Category Archives: english

Café Liberty

When asked to name Britain’s poshest and most iconic shop, most people would probably say “Harrods”, and they might well be right, but we think this place would give Harrods a run for it’s money, any day. It’s maybe not as big and it’s maybe not as posh, but it’s terribly terribly British. Arthur Liberty opened the shop in 1875 selling oriental objets d’art and, perhaps most famously, it’s own printed fabrics .. later to become known as Liberty prints. Liberty 02a

It quickly became one of the most prestigious stores in London. The current Tudor style building, dates from 1924 and was constructed from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS HindustanLiberty 01It’s a Grade II listed building constructed around three light wells each with smaller rooms leading off to provide a homely feel; many of the rooms still have beautiful ornate fireplaces. When you wander round the shop you can’t help but be amazed at the eclectic range of stuff on offer, everything from Alexander McQueen’s latest fashions to ceramic egg cups and vast heaps of Persian rugs … you never know what is just around the corner. On the 2nd floor there is Café Liberty where you can have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or even dinner. We have been here before on several occasions but had never tried the scones and since Liberty was going to have the dubious honour of being our 100th scone, it just had to be done. Café Liberty is relatively small and very busy.  Liberty 03It was pretty full when we arrived and we are sure we saw another hundred people come in and only about two leave. They don’t take reservations but somehow they, very calmly, manage to find seats for everyone from the constant stream of weary shoppers at the entrance. No one is kept waiting for any length of time and yet no-one seems to leave .. as Queen would say, it’s a kind of magic!” Like Deanston and Glamis the scones come in pairs; for just under £10 you get one fruit, one plain and a pot of tea, not cheap, but not too bad considering Liberty 04they also come beautifully warm and with all the right accoutrements .. linen napkins, nice cutlery and of course jam and cream .. and what might even be a Liberty pattern plate. They were nice and soft on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside, just the way we like them .. well done Liberty, nice to complete our first century of sconeology with a topscone award. At one time Liberty had several stores around the country but now it is just this one. This government, however, elected by a third of the voting public, is taking one big liberty with just about everything: the NHS in England, the Vow in Scotland, the Chilcot enquiry, the immigration crisis, the EU, land reform, union rights, human rights, disability rights .. we could go on. The Tories belief in austerity (trickle up economy) is mind boggling especially when you consider that they came to power in 2010 with an inherited debt of £780 billion, which they promised to reduce, and yet here we are in 2016 with a dept that now stands at £1.6 trillion and growing by the second .. what a liberty .. thank goodness Café Liberty harks back to a better more enlightened and humane past.Liberty 07

W1B 5AH          tel: 020 7734 1234             Liberty

White Peaks Café – Kew Gardens

This is our first visit to Kew Gardens which famously houses the world’s biggest collection of living plants. It quickly became evident that a few hours was never really going to do it justice .. it’s big, about 300 acres, and there’s lots to see and do; orchid collections; photographic exhibitions; tropical glasshouses; museums of botany; loads of beautiful  parkland and big adventure playgrounds for children. There are four eateries all operated by the same external  contractor and they are all different. We ended up in the White Peaks family food hall near the adventure play area … it was busy, busy, busy .. kiddies everywhere, but we had kiddies with us too so we were just adding to the general chaos.White Peaks 02‘Food hall’ is probably the correct description rather than ‘restaurant’, you certainly would not come here for a quiet cuppa .. at least not on a school holiday. If you want that The Orangery, a couple of hundred yards further on, would probably be a much better bet. Fortunately White Peaks is self-service and set up to cater for loads of people all at once and it does not take long to get served with whatever takes your fancy. Predictably our fancy was taken by the scones, not because they looked particularly appetising, but rather out of our unstinting sense of duty. As might be expected in a place like this everything is geared towards fast  food and the scones are no exception; jam and cream in little sealed plastic pots; paper plates; plastic knife … do they not know that we normally have our scones at Claridge’s .. darling? White Peaks 03This definitely was not a Claridge’s scone but then that would be like comparing apples and pears … let’s just say that this scone was okay and ideally suited to it’s environment. If the folks in London are baffled by a peculiar chortling noise drifting downwind from the north, it is probably referendum hardened Scots laughing at the 2014 pantomime of the Scottish referendum being played out again over the EU. The same predictions of impending doom if we stay in .. oh, and if we leave. Incredibly, the people who want to leave the EU are ferociously arguing that ‘we need to have control over our own affairs‘, are exactly the same people who argued so ferociously to stop that happening in Scotland .. the logic is hard to grasp. The other day Ian Duncan Smith said “I’m tired of hearing that we’re too small, too little, too inconsequential to stand alone” .. is that a wee touch of amnesia Ian, what were you saying a year ago about Scotland? No such worries on this beautiful day at Kew, at least we didn’t notice any kiddie-winks fretting about the prospects of being in .. or out .. although, they are the ones who will be affected most. Whatever the result, it will be made to work so it probably does not matter that much. Dumfries & Galloway Council have resorted to cutting a pack of cards to make decisions … maybe Westminster should do the same, it would save a lot of trouble?

