After a great start to the day exploring the Slaughters and then Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds area, we set about on our notoriously last-minute exercise of finding a decent lunch spot in the middle of nowhere. Despite my otherwise good sense of a proper lunch (read: warm and savory) after a morning of coffee and sweet pastries, I was willing to forego the criteria this time to get myself a proper countryside cream tea experience I’d read so much about. Contrary to what it might sound like, I am actually not a tea person– even being from India, I will always, always, pick filter coffee over chai, much less classic black tea. But, as every human is entitled to some amount of FOMO, here I was, interested in my last cup of tea on our final UK trip for a while, given the impending expiry of our visitor’s visa.
Long story short, I was on the lookout for tea rooms. After a little bit of spotty 3G research, I zeroed in on The Kitchen, in a town called Minchinhampton. What a fun name, I thought. We readied ourselves for an hour’s drive.
We pulled up into a quiet town. There was barely anyone on the streets, in sharp contrast to our last stop, Bourton-on-the-Water. K and I shared a mutual nod that we’d arrived at a proper local, non-touristy town.
The door opened to a bustling room– groups of elderly folk, very clearly local, chatting at every table– it appeared to be a busy and social afternoon. In the midst of this busy service, the manager of the tea room came to us and politely asked for a couple of minutes to find us space. Her name is Assumpta, as I learnt later on. We took a little walk outside and upon returning, we were seated by the window, flanked by the counter on one side, and a large round table with an elderly couple on the other. I looked around the room. The place was still bustling, the delicate tinkling sounds of porcelain and silverware punctuating the chatter and laughter.
After a few minutes, Assumpta came to us and took our order. My focus was unwavered. No lunch for me, just cream tea. K decided more rationally, to have soup. As she left us, I noticed the couple at the round table waving to a few elderly folk on the other side of the window, presumably seeing them on coincidence. They came into the tea room, and the round table was now full with 3 couples. No coincidence, it was their afternoon rendezvous. Across the room, to our right, was an elderly man who’d been reading the newspaper by himself while eating a slice of carrot cake I’d earlier noticed at the counter dotted with various cakes.
Assumpta brought us our food. So, this was my first British scone ever. Sure, I’ve had scones here and there, but never really in the UK, or from the UK. I picked up the beautiful creation carefully. It was warm– and it nearly crumbled onto my hand. It smelled heavenly. I spread the clotted cream first– it was a bit of a struggle considering the crumbly texture, then I spread the jam hoping it would smooth it over nicely. It didn’t really help. So I decided to try the other way around this time. Nope, that didn’t help either. I was making a crumbly mess, basically, and hoping no-one was watching. But who cares? I had had my cream tea and it was the best damn cream tea!
By the time I was finished, the gentleman to our right was up– he was getting ready to leave. He came up to the counter to settle his bill and chatted with Assumpta for a bit about how she was doing, and then turned toward the door. “John, let me get you your coat. Let me get your coat”, she said and she hurried along to bring him his coat and put it on for him. He was ready with his walking cane and she walked him slowly all the way to the door. Just as the door closed behind him, Assumpta disappeared to attend to another table of guests.
In the meantime, the round table to our side was getting served their lunch. Almost out of the blue, Assumpta appeared. “Here’s some steamed beans to go along with it”, she passed around the plate, and the lady who received it looked pleasantly surprised, as if to say, “…but I didn’t..”. “Oh, please take it”, she said with a smile that seemed to convey they were specially prepared for her.
By this time, K and I were nearly finished with our scrumptious food– I, definitely far more elated than I had hoped to be from afternoon tea. I poured more tea into my cup, we were in no hurry and I was happy to sit back and enjoy the busy but cozy environs of the establishment.
Assumpta came back around and enquired at the round table. K smiled, bemusedly. As she helped pick up the plates, he heard her say to one of the men, “Finish up your toast, finish up your toast”, in a familiar, motherly tone. This– was not just any tea room.
The folks at the round table left, and K and I were still there. I took another look around and the tea room had quietened down quite a bit. Most of the guests had left by this time. And right when I was about to pour myself the last cup of tea, a mother and a little girl, say 6-7 years old, in her school uniform, walked through the door. From behind me, Assumpta exclaimed as she saw the little girl come in and went to the door to give her a big warm, bear hug. The little girl was radiant. The mother and daughter sat down at a table and ordered a piece of cake each.
Between weaving in and out of so many tables, guests and conversations, Assumpta had obviously come to us many times and enquired if we were doing fine with our food and drinks. Of course, we were. I was just engrossed in witnessing this community, this social life, so lovingly come to life around this little tea team and the lady who activated it constantly. It was alive, in large parts due to Assumpta’s boundless energy, going from table to table, caring for each person’s name, their favorites, their general goings-about and making sure they were at home, including us.
Every street we take to work or home every day, we’re likely crossing paths with hundreds who have made it their service to cook, prepare or serve food. Call it my Indian gene invoking respect for people who feed or something else, these are the people that remind me that it’s the small things that keep us going, that kindle our relationships– and it’s their dedication to their craft that shines through regardless of where they are on the planet, or how big or small their offering is.
As we settled our bill, we learnt a bit more about her and the Kitchen. It will be a year of her having bought the business and restarting the tea room. I can’t imagine pumping in as much energy and life into a business as this, in as little as a year. Hats off to you, Assumpta!
Go there and say hello!
7 High Street
Gloucestershire GL6 9BN
…and don’t forget to bring back some of those scones with some clotted cream!