Having lived and worked in Surrey and London my whole life I will be the first to hold my hands up and confess I still have many places in the UK on my ‘to-do’ list.
Fortunately, thanks entirely to my partner’s choice of career in the RAF and his consequential posting over three hundred miles away since early 2015, I have been lucky enough to explore the beautiful countryside and coastline of Northumberland, and together we have discovered some real hidden treasures in the process.
Nestled in the North East of England and just south of the Scottish border the county of Northumberland is steeped in history (castle lovers will be in their element!) and well known for its many picturesque market towns and traditional pubs and restaurants dotted throughout the swathes of green countryside.
In the past few years my partner and I have sampled some of the best Sunday roasts and fish ‘n’ chips on offer, so when we were recommended “the best afternoon tea in England” we couldn’t wait to see what the fuss was all about!
Hidden away in the small village of Longframlington sits The Running Fox café & artisan bakery. This location is the newer of the two bakeries; the other being found a few miles away in the neighbouring village of Felton. Advertising “a wonderful range of sourdough breads, enormous pies and quiches, award winning pork pies and delicious cakes and scones” all available to take-away, the café also has space for a sit down lunch or afternoon tea for around 15-20 people as well as further seating outside on the terrace.
Due to the small seating capacity we were pre-advised to book as far in advance as possible as weekend bookings were especially popular and therefore hard to come by, especially for groups. We arrived a little early for our 1:30pm booking, but the staff were completely unphased and set to laying our table so we could take our seats. While waiting we were invited to cast our eyes over the incredible deli counter with all the fresh bakes on display. I was bowled over at the vast array of cake choices as well as the size of the pie portions which we were assured were all made on site. The distraction worked, before we knew it we were called to take our seats at our table for four.
After a quick peruse of the menus we all chose the afternoon tea option which included tea or coffee (or a soft drink if you preferred), a sandwich, a slice of pie or quiche, a cheese or fruit scone and a slice of cake, all for £12.50 per person. For special occasions you had the option to upgrade your afternoon tea to include prosecco for an extra £3.25 per person. With all these choices to make, and being a very indecisive person I nearly had a breakdown!
I was perfectly happy choosing my drink of course, but most afternoon teas I have sampled previously are more of a ‘set menu’ deal with finger sandwiches, miniature pastries and sweet treats. This was looking to be a very different experience indeed…
After much to-ing and fro-ing around the table with decisions changing by the second, I committed to my choices:
- Sencha kyoto cherry rose herbal tea
- Sausage, cheese and red onion chutney sandwich on brown bread
- Steak pie
- Fruit scone
- Chocolate fudge layer cake
The tea was first element to arrive. I’ve only discovered herbal teas in my early twenties so I must say I was intrigued by the unusual name of this tea as it was one I’d not come across before. First impressions came through my sense of smell as the teapot was brought to the table and I caught a waft of a light floral fragrance with the slightest hint of a fruit-like sweetness. I left the tea to brew for as long as I could before my curiosity took over. The taste was stronger than the smell, less of the fruity notes came through versus the florals this time, though this was no criticism as I really liked the unique rose palette of the tea.
We only had to wait another ten or so minutes before the main event, and I must saw my jaw dropped at the sight of it! A three-tiered cake stand was set in the middle of our table groaning under the weight of the most mouthwatering presentation of food I think I have ever seen. I had skipped breakfast in the morning in preparation for the sheer size of this meal, so the sight of that much food within arm’s reach was very, very welcome to my already rumbling stomach. You’re lucky I managed to snap a photo of the cake stand to show you before diving in!
The first tier to be sampled held the sandwiches. The bread, which is also baked in-house, was thickly cut and the sandwiches were well filled on all counts. We all took the sensible decision to cut them in half before attempting to take a bite so as to ensure we didn’t lose anything! In my sandwich I particularly liked the red onion chutney which was just the right balance between sweet and sharp. Between the satisfied “mmm’s” and a thumbs up from across the table I gathered that the smoked salmon and beef & Stilton options were also being well received. Hilariously, before I knew it I’d wolfed down my sandwich at an alarming rate, much to the surprise of my fellow diners who were taking a much more considered approach to theirs. I resolved to pace myself at a bit more of a leisurely speed for the next course…
The Pies & Quiches
As the sandwiches had been removed from the base tier of the stand, we were left with the pie and quiche slices. Both had been warmed ready for serving, and once again portion sizes were well above average for an afternoon tea menu. Channelling my best Mary Berry vibes I immediately checked the underside of my pie slice and was very impressed to see a solid, non-soggy base to the pastry. As for the pie’s contents? Steak, steak and more steak! The meat tasted as though it had been slow cooked and was wonderfully tender which paired perfectly with the crunchy texture of the homemade pastry. I think this was the highlight of the meal for me, and I hope I can one day make a pie half as good as this!