TW9 3AB     tel: 020 8332 5000     Kew Gardens

Le Pain Quotidien

This place is just round the corner from Victoria station and was the chosen spot for a rendezvous with a group of Lithuanians .. don’t ask, it’s a long story. Le Pain Quotidian ( ‘the daily bread’) originated in Belgium but now has outlets in nineteen countries stretching from Brazil to India though this is the first we have come across. Le Pain 02 The emphasis is on providing a place for people to meet and do business or just have a good gossip and, to that end, they provide some long tables where people or families can gather round and do just that. It prides itself on it’s artisan bread made the traditional way … ‘bakers blend organic stone-ground flour, kneaded patiently by hand and baked in stone lined hearths’ .. whatever .. can they make a scone? In the interests of diversity, we thought we should try the ‘organic spelt & quinoa scone’. If nothing else it was definitely different and, from that point of view, difficult to compare with other scones. Le Pain 03A heavy mix as you might expect with a spelt flour but the added quinoa seeds, currants and almonds gave it a, not unpleasant, crunchy texture. It came with a pot of mixed strawberry/rhubarb  jam and a dish of what we thought was cream but turned out to be ricotta – an Italian whey cheese made from sheep milk. Now once we had got over the surprise of it being nothing like the cream we had been expecting, it was not that bad … in fact, with the scone itself being so completely different, the ricotta complemented the scone quite well … probably better than cream would have done. Le Pain 04This is the first  time we have come across quinoa (pronounced: kinwa) in a scone and probably demonstrates Le Pain Quotidien holding true to its basic philosophy of using good honest healthy ingredients .. apparently it originated from the shores of Lake Titicaca which is quite exotic in itself. At £5 per scone however, they are not cheap. Never had a hope of being a topscone but just for being sooooo different we think it qualifies for a top weird scone award .. won’t be rushing back for another but well done for broadening our scone horizons. Not far away there was a Stop Trident rally in Trafalgar Square. Isn’t it odd that we give so much attention to making nuclear power stations absolutely safe and then spend vastly more money planning for the creation of even bigger nuclear disasters .. bizarre. Of course, things have moved on. The big question now is not whether we should get rid of them but whether we can get rid of them fast enough before  The Donald and BoJo are ruling the world. The BBC‘s report on the rally just prattled on about how disappointing the turnout had been in spite of their own pictures showing umpteen thousands present.

BREAKING NEWS: In best BBC style, keeping you up to date with scone news, we have breaking news from our Trossachs correspondent .. the same one who, you will remember, gifted us some Dobbies scones at Christmas. Dobbies 01Apparently, when he went to pay for his cream scone the other day at Dobbies in Stirling he discovered that cream scones were subject to a BOGOF deal so he went home with another scone in a box which fed  four people the following day … all for £1.45 .. remarkable. Many thanks to our reporter. Obviously they were not spelt and quinoa scones but, in spite of the London prices, Le Pain Quotidien is worth a visit, a little bit quirky, good food, great service and nice atmosphere. It also has a good website with plenty of information and recipe suggestions.

