Friday, 17 August 2018

Afternoon Tea at the Courthouse in Knutsford, Cheshire

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

Hey Owlets,

If you watched my Instagram stories you will have known that I recently took a whirlwind trip to Manchester - when I say whirlwind I mean we left Bristol BEFORE 7am, we were in Manchester by 11am for Dad to buy his new car, and by 1pm I was making Dad hate me by accidentally directing him into a multi-storey carpark when he'd been driving his new car for less than ten minutes. However, I did make up for it as in the afternoon we were invited to review The Courthouse in Knutsford, so we stopped for afternoon tea on our way home.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

As per usual I was doing a terrible job of navigating, and as we pulled up Dad said "Are you sure that's the place?" - the restaurant is beautiful both inside and out, and we immediately felt a little underdressed, but considering until 2010 it was a full functioning crown court. As we walked up to the building we were greeted by several members of enthusiastic staff and were shown to our table. 

All of the original court furnishings are still in there, and our waiter (the general manager) told us that we'd been seated in the press box, for obvious reasons. The seating areas are where the judge, jury, press and public used to sit, and the dock has been turned into the bar. The manager said that the cells are currently being used for storage, and I know the afternoon tea is Mad Hatter themed but I've never known ingredients to need detaining.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

When we sat down we were asked if we wanted any drinks other than tea, then were handed the "tea chest", and you're given a few minutes to pick it up, smell each one and decide what you'd like. I was a little travel sick so decided to have camomile, and it was the best camomile tea I've ever had.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

When our waiter brought out the stand and a teapot, we were thinking "but we already have our tea". I was already photographing the mushrooms as they'd come out first, but stopped as when the tray arrived the manager said "you'll want to get your camera ready" then poured tea into the teacup, which sent water vapour pouring across our table - I think our waiter enjoyed it just as much as we did, because he offered to get some more for me to photograph again. As well as looking amazing it sent the smell of tea drifting across our table.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

Almost every part of the experience was magical, but there were two big let-downs for me. First of all, most of the sandwiches were great. Dad didn't love the curried cod, but I did so I was kind of pleased he didn't like it. The ham and cheese sandwich was so good that I wanted to break into the kitchen and "borrow" the relish that was used. However, all three of us were confused about the jam sandwich; I appreciate that it's Mad Hatter-themed so a sweet sandwich isn't what you'd expect, but afternoon teas are already laden with sugar and the sandwiches balance out the sweetness. On top of this, it was the same jam that was used for the scones which was a disappointment. At a previous afternoon tea we'd had lemon curd on the scones instead of jam, and if they'd done that then I think they could've gotten away with the jam sandwich, but as is it was just too much of the same.

The second disappointment came from these amazing-looking strawberry and red velvet opera cakes. The coating was made from gelatin, and it was so bouncy that we struggled to get into it, and when we did the whole thing stuck to the spoon. Inside it had half an inch of red velvet cake, and half an inch of buttercream and on top of everything else it was just too heavy. When the manager cleared the table he did ask why we'd left them, and when we explained he said "That's not right, it shouldn't have been like that" and seemed genuinely disappointed that they weren't up to standard - his reaction alone would make me go back, because you can see just how much pride they have in their work.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

Looking at these mushrooms I still can't believe that they're made of cake. The top of the mushroom was a choux bun filled with strawberry cream - it was only when we'd eaten the top of the mushroom that we realised the stalks were made of meringue and painted, because we all thought they were sitting on real mushroom stalks. It took us until almost the end of the afternoon tea to realise that the earth they were sat on was edible too, and my mind was truly blown at this point.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

The jam sandwiches and opera cakes were a little "style over substance" for me, but that was by no means the tone of the whole meal. The macarons were passionfruit and white chocolate, decorated to look like a pocket watch, and they were incredible. Next to this we had blackberry and liquorice battenburg - Dad and I don't like liquorice and Mum can't stand marzipan, yet somehow we ended up fighting over it. It's obvious that the chef was incredibly talented.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

One of the things I have to mention is the incredible service we received - it's so obvious that everyone loves coming to work, especially the manager. After our meal we got chatting and he started telling us about the history of the building, before saying "come with me, I have to show you something". During the building's almost 200 years as a courthouse, 7 people were publicly executed on the steps outside so they placed a bowler hat around the door for each person. The manager told us that he had one guest who turned out to be the grand daughter of the last man executed and she gave them a photo of him, which hangs to the right of the hats.

Courthouse Knutsford Cheshire Barristers Restaurant Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea
Photo Courtesy of The Courthouse
If you're planning to visit the afternoon tea is £19.95 which I'd say is well worth it. I had a bit of a sod-it attack and ate gluten so I can't comment on how they deal with allergies but judging by how caring the staff were I don't think you'd have any issues, although you do need to let them know the day before your visit, which means you can't just walk in. One thing I did notice is that the building was not very accessible and Mum did struggle with all the stairs so if you have mobility issues you may want to give this one a miss.

A few days after I visited they opened a beautiful new roof terrace, and if I'm back in Manchester again I would love to visit, just for the Instagrams if nothing else! 

As a whole we all really enjoyed the experience, despite the few oddities in the afternoon tea. The staff made us feel like we'd been invited to a friend's house, rather than a restaurant, and I loved learning the building's history as we ate. The afternoon tea was well themed, if a little style over substance at times. If you're in the area I'd definitely take a trip to try something really unique.

Love and Feathers,
 The Owlet 💜
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