An afternoon tea with a lot of style and flare, this treat from Bourgee makes a real change from scones and tea, bringing the concept into the modern day.
Afternoon tea is a concept born in the nineteenth century by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who complained of having ‘that sinking feeling’ during the late afternoon. The solution for her was a pot of tea and a light snack. Later, friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and before long, the Duchess had set a fashion among high society in London and beyond.
I’ve had a fair few afternoon teas in my time, as everyone will know there has been a bit of a revival of them over the past decade. So when I was invited to try out afternoon tea at my favourite Essex chain, Bourgee, how could I say no? So my mum and I went to check it out…
Bourgee first opened a restaurant in Southend three years ago and has since opened two more establishments, in Chelmsford and, most recently, Bury St Edmunds. The latter is the one that we visited this time, to see how it compares to the other locations.
Nestled among other shops and restaurants in the centre of Bury, the new restaurant is located in an old town house building. It’s not the easiest to spot as you walk down the street as the signage and front are very subtle and don’t have the same grandiose that the other locations do. This is the same inside. There are typical Bourgee touches – waterfall at the entrance, industrial lighting, plush white leather booths and modern sculptures (hints at the links between the owners and Colchester Zoo), but it just feels a little lost in this old-fashioned building.
The Bury venue is four floors, three of restaurant and the top, a champagne and tapas bar. I think part of the issue with it having less atmosphere is this spread across multiple floors and different cubby-holes and nooks on each.
The Afternoon Tea
This afternoon tea isn’t like any you’ll have had before. There are many variations out there, often based around a theme, or just involving drinking copious amounts of booze while you eat stacks of food and end up leaving the venue hating yourself. At Bourgee – less is more. Yes I know that is a total cliche, but it rings true here. Each element is quite small but really well flavoured and extremely memorable, it’s classy, light and more reminiscent of the original afternoon tea concept – a snack which serves as a pick-me-up.
Each ‘lawn’ tray has the following pieces:
Warm sausage rolls – the picnic classic, it’s no wonder they picked these given the outdoor vibe the chefs were looking to create. The pastry is ultra-thin and crispy, which makes it light and not greasy like a classic sausage roll. Mine was perhaps a tiny bit over-cooked but I’d rather that than under. They sausage-meat is bursting with herbs and brings levels of flavour that only comes from a really meaty and well-made sausage. My mum was extremely happy with these, exclaiming that they were “amazing” and she does, in her own words, “like a good sausage roll”.
Lobster open bagel – lobster is one of Bourgee’s signature dishes. This bagel wasn’t what I expected at all – rather than being lobster chunks in a mayo, or anything of the sort, it’s a kind of cheesy lobster soufflé on toasted mini bagels. The bagels themselves were pretty hard, so maybe a little overcooked again, but they were well-flavoured and nicely sized. With some chunks of actual lobster meat too, they would be on their way to perfect.
Steak and caramelised onion brioche – steak is the other focus of Bourgee restaurants, so nice to see it make an appearance here. The meat is sliced, grilled pave – which is a rolled rump – but given this, it’s amazingly tender and no grisly pieces. All too often bread is the focus of sandwiches, but the use of brioche is clever here, making it much lighter so that the real focus is on the meat. There is also a spread of Dijon mustard under the meat, delivering a serious kick and complementing beef perfectly. This was a real gem, I’d just like a double portion of it!
Mini doughnut balls – these are one of the first things I tried at Bourgee three years ago, a perfect treat in the Southend seaside venue and they fit well with the afternoon tea. Their doughnuts are served as warm balls in a paper bag and take you right back to childhood beach trips. They have a small splodge of jam inside and lots of cinnamon sugar on the outside. My mum isn’t a fan of doughnuts at all and would happily pass them up, but thought these were much nicer than usual.
Fruit skewers – these fruit skewers look like a piece of art, they are put together beautifully. Unfortunately they are a bit on the sickly side as they are drizzled in sweet syrup and sprinkled with meringue pieces too. They are certainly too sweet to utilise the dips with. I think given all of the other sweet components, they’d actually be better just plain and toasted. There also isn’t much to them, so it would be good to have a couple more maybe?
Bavarois – bavarois is a classic French dessert containing gelatin and whipped cream and this is a very good example of one. It’s cake-like, with a moose layer – super light so it just melts away in your mouth, leaving a fruity flavour behind. Even thought it’s super creamy and dairy-filled it’s not too claggy.
Dips – there were a couple of dips on the tray for the sweet items, a chocolate and a fruity coconut and mango (I think). The chocolate one was far too bitter for both of our palettes, but we’re more milk chocolate fans than purists to be fair. You’d think that the chocolate would be a good match for the doughnuts, but actually the fruity one went really nicely.
Drink – it comes as standard with tea or homemade lemonade or there is an option to upgrade to some fizz. I went for the lemonade, which was really punchy – not for the fainthearted by any means – and fresh. It tasted like it had a lot of layers to it like mint or even something floral, but actually those notes come from using really good ingredients in a clever way.
Bourgee generally is a great series of establishments, but Bury is still finding it’s feet a little. The front of house is a little lacking and I think a lot of that is because this specific venue is spread across so many floors, as well as being the new kid on the block. The staff even admit themselves that since the opening in May things were a little bit turbulent and messy to start, but that they’ve found their groove a bit now and are on their way to catching up with the other outlets. Once you pin the staff down, they are super friendly and helpful, they know the menu well and can help guide you through different options available. They all wear little earpieces, which I’m sure helps the place run smoother, but it makes you feel a little like they are always concentrating on other things and not you – so not the biggest fan of these. If you visit the other venues, you are likely to get a much smoother service, but I’m sure Bury will catch up soon from what we saw.
£15 per head feels a little steep for the amount of food you get, but the quality is far superior to the usual afternoon teas on offer, I mean, you are getting steak and lobster after all. It also feels a lot more modern and relevant than most on the market, it’s fresh and quality ingredients, presented in a fun and engaging way that creates a real story and vibe while you eat. This is a really good option if you want something light (but still filling) and delicious and a bit out of the ordinary and is a great experience to share . My mum was extremely happy with her day out, I won lots of brownie points for taking her with me.
Bourgee has locations in Southend (Essex), Chelmsford (Essex) and Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk). All are within each reach of London via train or road.
You can find out more about Bourgee’s evening service and menu in our previous blog here.