SW1V 1JZ     tel: 020 3657 6945     Le Pain Quotidien


Claridges 03You know you are at Claridge’s when, to get across the street, you have to negotiate your way through loads of Bentleys and Aston Martins … and then, when you get to reception you have to decide between an ordinary room at £550 per night, or a suite  .. dilemma! Eventually we thought a £3,500 suite would be comfortable enough for one night until we discovered that breakfast was going to be an additional £80 … arrgghh, and everything had been going so well. The Scot in us suddenly came racing to the fore and, you guessed it, we ended up just going for a scone. Not just any old scone, mind you, a full afternoon tea in the form of a much anticipated present from a couple of thoughtful and generous readers .. hint, hint. Diligent readers will have noted that over the last few months, topscone awards have been as rare as hen’s teeth, so we were feeling pretty excited and confident that, if hen’s teeth were going to be found anywhere, it would be here. Excitement is not something that Claridge’s does however, the atmosphere, in the rather splendiferous 1930’s art deco Foyer, is one of intense calm, disturbed only by the soft sounds of the pianist and cellist playing selections from Beethoven and Bublé. Claridges 08Pat always blends effortlessly into such luxurious surroundings – a sign of good breeding no doubt, whereas I tend to feel more comfortable towards the greasy spoon end of the market. Cannot believe I have just mentioned a greasy spoon in this context, if such an item was found here some member of staff would immediately be taken out and unceremoniously shot. As serious sconeys, however, whose sole raison d’être is to inform our readers about scones at all levels, we felt it had to be done regardless of personal sacrifice … the menu will give you an idea of what had to be endured.Claridges 12

There is absolutely no doubt that these sandwiches, helped down with lashings of champagne, were probably the best we have ever tasted .. superb, we ate every last crumb. The glaringly empty plate prompted them to ask if we would like more but, of course, we had to conserve some space for the pièce de résistance .. the scones, so we declined. Before that we had to choose from a couple of dozen teas from around the world. Pat plumped on China White Peony with ‘hints of peach and apricot‘ and I went for the Iron Goddess Of Mercy, a gentle flavoured oolong which is high in caffeine and recommended as ‘the perfect afternoon pick-me-up‘ .. ideal for me after having been awake all morning. The tea comes served in teapots that only hold one cup so when you want more they go and get more hot water and each infusion is supposed to improve each time. We were told by our chinese waitress that ‘The first cup is for your enemies, the second cup for your wife and the third cup is for yourself’ .. just as well we were both drinking different teas as I’m pretty sure Pat would not have been happy being given the second cup. Claridges 10The scones … apparently ‘Claridge’s scone recipe is a timeless classic refined over generations‘ .. they have ‘a soft yielding texture and a colour of warm white gold‘ and are served with Cornish clotted cream and tea scented Marco Polo gelée … ‘the perfect complement to the scone‘ .. nothing as common as jam here! They were not far wrong, it was all excellent. However, rather than being the clear and easy decision we had expected, we had to deliberate for a bit on whether they qualified as topscones or not … the presentation of course was excellent but the scones themselves were not quite up to Fonab standards .. but of course Fonab is top of the tree so the answer was yes, phew! Claridges 09Because we are unlikely to be taking tea here again any time soon, for my final cup I changed to the Malawi Antler, a tea which is ‘unspeakably rare’ and in the UK can only be found at Claridge’s .. it had to be done. It was very nice though the antlers (tea shoots instead of leaves) which ‘wonderfully express the earth of Malawi’ was a bit lost on my decidedly uneducated palette. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with cake scoffing, listening to the music and generally watching the world go by  .. what a fabulous way to spend the day .. many many thanks to our very generous benefactors. Before we left this cocoon of peace and calm to renegotiate the Bentleys our waiter rushed off to get us a present … two little boxes of Claridge’s fudge. Judging by his performance over the ‘new deal’ and the EU referendum we think Cameron has been given several large boxes.

