I’ve been meaning to check out Memoirs for some time- the now not-quite-new conversion of the old library in Colchester town hall into a fine dining restaurant. This was the first of several moves from the town hall to make more commercial use of the space there including The Cells in the old magistrates dungeons below and the new addition of The Courts upstairs (where I shall hopefully fill my Town Hall trilogy of bloggings before Christmas).
Where The Cells and The Courts are a more casual affair offering plenty of fried stuff and drinks deals, Memoirs is pitching to a very different audience and boasts one of only three Michelin listings for the town. Once used for weddings and civil ceremonies, it is an absolutely beautiful space, airy and high ceilinged with décor in gold and cream that pulls off being luxe without feeling too over done or cheesy. An impressive bar with a distinctly 30s feel marks a shiny focal point beneath an ornate window which fills the space with natural light during the day. It is a very pretty, fresh space befitting the menu and the level of punter they are trying to attract.
My call to eat out on a higher budget doesn’t come so often in Colchester these days, and on those occasions of late that it has I have found myself deferring to Greyfriars up the road or Church St Tavern down the road and round the corner but I finally made a visit in October to take the bestie for a birthday treat. Their day to day menu is modern, offering plenty of classics with a twist and solid meat and fish options, daily specials and the geographically expected oysters. Check out their website for full menus and some surprisingly good value set menus that I can’t comment on because we went for afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea has always struck me as a hard balance to hit- splitting that massive pile of mid PM carbohydrates into the right amount of sweet, savoury and cheese covered is not an easy task, especially if one needs to function as a human being later on in the day without feeling both bloatingly nauseous and hungry again by five. But on the other hand, it’s nice isn’t it? We all like cake and it’s a bit of a treat to argue over the cream and jam order for your scones (cream then jam BTW) and eat off the pretty little stack of plates like some kind of delicately bouffanted Jane Austen character. If you’ve not met my companion or I, I can assure you that is exactly what we are like…..
So it was a treat, it was the afternoon and we both like a bit of cake so we went for afternoon tea. And what an afternoon tea. Due to a midweek 2pm sitting the choice of table was unrestricted as we were the only ones in there however the service was friendly and the space so comfortable that we were gassing away and enjoying ourselves pretty quickly without the need for provided atmosphere. If you’re planning on a first date here however, you might want to stray into their busier hours. Despite the lack of rush on the staff there, I should mention that the service was impeccable and hit a wonderful balance of being both relaxed and efficient without becoming the slightest bit snooty which is something I rarely experience. Top marks there.
Starters came in flutes with the inevitable fizzy upgrade which then became fizzy cocktail upgrades. If you are boozy lady (or gentleman over the age of 18) who lunches I would steer you towards their Botanical Royal- a prosecco base spiked with a mystery house ‘botanical’ infusion which is a wonderful bright lilac in colour and I’m damned if I can tell you what is in it but the finish is smooth and distinctly floral.
Tea components change with demand but we were treated to some well executed though not desperately noteworthy sandwiches which can pass with only the comment that they didn’t scrimp on the fillings.
Next up two scones which get double points for being both huge and delicious. One fruit, one plain with some kind of very crunchy sweet glaze, served with a good amount of clotted cream and the compulsory tiptree jam pots on the side. Marvellous.
The top tier seemed mildly underwhelming at first holding banana bread, a little pile of saucy berries with a single meringue going as ‘eton mess’, a potted cheesecake and a small triangle of something chocolatey and evil looking. In a world of gold velour seats and penguin suited barmen, this wasn’t quite the display that one might have expected other than the delicately placed violet flower in the middle of this humble offering. I say humble, it wasn’t really once you got down to the eating- for style must never come before substance in the world of posh grub. I’m a bit of a snob about banana bread and can say that I would sell limbs to be able to recreate my own quite as well as they did, add in a major vital organ for the ability to actually present it in an even slightly aesthetically pleasing way as they managed to in a sneakily cut duo with a topping of fresh sliced ‘nana that was by some kind of sorcery neither slimy nor brown. Intrigue. Saucy berries and meringue thing were fine, passionfruit cheesecake was bordering the sickly-over sweet realms but balanced with odd punctuations of crunchiness which I’m still considering the merits of. Micro basil addition was inspired, however. But the then there was the little triangle of something chocolatey and evil.
Bravo, Memoirs. That dark point of tart was a miniscule culinary victory of overt rich chocolatelyness complimented perfectly by a crunchy base, Bestie described it as like a slice of the best chocolate truffle she’d had. I could have cried into my earl grey. Many people might say that you only needed a tiny piece as it was so densely flavoured but to be honest those are the kind of people I could probably eat as well as an entire chocolate tart, however along with the rest of the tea it was an ample serving. Satisfied? We were both merrily stuffed and outwardly ashamed of ourselves and I have to say I felt no need to eat again for the remainder of the day until some pre-bed martini soak up toast was required but that is another post in itself, for another time.
Afternoon tea is by pre-booking only at £18.85- £23.95 per head depending on alcoholic add ons, and is well worth the money for a fine afternoon treat.