The lovely countryside and inspiring coastline of Sussex are just some of the reasons why this region is full of Londoners on weekends. From the historical streets of Rye and Arundel to the countless Roman ruins, this independent, culturally distinct area has much to offer in terms of heritage. For breathtaking natural beauty there is the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, Beachy Head and the South Downs. From the bright lights of Brighton, and gentle pleasures of Eastbourne: the urban areas are full of pleasures. Food in Sussex is not all about seafood, puddings and home-made jam – it can also boast some of the finest afternoon teas in England. You are spoiled for choice when it comes to lavish afternoons of tea and cake, from grand historic buildings to quaint tea gardens, the excellent local produce available – from preserves to cheeses to local sparkling wines – adds to the quality of the experience.
Amberley Castle (Amberley, West Sussex)
Amberley Castle is a 900-year-old historical treasure in the chalk South Downs near the pretty village of Amberley. As you approach by the gravel drive there is a sense of period-drama enforced by the imposing main gates. The castle is completely enclosed by 60 foot high curtain walls that contain beautiful gardens and the castle itself. The interior is stuffed full of ancient battle gear and tapestries but tastefully decorated in sumptuous fabrics. In winter tea is served next to roaring fires in the library or one of the drawing rooms. In summer you can take your tea in the charming landscaped gardens, or in a delightful tree house in the grounds. The castle staff offer a choice of teas with service that is professional without being imposing. There are both plain and fruit scones served with the traditional strawberry jam and clotted cream. The three tier cake stand is so crammed with perfect finger sandwiches and a wide range of puddings, biscuits and cakes (Madeleine, fruit jellies, macaroons and orange and coconut cake, to name a few) that the scones are served in a silver basket on their own.
Julien Plumart’s Salon De Thè – (Brighton, East Sussex)
The grand halls of the big hotels in Brighton seem an obvious choice for afternoon tea, but they can’t compete with what is on offer in London or with the finest, fanciest and most decadent patisserie in the UK. Julien Plumart is famous beyond Brighton for his wonderful macaroons. They line up like jewels in a range of beautiful colours and exquisite flavours (many of them have tea as an ingredient) in his outlets. An amazing afternoon tea with a sublime French twist is served at Salon De Thè on Duke street. The salon is small and very chic with glossy décor and rich French-flavoured elegance. Downstairs you find a stunning display of artful cakes and macaroons. Upstairs is the stunning salon where you can enjoy a variety of marvellous treats selected to match the tea you choose. If your choice is English breakfast, this might be paired with a Strawberry tart, a lychee raspberry macaroon and pistachio ice cream. The tea is served in elegant glassware, and the decadent experience takes afternoon tea to a whole new level of delicate finesse and astonishing flavours.
Grand Hotel (Eastbourne, East Sussex)
For the unrivalled splendour of the Great Hall alone, afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne is more than worthwhile. You can choose one the elegant lounges or the terrace for afternoon tea but the the Grand Hall is the place to be with its high white ceilings and sumptuous décor. The famous hall is a creamy symphony of refined opulence with huge windows framed by gold curtains, crisp white tablecloths, upholstered chairs, and ornate chandeliers. You have to dress up for tea here, not just to meet the strict dress code but because it would be a shame not to, when your afternoon tea is served with such pomp and ceremony, and a string quartet playing gently in the background.
There is a traditional and even a junior menu for tea, but the setting demands that you indulge in the ostentatious Grand Champagne Afternoon Tea. Traditional finger sandwiches are perfectly arranged on the silver cake stand along with freshly baked scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. A warm winter fruit compote is a perfect companion to the traditional pastries. All this is served with a glass of Canard-Duchêne Cuvée Leonie champagne and your choice of tea or coffee, or if you prefer, a fruit or herbal infusion.
South Lodge Hotel (Horsham, West Sussex)
The South Lodge Hotel in Horsham is a five-star country house venue that pours as much Victorian luxury into their afternoon tea as they possibly can. The grand house was built 1883 and has been maintained in plush and ornate style as a testament to Victorian excess. In the summer months tea is served out on the extensive lawns and winter you can look out over the South Downs from the refined, wood-panelled drawing room with its handsome fireplace and decorous soft furnishings. They offer a ‘mini me’ afternoon tea for children under 12 years as well as a variety of gorgeously decorated private drawing rooms for any group seeking to enjoy a special celebration. Afternoon at South Lodge is a formal ritual with bone china, fine cutlery and a silver tiered cake stand available with a selection of teas or a glass of Nyetimber English sparkling wine from the vineyard just down the road. There is always a gluten free cake available and they offer options for vegetarians. After the lovely sandwiches, pastries and scones, your tea finishes on a high note with fresh strawberries and cream.
Ashdown Park Hotel (Ashdown Forest, East Sussex)
Which ever direction you look out from Ashdown Park Hotel you are rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Set in the ancient forest of Ashdown – said to have inspired authors A.A. Milne and Arthur Conan Doyle, Ashdown park has 186 acres of rolling parkland. The grade II listed country house epitomises English country house style with floral fabrics and gleaming wood wherever you look. Their award winning afternoon tea is served in the drawing room or the terrace with old world service as once enjoyed by Victorian high society. Presented on white linen and bone china, the Ashdown Park Afternoon Tea features a selection of finger sandwiches (including smoked Scottish salmon and honey roasted ham) followed by freshly baked scones with Devonshire clotted Cream and strawberry jam. The pasties are divine, and include fresh fruit tarts with crème anglaise among various traditional tea time favourites. Add a glass of bubbles to accompany a fine selection of loose leaf teas served from a traditional silver tea set.