Aunt Martha’s Victorian Tea Rooms: Drybrooks’s hidden gem

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Tucked away on the outskirts of Drybrook is one of the Forest of Dean’s hidden gems, which has slowly been gathering momentum since 2007.

If you are a self confessed connoisseur of tea-rooms, local food or Victoriana, you must pay a visit to Aunt Martha’s Victorian Tea Rooms for an authentic recreation of the period, as well as some of the finest fare from the Forest of Dean district!

Hot & cold beverages, Victoriana and seasonal fare!

Mother & son, Nadine & Andrew Carr (Aunt Martha & Chef) launched Aunt Martha’s Victorian Tea Rooms in 2007. Since their humble beginnings of selling their wares on a market stall, they now run a fine establishment. In fact, it has snowballed in popularity, with visitors now coming from as far as New Zealand to sample the delights of an authentic Victorian tea room.

2014: a year of awards and recognition

2014 has turned out to be a bumper year for Aunt Martha’s with them being the proud recipients of a number of awards including the ‘Cotswold Life Food & Drinks Award 2014 for the finest tea room/ coffee shop’ and the ‘This England Finest Tea-room Award 2014.

So, what sets Aunt Martha’s aside from the competition?

For a start, you can expect to find a splendid selection of hot and cold beverages including lemonade and elderflower cordial. Each year Aunt Martha’s personally tastes and selects unique blends of fine teas for her clientele’s delight. What’s more, the food is equally as delightful. Nadine and Andrew have gone to painstaking effort to ensure that the seasonal Victorian fare on offer is as authentic as possible.

A cup of Earl Great tea
Perfect Cup of Earl Grey

Aunt Martha’s ethos: buy local and everyone benefits

“Seasonal food is always better. Take English strawberries in season fresh from the garden – you just can’t beat them. Besides, the Victorians had to eat seasonally, “ says Nadine. She always preserves her surplus produce such as the Blaisdon plums from her beautifully kept gardens.

Andrew is a great proponent of the staycation (vacation where one stays at home) and making the most of exploring our local area. “We want to get people to eat more locally, the staycation is a brilliant idea. People can enjoy themselves and hopefully still get value for money. “

Nadine and Andrew both recognise that by sourcing locally, everyone wins. You get food that is full of health, rich in flavour and with low food miles. When you buy from local artisans, it keeps the money in the local economy – and there are so many artisans within the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley area!

A black and white photo of Old Ned
Proudly Presenting Old Ned

Access to the finest local artisans means a tasty treat for the discerning foodie!

So, where do Old Ned (the gardener & in reality Nadine’s husband) and Aunt Martha go to pick up their ingredients? Well, fruit and vegetables (aside from those grown in their own gardens) come from Over Farm Market, the meat is from Cameron’s Quality Butchers, Mrs Smart provides the single and double Gloucester Cheese and the Forest Bakehouse in Longhope provides the delicious fresh bread.

“Our butcher knows exactly which local farm the meat comes from and inspects them personally, and we can see the food miles on the produce from Over Farm. When you eat like this, you can have food from the farm to your plate within 24 hours, which makes for the most amazing flavours.”

With the exception of the bread the food on your plate is cooked in-house with salad leaves and herbs being grown in Aunt Martha’s gardens. When you order something, the chef pops outside and picks the side salad and washes it. You can’t get much fresher than that.

In search of the perfect cream tea

Philip Carr (Old Ned) comes from Devon, which is the home of the cream tea (unless you happen to be Cornish). So this meant that finding the very best local clotted cream was high on the agenda. How can one possibly open a tea-room without offering cream teas? Quelle horreur!

After extensive taste testing (which must have been a real chore), they settled upon cream from Bartonsham Farm Dairy, Herefordshire. Although it lacks the thick golden crust of the Devonian variety, the taste is superb. Indeed. Aunt Martha’s cream teas along with the strawberry and vanilla flavour jam will ruin you for any others!

So, what of the Victoriana?

Aside from the delicious light bites, beverages to die for and monthly themed three course meals, Aunt Martha, chef Drew, and Old Ned are also historians at heart, having participated in historical re-enactments for many years. They have a genuine passion for replicating an authentic Victorian dining experience down to the smallest detail. Victorian tea-rooms had no electricity, so you can sip your tea over candle light. Furthermore, on a fine day, you can book a table in one of their gorgeous themed gardens which surround their charming cottage.

