Honey for tea at Foxhills
This week it’s National Afternoon Tea week – and I can’t think of any better reason than that to scoff cakes and cream teas and have nice drinkies in a fancy-pants hotel. *Cough* Not that I need an excuse.
As the Muddy middle will attest, I’ve had my fair share of afternoon teas – and recently I spent a delightful afternoon feasting on the cakes and scones at Foxhills, the swanky country club and resort in Ottershaw.
I also got to meet the man who tends the resort’s bee colony, the charming and lovely Sergio Pignagnoli, who clued me up on all things bees and honey. I’ll tell you later what I learned, because right now we gotta talk cake.
Afternoon tea is usually served in the Manor Lounge, but as there was a wedding reception in there the day I went we were in the Manor Restaurant. Both rooms are in the gorgeous Manor home, the former home of the naughty 18th century politician Sir Charles James Fox. Charlie had a penchant for the high life – booze, gambling, women – and was sort of booted out Westminster, such behaviour being somewhat unbecoming in the late 1700s. So he did what we’d all do given the chance and moved to the home counties with his mistress to clean up his act.
These days, of course, the estate is now home to two golf courses, a bunch of tennis courts and other such country club facilities. I had a bit of a snoop around while I was there, and I can confirm that it’s all pretty faberoo. I particularly have my eye on the spa facilities.
The good news is, you don’t need membership to enjoy the cake (or indeed to dine at the Manor or Nineteen restaurants). The afternoon tea was pretty much what you’d expect from a fine dining restaurant: fancy finger sandwiches (ours were cucumber, egg, ham and cute pink ones made from beetroot bread with smoked salmon), scones with clotted cream and jam, and then a selection of cakes.
Given that afternoon tea is really just a sneaky way of justifying cake in between lunch and dinner, there was A LOT of cake. Luckily, I’d skipped lunch and I have a fairly healthy appetite (okay, I’m greedy, so what??!) so I was able to work my way through the English cake (that’s honey and treacle fruit cake, made with Foxhills own honey), blueberry cake, a white chocolate and honey mousse cake (again with Foxhills’ honey) and some kind of tart. It was all gorgeous.
We also had coffee and a refreshing drink that I think was a mix of Prosecco, lime, mint and possibly soda water. But I couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was, it was lovely on a warm day.
Before I sat down to this feast of sweet treats, I had a tour of the bee hives. Sergio is one of those people you’d call a true gentleman. Softly spoken and gentle natured, I wasn’t surprised to learn that he’s raising peaceful bees. This means he has little use for those smoking devices we often see bee keepers using.
So, back to bees and honey. Sergio tends seven hives at Foxhills (he has 40 in total – 20 in his own garden), and the honey they produce is pure, which means it’s filtered, but not boiled to clarify it.
Sergio’s honey is quite sweet. Yeah, I know, honey is sweet – but what I mean is that it’s sweeter than the processed honey I buy from the supermarket. It’s undoubtedly the best honey I’ve ever tasted, though I am only comparing it with the mass produced stuff. Not surprisingly though, the chefs use it where they can: aside from obvious use of smothered onto toast at breaky, the honeycomb is used for the cereal and granola, and the honey is added to dishes like the a a carte lamb. Jars are also available to buy at the hotel for £10.50.
Here’s what else I learned…
- Bees can’t fly in the rain.
- Every bee in the hive has a specific job.
- The boy bees (they’re called drones) have only one purpose, and that’s to mate with the queen. Then they die.
- Bees live for only six weeks if they’re born in the summer. They literally work to death.
- But if they’re born in the autumn, they’ll live for several months because they sleep for most of them.
- Bees eat honey.
- If I’m a bee in my next life, I want to be a scout. It’s their job to find the flowers then alert the others with a special waggle dance. It sounds like one of the better jobs.
- I don’t want to be a bee in my next life.