The Bee’s Knees

Well-behaved bees were indulging in a feast of their own over the liveliest lavender pots pungent and purple in the afternoon sun.

We all know you can’t plan for much in the British summer but the sunshine gods made merry for a tasting session to say hello to the newly-launched afternoon tea offering at The Coach House in Middleton Lodge near Darlington.

The herb-filled courtyard as well as the bees hummed in the summer haze as chilled bottles of iconic Laurent Perrier Rose raised a glass to the fine tradition of afternoon tea. We can’t get enough of it.

That this is the new ladies’ lunch was so very evident – tables were packed with stylish yummy mummies, gathered girls and family groups taking in the tiers of sweet and savoury from their pastel-painted tables and chairs.

It’s an elegant, manageable feast is afternoon tea. Lingering, unhurried, varied and come-again.

The Coach House setting is pretty-much perfect. The honey-coloured stone the colour of the scones on the plate. We dip into thick luscious cream the same shade as the walls inside. It’s not deliberate but somehow it all blends in for a relaxing vibe.

After our courtyard glass of LPR with its lovely berryish flavours and bold summery bouquet, the tiered plates of afternoon tea are brought to the Coach House lounge area, set out informally on low tables alongside slouchy, deep sofas with more of those comforting colours.

With afternoon tea there is the theatre of the tiered stands apparently invented as the solution to the small tables of a Victorian tea-room.

There is always the ‘ooh aah’ moment when the tiers arrive and you suss out the ‘treat’ that you’re going to leave until last…

Much to play for in that respect. It’s a gasp-worthy visual delight. There are cakes that fall into the ‘comfy’ category – the textbook fruit scones, light and fluffy, indulged with thick cream and strawberry jam. The Bakewell cakes with their morello cherry on top and soft almondy kick. Mini lemon meringue pies have a lovely sharp flavour and the softness of a chewy, not snappy, Italian meringue on the top.

Our elegant savoury sandwiches are made with the softest white bread and nutty brown. Cheese sandwiches are made from a gutsy cheddar that can take the sweet, homemade chutney perfectly. Ham and mustard, teatime-perfect egg and elegant smoked salmon complete a perfect platter.

In the kitchen the skilful team headed up by head chef Gareth Rayner are patisserie perfect. The layered chocolate opera cake with its edible gold finish is elegant, light, and well, just dreamy.

And nestling in its little glass jar, is a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake which delivers the sweetest punch with a vanilla panna cotta base, topped with macerated strawberries and a crunchy biscuit topping. My ‘save ’til last’. Luscious and summer-perfect. The range of drinks alongside can also include summery lemon and gingery tea, English favourites or Lonton Coffee’s fresh Blue Monday blend, which I liked a lot. The reviving Mad Hatter tea blend promises to ‘pep’ you up.

“Better than the Ritz”, said one of our number. She’d been there for a birthday recently and rated this offering higher in terms of ambience and quality of food, so there you have it. Our best-kept secret.

The country garden setting in sunshine is lovely and the Coach House has new treatment rooms so you can have your lavender and peppermint as a body treatment then bask in its real-life garden version afterwards. Likewise a Yorkshire Rose Ritual treatment is to be enjoyed before or after some garden relaxation. The blissful Secret Garden Escape is a 2 1/2-hour treat with sugar scrub, herbal bag body massage and mini-facial.

The mini-spa area adjoins the gardens and Coach House lounge so it’s the perfect ‘zone’ for afternoon treats, treatments and general wind-down. Products are by REN and VOYA, all very natural and organic in keeping with the outside space and restful interiors. There are some very lovely candles and body products on sale too. You leave with senses satisfied in every way.

Afternoon Tea at The Coach House is £15 or £28 with a glass of Laurent Perrier.

Body treatments from £50, signature rituals £130-£150.

The Coach House celebrates its first birthday with a tasting evening on October 1st with live music, prosecco on arrival, five-course taster menu including cheeseboard and live music with singer and acoustic guitarist David Ball. £75pp.

To book call 01325 377977/01325 377071 or