W1K 4HR       tel: 020 7629 8860        Claridges

Maison Blanc

This post sees us back in the nether regions of the UK visiting family .. London, or Barnes to be more precise. It is a very pleasant area with lots of parks and a great network of paths that mean you don’t have to walk near busy roads very often .. but you do need to be mindful of over-enthusiastic joggers and cyclists .. sometimes seems like nobody just walks. We walk though and on this occasion our walk took us across the Thames at Barnes Bridge to Chiswick and one of our favourite antique shops .. the Old Cinema. One of Chiswick’s rather dubious claims to fame is that it was the first place in Britain to be hit by a German V-I (doodlebug) rocket bomb. The Old Cinema hasn’t been a cinema since the 30s but obviously survived the doodlebugs because the building has now been utilised  as a centre for somewhat quirky up-cycled antiques. Browsing was definitely the order of the day however since most of the price tags would have to be considerably downsized to match our rather tight Scottish pockets. Strangely, after a pleasant hour or so rummaging, we became subject to a mysterious and irresistible force that pulled us out and around the corner onto Turnham Green Terrace and this place … Maison Blanc, a little bit of France. Maison Blanc 04A self-styled  ‘artisan bakery renowned for its speciality breads, freshly baked pastries, world famous cakes and pâtisserie – all handmade to perfection’ it also boasts of it’s ‘viennoiserie’ … that’s ‘croissants’ to you and me. Maison Blanc 02Apparently they also have a joie-de vie attitude and believe that life should be enjoyed one delicate macaroon at a time. But we British know the French rather well, don’t we; compulsive seducers, lazy, speak only French, drive like the Italians … so, with all their haut cuisine and everything, the big question was, would they be up to making a decent scone? Almost … the scones had scrubbed up quite well, nicely shaped with a glossy bronzed finish and nicely presented with a tub of Cornish clotted cream and a pot of jam of a somewhat indeterminate nature. Maison Blanc 05The more attentive amongst you may have noticed that we have not given a topscone award for some considerable time so we were hoping that this might be our chance, because we do like to give them out, but it wasn’t to be. The rather odd jam; the prepackaged cream; the scone itself … although enjoyable enough the combination was just not right .. pity. On a slightly different tack, we almost never comment on the omni-present piped music because it is almost always awful, but this was an exception .. no Piaf, just the right volume, and a mixture of Howling’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Billie Holiday .. perfecto! At the end of Turnham Green Terrace there is a statue of William Hogarth the famous painter who lived locally until his death in 1764. Although a renowned portraitist he is probably best know for his satirical works … what would he make of things if he was alive today; trickle up economics; uppity Arabs; uppity Americans; uppity Scots; looming EU collapse, looming financial meltdown. Goodness knows why people are surprised by talk of a meltdown when nothing has changed since the 2008 crash .. untouchable bankers still gambling with our money. Hogarth would have been in his element! In his heyday he always had something to say about the French .. but probably not about their scone making abilities … or the lack of them .. are we the first? Doivent faire plus d’efforts!

W4 1QP       tel: 020 8995 7220          Maison Blanc

Muriel’s Kitchen

The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is one of those entities that sounds as if it has been around for centuries but has in fact only been in existence since 1965 when three smaller council areas were amalgamated. It is home to the many attractions like Kew GardensHampton Court PalaceTwickenham Stadium but our favourite is the WWT London Wetlands Centre which we visit frequently.Muriel's 02It is probably the single most affluent area of London and perhaps unsuprisingly is deemed to have the best quality of life.  Also unsurprsingly it is almost exclusively white and conservative. You will all, of course, remember that we have been here before at the Bingham Hotel where we spent a very pleasant afternoon sipping tea in rather posh surroundings. Muriel's 07This time we were just out for a walk along the Thames but before we got to the river we stopped off here at Muriel’s Kitchen. There  are lots of cafés and coffee shops in town but this one took our fancy .. perhaps because we once had an aunt Muriel who baked a rather mean scone.  It’s a very pleasant place with a wide range of food on offer and somewhat retro decor; copper jelly moulds and frying pans in abundance. Sitting here, looking around, you realise that this place, and indeed the whole borough of Richmond, kind of represents the government … predominately white, male, well heeled, privileged backgrounds, private and Oxbridge educated. A generalisation of course, but the flip side of the coin is a bit more worrying because this borough is nothing at all like the rest of the country and hence, by definition, the makeup of the current government does not reflect the country it is supposed to serve. Given that only 1 in 4 of the electorate voted for it we should probably not be surprised .. but that’s UK style democracy, the most undemocratic state in the EU.

a jam jar??
a jam jar, what happened to presentation?