“I will be very honest with you. I never liked the Victorians” said Nadine. “However, Philip adores them. “ Nadine is far more interested in the social side of history. “What did they eat and drink? But this wasn’t so popular in the national curriculum. “

Nevertheless, her interests serve her perfectly in what are arguably the best tea-rooms in the Forest of Dean.

Photo of a traditional gas lamp
Authentic Victoriana

Why choose the Victorian era for their tea-rooms?
When considering an era for their tea-rooms, World War 2 wouldn’t have given a great choice in terms of food, due to all the rationing. As for creating an authentic medieval dining experience, well, today’s health and safety inspectors would balk at the conditions. “There would have been straw on the floor and a couple of dogs roaming around to eat up the scraps on the floor”, explains Old Ned.

“The Victorians gave us our love of enjoying food”

Nadine’s research has served her well. The Victorians’ love of food was such, that the whole dining experience from start to finish was a sensory experience. It began with the aroma as they entered the establishment. There was the conversation, the sharing and the excitement when the food was brought out looking wonderful. People would think, “Wow, I can’t wait to get stuck in.” As Nadine says, “The final reward is that when you actually start to eat it and you think, ‘Mmm, this is lovely,’ – that’s what eating should be about.“

A plate of gorgeous cupcakes
Too Good to Resist

Victorian etiquette for a Victorian tea-room

When taking tea at Aunt Martha’s, you will notice the quaint guides on the correct etiquette of taking tea. Hours of painstaking research has gone into this, with Nadine taking tips and advice from facsimiles of original manuscripts of the era, including Mrs Beeton’s ‘Book of Household Management’ and ‘The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness’ by Florence Hartley. Both offer advice on how to conduct oneself properly in order to avoid committing any embarrassing faux pas and how to follow the fashions of the day.

Now, the guides on etiquette adorning each individual table provide entertainment in themselves, but in the Victorian era, one wrong move would have made the difference between being upper class, middle class or (clutches at pearls) lower class.

Essentially, Nadine and Andrew have recreated what middle class tea-rooms would have been like in the Forest of Dean’s heyday, from the food to the period costumes, made personally by Nadine herself. There are no comfortable shoes beneath her voluminous skirt, just crippling Victorian boots!

Aunt Marthas Victorian Tearooms.
Sugar Crafted Butterfly Made In-House

Highly entertaining and a real eye opener!

Nadine and Philip’s alter egos – Aunt Martha and Old Ned – really come into play when the tea-rooms are open and the staff or ‘Servants’ are all in on the game!

“Servants are a tedious necessity one feels and a beating does them good!”

When you take a couple with a passion for historical re-enactment, local produce, a highly skilled savoury chef and a son who excels at being a sweet chef (and who creates the most fantastic cakes and sugar decorations), anything is possible. So, why not go the whole hog?

Aunt Martha’s cousin, Lady Atherton at the ’big house’, sends her more troublesome servants to the tea-rooms to be whipped into shape!

Nadine confesses that “One of their current servants belonged to a friend of Lady Atherton and the tyke was particularly awkward and ran away. So, he’s back at Aunt Martha’s for more beatings, but he’s beginning to shape up again.” Indeed, it is her Christian duty!

However, sometimes Aunt Martha’s methods of correction are a little too effective. In which case, she sneakily tells Lady Atherton that they are a lost cause, and Aunt Martha will simply have to keep them in her service for ongoing beatings.

Naturally, this role playing turns Aunt Martha’s Tea Rooms into their own little alternate world within the establishment which is part of their quirky charm and popularity.

A Photo of some plums
Visit the Beatuful Gardens

Book in advance to avoid disappointment

Today, coach loads of people are turning up to have afternoon teas, hen parties and even wedding receptions, so it’s essential to book in advance!

They also put on monthly special events so, keep an eye out for the Gothic Horror evening: a 3 course meal with tea and coffee. Nadine will be recounting the first ever written horror story, which led to classic novels such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Naturally, they will soon be taking bookings for a Victorian Christmas event.

Do make a point of walking around the gardens when you visit. Just like the Tardis, you don’t realise how large they are until you’re in them, and they are beautifully kept. Despite the ever growing popularity of Aunt Martha’s, many local people have never even been. So, whether you are local, or want to make a longer journey for a truly remarkable experience, contact Aunt Martha to make your booking. We promise that you won’t be disappointed.

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