Afternoon tea. Usually something you might associate with Granny, P.G.Wodehouse, or irony-tinged picnics in University parks in 9th week of Trinity. But let’s face it, ‘going for coffee’ is so 2009. So get on with the times, relinquish your favourite cappuccino foam-stained plastic table in the dingy basement of Caffe Nero, abandon the incessant rat-tatting of laptops in Starbucks and head elsewhere.
90, High St
There was a buzz when Patisserie Valerie opened the doors of its Oxford branch just over a year ago – what was once an independent, bohemian, Parisian-esque hideout in Soho has now expanded into a chain of twenty-something cafes across the country. The lovvies were the first to go in droves, and it wasn’t long before there were reports of isolated incidents of h
ackery. Valerie, as a chain, is running the risk of dangerous over-expansion, and it’s not quite what it used to be, but its cakes remain some of the best around, and there’s a good selection of teas, and illy coffee. It’s a mystery why they griddle the (large) scones in their cream tea, but considering the quantities involved, at £5.95 it’s pretty good value. Fruit tarts and gateaux, however, are the winners here, as long the tray with your order doesn’t go crashing to the floor. Again.
The Grand Cafe
84, High St
This Oxford Institution has been around for over three and a half centuries – apparently – and it remains a popular retreat, both in the evening (when the cocktails are half price) and throughout the day. As the name suggests, it is rather grand, and the eponymous ‘Grand High Tea’ isn’t something for every day – for £16.50, you get a veritable smorgasbord of champagne, sandwiches, chocolates and scones. The standard cream tea is still pretty pricey at £7.50, but is first-rate. Unsurprisingly for the UK’s first ever coffee house, there are some excellent coffees on offer, and the cakes change from day to day. The Grand Cafe’s large mirrors and high ceiling belie its true size, which in truth, is r
elatively petit, so at peak hours you may have to wait a while, or go somewhere else.
51 High St
The Rose looks a modest establishment from the outside, and is one of Oxford’s lesser-known establishments, but those who discover it are seldom unimpressed. It offers decent, freshly made breakfasts and lunches, but teatime is when The Rose excels itself. Its selection of teas is second to none, and the cream tea consists of delicious homemade scones, topped with jam and ‘local’ Cotswold clotted cream. Many will appreciate the atmosphere, which is rather more calm and low-key than the other High Street haunts mentioned above. The teas merit a trip in themselves, and the fact that it isn’t quite so terribly sociable as some other Oxford establishments is refreshing.
The Old Parsonage
1-3 Banbury Road
The ambience and prices might mean that this really is a place to take relatives (or rather be taken to by relatives), but The Old Parsonage is arguably the most traditional and luxurious teatime retreat – it’s all very quaint and formal and oh-so quintessentially English. Go for the lavish ‘Graduation tea’ after graduation, because that’s what it’s there for.