Café 21 in Fenwick’s is a hub of yummy mummies and ‘ladies what lunch’ day in, day out. They draw the masses boasting a well-respected brand name, some of the finest culinary work to come out of Newcastle, a superb location for those who have shopped until they are in danger of dropping and a comfortable, clean cut interior. Once seated at a table in Café 21 you can really begin to appreciate how much they’ve made this corner of our iconic Tyneside department store their own. You feel a million miles from the bustle of the beauty hall and the pushing and shoving of the fashion department.
Their afternoon teas are served daily between 3-7pm weekdays, 3-6pm on Saturdays and 3-4pm on Sundays and there are 4 different versions to choose from. The ‘Cream Tea’ involves scones, jam, cream and a pot of tea and will cost you £5.80 pp. The ‘Confectioner’s Tea’ is a variety of scones, condiments, pot of tea and a selection of teeny cakes. One for those only interested in satisfying their sweet tooth! Finally the original ‘Afternoon Tea’; the Confectioner’s Tea plus a selection of finger sandwiches, and the decadent ‘Champagne Afternoon Tea’; the full Afternoon Tea with the added glass of Henriot Brut. These 3 options are priced accordingly at £14, £17 and £30 for two people.
I sampled the original Afternoon Tea. It was a Monday and the glass of fizz seemed a step too far. That’s very sensible logic for me. I did spy a few laydees sipping from flutes, ordering Bellinis like there’s no tomorrow, and can verify that they looked smashing.
We’re seated in true Café 21 style; quickly and with a smile. The staff here are generally faultless. They’ll always find time to stop and chat with you but they’ll leave you to eat your meal in peace. However, on this particular visit the gap between ordering and the food arriving was noticeably long. We were twiddling our thumbs for far longer than I’d expect and other people were being served their meals before us, having ordered after us. However I’d like to make a point of saying that this is very unusual for Café 21 so don’t let that put you off.
Eventually the food arrives. The layout is the standard 3 tier display. The bottom tier is sandwiches, the middle is scones and the top pastries. There are ham, smoked salmon, egg and cream cheese and chive sandwiches. The egg mayonnaise had a pinch of spice in it, which sounds a bit weird but was actually very nice. I like an unusual twist. The scones were soft, moist, warm and the ideal amount of crumbliness. The little cakes looked very snazzy but if I’m being completely honest I wasn’t blown away by any of them. The macaroon was incredibly dry and powdery, as was the meringue that topped the miniature lemon tart. The muffin was ordinary and completely overwhelmed by the crazy amount of frosting on top of it and the chocolate cake, although tempting, was sorely lacking. It was so dark it bordered on bitter, which works well in a torte or fondant but, for me, not so much in a dry cake.
I expect so much more from Café 21. However I will say that the chefs do a wonderful job of the main menu dishes, and that probably goes some way to explain any disappointment I felt. Based on my (many) previous visits to the Café, I simply expected more. We’re here to discuss tea and cakes, I know, but I couldn’t review this Café 21 venue without a special mention of their club sandwich, as they do an extremely good version of this classic, and their Caesar salad, which is so good and comes with the perfect semi-runny boiled egg on top. In reality the afternoon tea was a lovely treat that I’m sure many of you will love, but one which was just not quite to my tastes.
You can check out more of Sarah’s work over at www.sarahbosson.com. If you’re a venue and would like to invite her to come and review your gaff, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.