Ninety minutes after our departure from the turmoil of London, wrapped in the comfort of First Great Western’s first class carriage, we pull into the historic city of Bath. A short drive from the station – or a leisurely stroll through the distinctive stone streets – sits The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, which takes a slice from the iconic terrace of townhouses immortalised on many a postcard. With 45 guestrooms, each with individual shape and style due to the building’s Grade I listing, the hotel is a veritable Bath staple and a boutique gem that has no competitors to speak of.
We’re here to trial the hotel’s new Afternoon Tea menu, which aims to bring a flurry of custom from both guests and outsiders. And by menu, we really mean menus, three to be precise, each one catering to a different palate. Taking its cue from timeless British tradition (Bath’s Georgian aristocrats were particularly partial to the ritual), The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa launched the new offering as a means of merging their Georgian heritage with a sense of modern luxury. Created by Head Chef David Campbell and Head Pastry Chef Catherine Lock, the menus range in sweetness to tempt every taste.
The Duke of York menu – crafted in honour of Duke Frederik Augustus himself who once rested his head here – speaks in strong, savoury tones with bites such as the Bath chap beignets, using pig cheek, tiny croque monsieurs and duck liver onion seed barquettes. The Elizabeth Montagu menu – which was inspired by the social reformer and patron of the arts herself – pays homage to the Blue Stockings Society meetings once held here, with heavier plates designed for a later tea including spiced goat’s curd and lemon profiteroles and hot crispy kedgeree with spiced mango yoghurt. And then of course there’s the classic Royal Crescent menu with everything we love about Afternoon Tea: sandwiches of Somerset ham, coronation chicken and egg mayo; strawberry and champagne macaroons; and lemon meringue pie.
Every set comes with scones and Bath buns in equal measure, all fresh from the kitchen, served with globes of clotted cream and strawberry jam. Pistachio cake is not overly sweet, macaroons crumble at the softest touch and chocolate mousse cake is so pretty it takes us some time to get over the guilt of devouring it. The accompanying tea menu is a (pleasurable) minefield, and requires the expertise of our sommelier to decipher, though inevitably we wind up combining our light Darjeeling with a glass of Taittinger, the hotel’s champagne partner.
But it’s not just the menu that aches of indulgence; the setting is a treat in itself. We eat under a welcome blaze of June sunshine in manicured gardens that smell of cut lawn, enclosed by beds of lavender and honey-hued walls shielded with climbing roses. Post-tea, we are suitably giddy and tiptoe over to the spa for a little further TLC. Inside yet another striking Georgian building, the spa employs natural woods, bamboo and slate sparingly, giving it an air of the contemporary without detracting too much from its heritage surrounds. We opt for an aromatherapy massage with spa partner ESPA’s soothing oil scented with sandalwood, rose geranium, frankincense and base notes of sweet almond. The therapist’s intuitive hands and comments on the origination of each sore muscle seals a pitch-perfect massage.
Afterwards, we are a little underwhelmed with the indoor relaxation area; while it overlooks the serene swimming pool and hot tub space, it’s set in a corridor and so is not the most inviting end to the experience. However, those that would rather opt for fresh air can settle outside on a deck chair, and a tranquil spa garden is currently under construction, which will no doubt be the perfect remedy and an ideal spot to while away a cup of herbal tea before retreating to one of the hotel’s sumptuous suites. For those unable to spend the night, the spa is open to outsiders with a series of day retreats that can be paired with lunch or dinner.
Bath is, in itself, a beautiful city for a break from the Big Smoke, but while there may well be other spots to indulge in a spot of tea and a lengthy massage, none could top the exquisite setting or faultless service that is synonymous with The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa.
Candid travelled for Afternoon Tea at The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, Bath with First Great Western on the First Class service from London Paddington to Bath Spa.