THE afternoon tea ritual has been enjoying a renaissance over recent years - and its revival has been the saviour of many eating establishments.

Classic, retro, vintage or alternative, there are now many takes on the afternoon tea experience, with Cumbrian cafes, hotels and restaurants eagerly getting in board.

This week I partook of a classic afternoon tea at the Ryebeck Hotel in Bowness, in the company of 21 other women. Invited along as a guest of Barrow Inner Wheel, I arrived at the Ryebeck eager to see how this popular country house hotel went about its afternoon tea service.

The hotel itself is a classic Arts and Crafts Lake District house (I'd put money on its being a Pattinson house), with views over Windermere and a large conservatory extension which serves as the main dining room.

After assembling in one of the drawings rooms, we were ushered into the conservatory where tea was served and where we were waited on by two suave young men from Eastern Europe (the hotel appears to be largely staffed by young Europeans), who danced attendance on us throughout the afternoon.

My dining chair was less than comfortable - maybe it was just mine but the wooden frame was digging in through the upholstery and I seemed to be at the wrong height to the table.

Pots of tea and coffee were first to arrive, followed by large platters of classic afternoon tea sandwiches: the standard range of egg and cress, smoked salmon, ham, and cucumber and cream cheese. For the thickness of the very fresh bread, the fillings could have been a little deeper but they were all tasty, dainty and crustless.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the drinks and sandwiches coincided with someone deciding some background musak would be needed in the conservatory. It wasn't. Twenty two women with platters of cakes and sandwiches in front of them don't need ghastly and intrusive music to jolly the occasion along - and after consultation with madam president a request was made to one of the waiters to switch the music off.

Now, in many establishments, the staff will sometimes bluster that such a request can't be met. Even turning the music down seems to present logistical impossibilities in some places. But the staff at the Ryebeck were no match for the Inner Wheelers - and the musical din disappeared pronto. Hurrah.

Loud and inappropriate music is one of my pet hates when dining out; and all too often it seems to be inflicted upon the customers for the enjoyment of the staff.

Thankfully, the Ryebeck takes a more practical stance, and the music was ditched with good grace.

The sweet element of our afternoon tea comprised delicious fresh scones with plenty of the requisite jam and clotted cream; diddy squares of chocolate brownies; fresh fruit tartlets with creme patisserie; banana muffins; and individual jars of what I think were mango possets, adorned with chopped nectarines.

All of which were lovely, except the tartlet pastry which was hard and bland. I particularly liked the light-as-a-feather banana muffins.

Teapots and coffee jugs were replenished throughout and jugs of iced water were brought out, as by this time the conservatory was very hot.

Luckily, the weather had broken and the sun wasn't in attendance, otherwise that conservatory may well have been like an oven.

Tea consumed, some of us spilled out on to the spacious terrace to get some fresh air and to enjoy the views from the Ryebeck gardens. As an arborophile it pains me to say that some of the trees marred the view a little - but some judicious pruning would soon restore the lake view to its full glory.

This was my second visit to the Ryebeck. The first took place for dinner on a wild and windy night, so I had been interested to see the hotel in the daytime.

It's a lovely building of classic Lakeland style. Inside, it falls between classic country house and boutique hotel; and for my money, I'd decide which of the two it should be - and go for that in terms of decor. At the moment it's not quite fully one or the other, and as a result it lacks a certain cohesion.

However, the food is good (afternoon tea here is a very reasonable £17.50), the setting beautiful and the service friendly. The Inner Wheelers had certainly enjoyed a convivial afternoon at the Ryebeck, as I had, too.


Food 3.5

Service 4

Atmosphere 3.5

Value 4


Classic afternoon tea experience

Friendly staff

Lake views


Dining chairs uncomfortable

Interior needs more of a wow factor