Norwich: Assembly House

Stacia BriggsAfternoon tea is a quintessentially English ritual, and you don't even have to wait until the summer to enjoy it. STACIA BRIGGS booked at table at Norwich's Assembly House.Stacia Briggs

Afternoon tea is a quintessentially English ritual, and you don't even have to wait until the summer to enjoy it. STACIA BRIGGS booked at table at Norwich's Assembly House.

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Afternoon tea is a British tradition that I for one am extremely happy to maintain. Not quite lunch, not quite dinner, but perfect nonetheless, a good afternoon tea is 'event eating' at its very best: great if you're celebrating a special event, decadent if you're simply celebrating the fact that it's 3pm and you're a bit peckish.

On the day we visited the Assembly House, the snow was still on the ground and the going was decidedly treacherous, meaning we'd definitely worked up an appetite by the time we reached our destination (it may not be proven, but I'm quietly convinced that tiptoeing over black ice works off more calories than walking in good weather).

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The Assembly House itself is, needless to say, a grand building bursting with character and the kind of opulence you just don't see often enough.

Off the main reception hall is the restaurant, recently taken over by Richard Hughes of The Lavender House and Iain Wilson of Byfords (the pair also own The Pigs in Edgefield). You're formally met at the door and shown to your seat - ours was close to the grand fireplace.

The dining room itself - you can also eat in a separate, less formal room - looks like a French Fancy, in shades of pinks and white set off by the most incredible chandeliers.

A huge room, you're guaranteed privacy regardless of how full the restaurant gets and you're also guaranteed that the staff will be attentive, but not overly so.

I took my Mum, because Mums deserve afternoon tea above all others, and my daughter for a three-generation treat - we had two classic teas between us, which was more than enough when you take into account that one of us is only 11.

When afternoon tea arrived, it was almost too perfect to eat: served on latticed china cake stands, it looks truly magnificent, like something from an Enid Blyton book.

Because I'm a vegetarian, the chef laid on veggie sandwiches (there are, obviously, meat and fish alternatives for those that partake) - delicate finger sandwiches with fillings of hummous and roast vegetables, egg and cress and cheese and pickle on white and granary bread.

There were also miniature, warmed cheese scones served with real butter.

Despite being small, the savouries on our stands were absolutely delicious and very filling - I was glad I'd taken the decision not to eat lunch before I came.

After several cups of Assembly House English tea, we attacked the speciality cakes - a rich chocolate layer cake, butterfly cakes, tiny tarts and miniature fruit scones that came accompanied by jam, whipped cream and butter.

Loading the scones with cream and jam was a job relished by my daughter, who started a production line and kept us served throughout. There's something truly magical about eating morsels rather than mountains, and we loved every bite.

At �16 for one afternoon tea or �28 for two, afternoon tea at The Assembly House is one treat I urge you all to try this year - the food is incredible, the service is fantastic, the ambiance is wonderful (if you're lucky, you'll have a pianist playing to you as you eat).

I've also enjoyed several lunches a the Assembly House in the past few weeks - posh cheese on toast is my dish of choice, although I'm also very partial to the ploughman's and the sandwiches - and it's become a firm favourite for a classy, but not bank-breaking, pitstop.

As we left - picking up a few cakes for the menfolk left at home from the little stall in the reception hall - I couldn't help but notice that another afternoon tea option is the Chocoholics Afternoon Tea, where in addition to your sandwiches, you're also treated to toasted brioche sandwiches with banana and cinnamon, chocolate brownies, chocolate tiffin, chocolate mousse and hot chocolate.

It'd seem a sin not to go back and give it a go. I'll keep you posted.

t The Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich , 01603 626402,

t Open: Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun - caf� bar 11.30am-3.30pm, traditional Sunday lunch from 12pm.

t Wheelchair access: Yes

t Vegetarian options: Yes - an impressive selection of locally sourced, fresh food.


Food: *****

Service: *****

Atmosphere: *****

Family: ****