea the following day.
We (mostly) had the Laurent Perrier Afternoon Tea at the Buxton Crescent Hotel priced at £38. Other sparkling and non-sparkling options are available. It was excellent value – the food was delicious, service was attentive without being intrusive and the restaurant was beautiful.
*Poole’s Cavern: If you’re in Buxton, it’s definitely worth a visit. The caves are fascinating and the history more so… particularly as you realise that the leisurely amble through a fairly well lit and quite wide tunnel was not possible for earlier visitors. Mary Queen of Scots crawled, not even on her hands and knees (as there wasn’t enough room) with a candle for several hours to visit a stalactite that we reached within a 20 minute stroll. You had to be really determined to be a tourist in those days.