High Tea of Highgate is located on the pretty, and rather posh, Highgate High Street (are you getting the High theme yet?). As I spotted it, whilst trudging up the hill, my heart warmed. A pretty pink frontage with an art-deco styled, hand-painted sign, this was clearly a place with the personal touch I love. On entering that warm feeling continued: a counter laden with lovely looking cakes; a pretty pink and white colour scheme that had that old-fashioned high tea feel; shelves and cabinets filled with tea paraphernalia, jewellery and really beautiful crockery; and tea-related art on the walls. Having no idea how popular the tea room was I had booked ahead; and with only six or seven tables in the place I was glad I had - true, they weren't too busy when we arrived at 3pm but by 4pm it was packed.
The menus, like the room, were pink and homely with a handmade feel and they contained a pleasing selection of teas. Caroline is a self-confessed coffee addict but she decided to try a Darjeeling as she fancied something light and bright. I was thrilled to see one of my favourite blends, a Russian Caravan on the menu. I just love the slight smokiness of this tea but I find that it's not that widely available. As for cakes, we were spoilt for choice. I was very tempted by the lavender sponge - I just can't get enough of either the smell or taste of lavender - but instead decided to give the the wheat-free chocolate orange a go. Caroline went for one of her favourites, the lemon drizzle cake.
Our tea arrived in really lovely Zero Japan teapots. I had seen them online before but actually using one has made me appreciate their quality. I'm normally in favour of quite an old-fashioned teapot and like nothing better than finding a well-loved, second-hand bargain at a flea market. But these Zero Japan teapots having very modern styling with a porcelain body and an attached stainless steel lid and infuser basket. Yet despite that there is something about the shape of them which does feel old-fashioned, and traditionally "tea time'. And the tea inside the pot was of a good quality too, supplied by local shop Martyn's of Muswell Hill. I was a bit slow in staying Caroline's milk-pouring hand so her Darjeeling ended up a bit pale and milky but she did her best to drink it before moving onto a Ceylon (who's robustness was, I suspect, more up her street being a confirmed coffee-drinker). My Russian Caravan was so good I had a second pot.
The overall experience of the tea room was quite lovely. The staff were helpful, knowledgeable and friendly, and made us feel very welcome despite the fact we ended up hogging our table for almost three hours(!). The ambience of the place was spot on: never too noisy despite being full, and with plenty of interesting things to look at when your companion nips to the loo (tea does take its toll...). The only let down for me were the cakes. With a large oven in the relatively small kitchen area behind the counter, and the smell of freshly baked goods wafting throughout the cafe, the cakes are clearly all homemade. The selection was, as I've said, impressive but, much as it pains me to say it, the two that we tried just weren't the best.
My wheat-free chocolate orange cake was literally oozing with what seemed like a syrupy substance. I'm no fan of dry cakes but this was a bit much even for me. The chocolate on the top was more of a drizzle and as such didn't make much impact on the orange flavour. After a while I realised that Caroline's cake hadn't gone down that well either as she had left most of it. I tried a bit and was surprised that there didn't really seem to be much in the way of that crusty, sugary topping that I would expect to find on a lemon drizzle cake. We also both detected a tang that, despite disagreeing about what it was (metallic/fishy), wasn't appealing to either of us.
It really was a terrible shame that we didn't enjoy our cakes that much as everything else about the tea room was spot-on. Perhaps we just chose poorly: the chocolate cake or scones, or even the tempting lavender cake may have been more to our taste. The place certainly seemed to be full of regulars who were happily tucking into their wares. And despite the cake-related disappointment I can see why they were busy, even on a rainy Friday afternoon. The atmosphere, the tea, the staff and the objects and cards on sale make me determined to return. If they could only get those cakes right it would be a near-perfect tea experience.