I went to Coworth Park Hotel because I’d heard they have their own chocolate room. That’s right, a *chocolate room*. First I tasted their chocolates whilst judging the Academy of Chocolate Awards earlier this year. Two stood out so much in the blind tasting that I sought them out in the results. They won a gold, two silvers and a bronze. Then I learnt that they had their own dedicated chocolatier with his own separate workroom - aka the chocolate room. It stuck in the back of my mind and when my fiancé suggested my birthday gift could be to stay in a nice hotel. “Coworth Park” was in my Google search box in seconds.
Afternoon tea at this time of year is particularly special at Coworth Park. Around the hotel and grounds the Christmas trees and lights have gone up, twinkling charmingly amongst décor that manages to look both very traditional and modern at the same time. This is likely due to the two year renovation, beginning in 2008, of a building first erected in 1775. It’s the ultimate in elegance, as you would expect from a hotel that’s part of the Dorchester Collection. Every afternoon from 3pm until 5pm in the weeks leading up to Christmas, an impressive, purple-jacketed, all-male choir sing carols in the lobby and drawing room, where the afternoon teas are served. Whilst they’re not in the room a harpist provides soothing background music to sip your tea to, as you tuck into your sandwiches.
The sofas in the drawing room are comfortable (hand built, I’m told) and whilst we were there, in the first of two sittings on a Sunday, the room was full but it managed to feel cosy and comforting rather than raucous, and service never suffered. I have a friend who feels that afternoon tea should always be served by men and that it’s actually all about paying for the experience of being waited on for a few hours. She would have been in her element with the charming and warm friendliness from the staff looking after us. It makes such a difference to have people who genuinely seem to enjoy their job, and even better if they’re great at it.
Like most of the luxury hotels outside of London, afternoon tea at Coworth Park stuck fairly closely to the typical English format of crustless finger sandwiches, scones and dainty pastries – we wouldn’t want to confuse the tourists or upset the traditionalists! A few nice touches lifted it beyond: the bread type was specific for each sandwich and made the already exceptional ham and mustard on tomato and rosemary, and the salmon on granary bread particularly moreish; and the selection had a subtle Christmas theme with turkey and cranberry sandwiches, an eggnog tart and mini chocolate hazelnut yule logs. Whichever time of year you come, the spread will have changed to suit the seasons. The scones – plain and raisin – were nestled inside a crisp white napkin to retain their warmth and the clotted cream was so thick and yellow it was almost like butter. The plum compote as an alternate addition to homemade strawberry jam was a welcome effort though not especially to my taste – a little wet and tart for the scones. I did love that the scones were not sweet however. Having consumed more than my fair share of afternoon teas this year, my pet hate has been scones that are too sweet.
The menu of teas is lengthy and also contains Christmas-themed options. Staff are keen for you to try as many as you can throughout your time with them and continue to refresh plates of food the second they are emptied – or even approach empty. This is the much underrated beauty of afternoon tea. It is exactly like living in an Enid Blyton novel when all was going well for her characters and they weren’t engaging in anything too fantastical: sitting by a warming fire and consuming never ending plates of sandwiches, scones and sweets, all the while the sound of delicate music and happy chatter fills the room. Except, instead of fizzy ginger beer, the bubbles in your glass come courtesy of Veuve Cliquot champagne. Whichever sweets you can’t finish are wrapped up in a pretty pastry box - though you probably won’t be able to face the sight of them as you roll out of the drawing room, I highly recommend you stop to buy a selection of the gorgeous award winning chocolates as well!
**More about the chocolate...**
Niels Verweij is Coworth Park’s resident Chocolatier and has crafted one of the hotel's signature chocolates: Coworth Park’s Hay Chocolate. Created using a bespoke blend that uses hay picked straight from the hotel’s grounds, this chocolate sums up the hotel's natural surroundings, infusing the hay together with cocoa butter for a stunning milk chocolate.
Real chocolate fanatics might be interested in the chocolate masterclasses at Coworth Park. Chocolatiers will demonstrate how chocolate can complement and enhance both sweet and savoury flavours within different dishes. Masterclasses also include preparing and tasting chocolate truffles with an insight into their history and production. Upon departure, guests get a special chocolate goodie bag to take away.
**Coworth Park Hotel: **Blacknest Rd, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7SE. Tel: +44 1344 876 600. For more information, please visit http://www.coworthpark.com
**Reviewed by:** Jennifer Earle. Jennifer is the Founder of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours and can be seen, revealing London's best chocolate boutiques to like-minded chocolate souls on a regular basis. To find out more about Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, or to book a place on one of Jennifer's coveted tours, visit http://www.chocolateecstasytours.com