It raises the question though; if a government is crammed full of Oxbridge alumni does it mean that they will make good politicians and govern well .. self evidently, it does not. We have the most right wing government in years introducing the Chinese Communist Party into the heart of UK infrastructure .. a move, the only possible beneficiaries of which can be is the bankers. And it is not as if we don’t already know all this; George W Bush’s administration was made up of the cream of Yale, Princeton and Harvard graduates … and we all know what happened under that leadership .. catastrophic wars and financial disaster. Whatever happened to politicians from working class backgrounds .. the Nye Bevans of this world who had imagination and empathy? Perhaps,  by way of an experiment, it should be mandatory for people who run for office to be certified eejits just to see if it would make any difference. Unfortunately the scones might have been made by some sort of elite academic because, although perfectly edible, they would not have passed aunt Muriel’s exacting standards .. a bit doughy and a tad on the solid side …  great coffee though!

Muriel's 04b

TW9 1TW     Tel: 02008 948 7011    Muriel’s Kitchen

The Olympic Studios

It has been some time, thank you for all your concern; some thought we had died .. scone overdose somewhere, others thought we had been kidnapped by over-enthusiastic sconeys. Well, none of the above, we have been in Londonland .. might as well call it that because it is completely detached from the rest of the country. Unlike vast tracts of Scotland where everyone speaks with a home counties accent … here, hardly anyone speaks English and the Range Rovers are almost as big as a £2m house .. mad, but great, all at the same time! Okay, okay, the scones, what about the scones?  Olympic 04The Olympic Studios, complete with it’s statue of Captain Marvel up on the roof, is a very popular haunt for us when we are in the deep south .. either for a meal or to see a film, but this is the first time we have been here in sconey mode .. would we be disappointed? The building itself has had an illustrious past. Byfield House, the residence of the Governor of St Helena and its dependencies of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, stood on this site until 1906 when it was demolished and  replaced by a cinema and theatre … Charles Haughtry and John Gielgud first trod the boards here. In 1908 Christabel Pankhurst, took to the stage and gave a rousing and provocative speech .. not about scones but something to do with votes for women; six days later she was arrested at the House of Commons and imprisoned with more than twenty other suffragettes.  In 1966 it became the Olympic recording studio and was used by the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zepplin, Madonna, Jimi Hendrix and our personal favourites .. Massive Attack!  U2 were the last to record here in 2009. Now it is a cinema again and is appropriately showing the newly released film, Suffragette. More importantly though it has a restaurant and cafe .. selling scones .. and what scones! Olympic 03By far and away the best scones we have had in ages. Very light and fluffy on the inside with a delicate crisp outside .. absolutely fabulous darling .. and at £3 for two scones with plenty jam and clotted cream, the price was not too difficult to swallow either. Another small but lovely touch in the Olympic is that they just give you water and glasses without you having to ask for it .. great! So there you have it, possibly the best scone in Londonland .. unless we find another of course! Olympic 05One hundred years after the suggragette struggle, and after our great Winston Churchill spent a year refusing to speak to the first woman to enter the House of Commons, it seems beyond belief that, in 2015, women are still struggling to get equality. Someone (it must have been a man) said that the best way to make women more comfortable in the workplace was to double glaze the glass ceiling .. well, how would men feel if they were obliged to take the same maternity leave as their partners; would they feel as secure in their careers, would they wonder about reorganisations happening in their absence, new people coming in, others leaving … we don’t think men would handle it at all well. That does not make men different from women because women find it just as difficult. And it is not as if having babies is some sort of peripheral activity, it is fundamental to absolutely everything .. everything. Mind you recent statistics reveal that twelve men commit suicide in the UK every day, far higher than the female equivalent figure, so men don’t have it that easy either. Anyway whoever, woman or man, made these scones, we are sure that Miss Pankhurst would have been proud .. probably even prouder it it was a man!

