High Tea at the Roman Camp, Callander
Just before Christmas, Kenny and I managed to venture off to the Roman Camp Hotel for a luxury afternoon tea.
For those who don’t know, ‘High Tea’ is very British, and a relatively formal affair. Traditionally, it was a fairy simple selection of sandwiches, scones and cakes served mid-afternoon in large ancestral houses - those kind of mansion houses with servants (now mostly National Trust properties), which were big enough for the various family/guests to disperse for the day across the vast grounds on various outdoor activities (hunting, walking, riding, gardening, fishing, painting); to reconvene mid-afternoon, warming themselves in front of a fire and reviving themselves with a selection of hot teas and cold snacks that the maids had laid out for them, presumably sharing aspects of their leisurely day, fitting in a spot of food as they waited for the slightly more interesting cocktail hour: after which they changing into something less comfortable to tackle all the formalities of an evening meal.
This extra meal, known as High Tea or Afternoon Tea, is something that a few grand hotels across Scotland now specialise in; opening their doors for non-guests to sample the good life in the form of a luxury afternoon combining silver service waiting staff, copious pots of tea and a parade of small and plentiful tempting treats: all at less expense and entailing (on the part of the guests at least) less formality than a full evening meal would at such a top establishment (the Roman Camp assured me on the phone that it was ok to come to their afternoon tea in walking boots - but in the end, it was a rainy day I’m really glad I didn’t).
To be entirely honest, the High Tea is a culture that neither of Kenny and I are used to, and while many people in our circumstances seem to get a kick out of jumping class for an afternoon, neither of us were completely convinced by the elements of perfomance it entailed.
To be fair, we did give the Roman Camp a bit of homework, as I eat gluten free, and Kenny and I are both vegetarian - we’d phoned ahead and they coped superbly with both requirements - I was particularly delighted by my fresh GF scone!
However, when being done as tradition dictates, high tea itself is a bit of an odd blend of sparseness, simplicity and excess - with possibly the worst aspects of British food being unconvincingly elevated when combined with silver service, the hotel’s luxury surroundings and the sheer quantity of food: it should feel like a luxuriously indulgent treat, but in reality it felt rather wasteful (is it just me that doesn’t want to eat so many cakes and scones in one meal? That’s a whole week’s worth of puddings!!)
The truffle and parmesan taster we had to start was divine: it set my hopes and expectations sky high! Such layers of flavour, such mysteries ... what a dream! (Give me another, and a crisp glass of white wine to complement it!).
While the rest was of the tea that followed it was all good enough quality, it fell a bit flat after such an amazing start.
I wanted to cry out, 'free the chef!,' and 'Why waste skill like that on sandwiches?'
Scotland produces such amazing cheeses and local produce, and while a traditional high tea, cramped by its own pretensions can absorb them as quality ingredients, it doesn’t really show them off unfettered. I guess the high tea experience as a whole is more about sampling an unchanging, old-fashioned, decadent lifestyle for a day - and it is still loved exactly because it doesn’t change much.
However, if (like me) you are all about learning something new about the food you eat, as you eat it then it is probably worth saving (much) harder and getting let loose in the evening restaurant - for that first mouthful told me that there’s a chef in there who’ll rock your world, and I’d pick unknown (and potentially sublime) over the weight of traditional any day.
It was dark by the time we left, and the lights in the dining room (all set up for that evening's meal) shone out into the wet night.
The Roman Camp Hotel has an old world charm and other-worldliness that merits a visit. The High Tea is a pleasant adventure, but the restaurant promises to be very special indeed.
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