It is quite a feat to pull off a menu comprised entirely of types of tea and their descriptions without being utterly pretentious, (anyone for the ‘mild and nutty aroma’ of Indian Assam? Or the ‘smoky almost tarry flavour’ of Lapsang Souchong?), yet somehow The Rose manages it. What prevents this central Oxford tea room from scaling the heights of pomposity is the fact that you are not made to feel wholly inadequate if you have never before sampled the delights of Darjeeling. They do things properly not because they want to impress, but because they are enthuasiastic. Being a posh tea amateur myself, and apprehensive about making a horrendous faux pas such as pouring milk into a cup which should remain dairy-free, I was relieved by the concise directions on the menu. Eventually we chose pots of Earl Grey (‘Milk : No’), and Vanilla Tea (‘Milk: Yes/ No’, an especially good choice), as the base element of The Rose’s Cream Tea Special, and Light Afternoon Tea. The former (£9.95) was comprised of a selection of delicately-cut sandwich fingers (three classics: smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, egg and cress); a scone with clotted cream and jam; and a slice of cake (we chose coffee and mascarpone). All elements are homemade, usually by the charismatic owner Marianne, who is refreshingly hands-on and can often be seen wandering the shop floor in tea-stained chef whites. My companion, a West Country lass well familiar with the art of the cream tea, thought that the scone was slightly too damp and dense in texture, which impeded the generous slathering of the cream. However, we both agreed that the toasted tea cakes which constituted the light afternoon tea (£5.45) were the best we had ever tasted. The slight hint of cinnamon, the buttery brioche-like texture, and the wafer-thin, burnt-caramel coloured crust made each mouthful a pleasure. The Rose is worth a visit purely for the tea cakes alone. Breakfasts and lunches are also available, averaging around £6-£8 for popular dishes such as Croque Monsieur, omelette, and fish cakes. Prices here are on the steep side, perhaps more for the teas than the main meals, but the focus is on local, seasonal, and organic. A visit here could well be justified under the guise of an end of term treat…

by Kate Hayter


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