SW13 9HL      Tel: 020 9812 5161    Olympic Studios

Dan’s scones

What a busy day, the Grand National and the Oxford and Cambridge boat race all happening today. Before all of that however we were invited to a fabulous afternoon tea at First Avenue with our daughters and their friends. Dan03We thought there would only be a few cupcakes (Carolyn’s speciality) but no, there was tons of sandwiches (fab Fiona), tarts, biscuits (scrummy Kirsty) and scones. Everything was delicious but, as self-confessed sconeys (scone enthusiasts) special mention must go to Danielle’s scones. Not only were they as good as anything we have tasted elsewhere but they were heart shaped .. lovely touch. All present have duly been awarded ‘honourable sconey’ status.

Fiona won  our National sweepstake.

Chiswick House

As the Thames buzzes with preparations for the boat race tomorrow the grounds of Chiswick House thrive with families out enjoying an early April day of 20 degrees .. just lovely. The original Chiswick House dates back to 1610 but the building we see today is early 18th century. It once belonged to the Cavendish and Devonshire families but now it is in public ownership and managed by English Heritage. The house was closed when we visited but the grounds are extensive and very well maintained with lots of statues and gateways leading to temples.

The camellia conservatory
The camellia conservatory

The conservatory was supposedly the scene of the first ever music video when the Beatles, fed up with touring,  recorded Paperback Writer in 1966.

Most importantly, of course, there is a café.

The café area
The café area

It is necessarily big both inside and outside to cope with hundreds of visitors each day and as we stood at the self service counter I guess we harboured preconceived ideas of what the scones would be like. They looked a bit on the solid side and we have experienced many places like this that were disappointing to say the least .. however, such dismal expectations were to be completely confounded. Chiswick scone
Sitting outside in beautiful warm sunshine we discovered they were really most enjoyable and on a par with some of the best. You get a wee jar of Triptree jam and a lidded pot of cream .. eminently sensible for a place like this where lots of people are sitting outside. This is the school holidays so lots of kiddies running around and generally having a great time playing frisbee, climbing trees etc. Fabulous to discover baby changing facilities … in the gents, a long overdue sign of the times! As you wander around London you cannot help but observe the general affluence (no potholes, everything works, public transport is great) and contrast with other parts of the country. In the run up to the election we hear a lot about what Scotland gets (Barnett and all that) compared to ‘England’ however we tend not to hear much about London getting £2.6k per capita more than ‘England’. That’s a lot more than Scotland and considering the population is about twice that of Scotland, that’s a lot of money .. and it shows! Are we witnessing the north south divide … maybe?

Anyway, like its scones, Chiswick House and its gardens are a delight, you will not be disappointed.       tel: 020 8995 0508

Orange Pekoe

Another day another Barnes hot spot. Also the day after a supposedly sensible politician managed to bore a child half to death by reading her a story. Why do politicians insist on photo opportunities with kids? Can’t think of any where they have not looked completely outside their comfort zone, so why do it ? Anyway, like that poor child you are probably fed up to the back teeth with election stuff already and there is still a month to go. On to better and more important things. Tea is Orange Pekoe’s ‘thing’.

Part of the tea selection
Part of the tea selection

It derives its name from the very finest grade of broadleaf tea and it has won the Tea Guild ‘Award of Excellence’ seven years in a row so it seems to be quite good at the whole tea thing. Like Gail’s, which is not far away, it is busy all the time and also has seats outside but is more set up as a tearoom and is renowned for its afternoon teas.

Orange Pekoe 01Lovely day so we took a seat outside and then were attended to by a very welcoming and friendly staff. If we had had more time it would have been great to sample the afternoon tea but we didn’t so we just settled for some scones. They came accompanied by small dishes of jam and clotted cream and  were beautifully warm, light and fluffy … utterly delicious. Only criticism, and it is a tiny one, was that they were maybe a tad on the small side, they certainly give you enough jam and cream for something much bigger. Orange Pekoe 02Accompanied by all the other stuff of an afternoon tea the size was ideal but on its own just a wee bit small.  Also, Barnes is probably not the place to come for a cheap scone .. seen more Aston Martins and Porsche Cayennes than you could shake a stick at. So  a little on the expensive side but having said that, we thoroughly enjoyed everything we had and would definitely recommend if you find yourself here for the boat race though your chances of getting in on Saturday are probably non-existent.
Had to explain ‘scone’ to a foreign lady and found it quite difficult .. there is really not much with which to compare it.

SW13 0PX  tel: 020 88766070