Two of our party had chosen the bacon and brie quiche for their second course. I have never been a quiche fan so I chose to admire their choices from across the table rather than ask for a sliver to try, but they assured me it was very well made and stood up well next to the delicious homemade pies.
By this time I had also finished my tea, which the waitress noticed and was very quick to offer a refill on the house. It hadn’t mentioned that tea refills were included in the menu so I was pleasantly surprised and of course accepted, as did the other tea-drinkers on the table.
Probably the most eye-catching feature of the tiered stand due to their bulging clotted cream and jam fillings, the fruit scones were the next item to find their way onto my plate. There was no way I was going to be able to bite into the scone without cream escaping everywhere so I separated the two halves and used my cake fork to start digging in. Of course, conversation turned to our pronunciation of scone and whether it was “jam then cream” or “cream then jam”. Coming from neither Devon nor Cornwall I took a very neutral decision and committed to neither, but chose to focus on the important matter of enjoying the scone instead! I did notice that the chefs had a sense of humour as they had layered jam, cream and then more jam between the split halves, hopefully with a view to satisfy both parties.
I have found some scones to be very stodgy or close in the past, but these scones were nothing short of sublime. Dried fruits were mixed in throughout both halves, and the jam and cream filling partnered with the scone perfectly. By this point my only criticism was of myself because I was struggling to finish my plate! The portion sizes were so plentiful, and the guilt of still having my cake course left untouched was making me feel uneasy. I wanted to enjoy all the courses, not force feed myself!
This course had been the hardest decision for me at the start of the meal as there were so many gorgeous looking cakes on offer: Victoria sponge, lemon drizzle, chocolate fudge, coffee & walnut, raspberry cheesecake, chocolate torte, apple pie. I have always been a self confessed choc-aholic when it comes to desserts but cheesecakes and really good sponge cakes do sway me from time to time. As it was I did go for the chocolate fudge layer cake in the end as it was in my eye line from the table and it looked so delicious!
The only problem was by the time I had finished my sandwich, pie and scone I was absolutely stuffed and had no room left for my cake. I wasn’t the only one, our whole table came to the same point and just couldn’t face another bite. No bother! The lovely waitress bought us some takeaway boxes for us to save our cake for later. I was so relieved, as I’d already declined another tea refill due to being so full, I couldn’t have imagined trying to eat a whole cake slice!
We were left to sit for a little while to finish our drinks, before settling the bill and begrudgingly venturing out into the miserable rainy weather and back home.
Later that afternoon I did pluck up enough of an appetite to try my chocolate cake and it was definitely worth the wait. It will take me a couple of attempts to finish it (I’m nibbling away at it whilst writing this review in fact!) because it is very rich, but for me it ticks all the boxes of a chocolate layer cake and would make a perfect birthday cake for a real chocolate lover. The sponge remains light against the creaminess of the ganache which is key to creating that feeling of indulgence and luxury to a chocolate cake. Strangely I always use my Yankee Candle large jar of Chocolate Layer Cake (probably my all time favourite fragrance) as a benchmark for that luxury element as they managed to capture it so well!
Overall Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
I would give The Running Fox the top 5 out of 5 rating. The quality of the food against the package value of the afternoon tea menu is outstanding, and you can clearly see why you need to book well in advance to secure a table. I was also impressed at the number of people coming in for take away items, this is a place that is obviously popular with locals and visitors alike. That’s a sign of a great venue in my books.
Thank goodness they provide take away boxes so that you’re able to save your leftovers for later as the portion sizes are not for the faint hearted, but again this all adds to the ‘value for money’ feeling you get from the café both during and after your meal.
I would highly recommend The Running Fox as an alternative to a traditional Sunday lunch, a ‘treat yourself’ girly lunch with friends or a venue to celebrate a special occasion with family. Even a first date would be great here just as long as you’re OK with getting to know someone over a mountain of food!