Review: Afternoon at Buxton Crescent

Afternoon Tea at Buxton Crescent

The Crescent in Buxton is arguably its most famous landmark. Commissioned by the 5th Duke of Devonshire (confusingly based in Derbyshire) and designed by celebrated architect John Carr, the crescent-shaped building took nine years to build between 1780 and 1789. Despite its dominance over the town, the majestic monument gradually fell into disrepair and only a very long and expensive last-minute restoration project saved it from complete ruin. In 2020, The Crescent reopened as a 5-star spa hotel with hotel chain Ensana. Following mixed reviews after opening, the team here at Explore Buxton decided to sample its new luxury service for ourselves and tried out the afternoon tea one Sunday. Amongst our group were seasoned afternoon tea veterans who were able to compare it to those of its famous London counterparts.

We were led through the regal interior of the hotel to the restaurant and it the experience already felt special. The décor is modern but there is a tip of the hat to its 18th century origins. The Crescent was built with grandeur in mind and it still clings to its bones. You can’t help but wonder whose footsteps you’re treading in; over two centuries of well-heeled guests. Despite the opulence, the hotel staff were very down-to-earth, possibly local, and made us feel immediately welcome. This came as a relief. In a posh hotel, it’s easy to feel like an imposter. The people of Buxton have the sense that the Crescent belongs to them and it would be Ensana’s mistake to alienate them in any way so it was good to see they’ve got that first step right. In fact, any Derbyshire resident can get a 10% discount but make sure you bear that in mind whilst booking because they may not tell you, as was the case with us.

Afternoon Tea at Buxton Crescent
The restaurant

Afternoon tea isn’t called afternoon tea for nothing and our waitress, Anne kicked off proceedings with a guide to the various teas on offer, going so far as to let us smell the blends before deciding. There were some famous teas to choose from: Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, Green tea and Assam amongst them. Anne made it clear that if we decided we didn’t like our tea, asking for another one was no problem. This was unusually considerate service. You can actually feel a tad awkward raising your hand to ask, especially if you’re British, so establishing a relaxed procedure was a nice touch that we’d not experienced anywhere else before. The aromas were strong and heady. This is a far cry from PG Tips!

The food was soon brought out to accompany our tea and it was pleasing to see that it was in the traditional format; on a 3-tier stand with dainty sandwiches on the bottom, scones, clotted cream and jam on the middle and tiny cakes on the top. Some cafes and restaurants have dispensed with tradition in favour of something more trendy but it doesn’t quite feel right. Afternoon tea was invented in the mid-1800s and has survived as a familiar ritual for good reason. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Modern dietary requirements were catered for, however. Our party was a slight challenge for the chefs as it included a vegetarian, a vegan and a gluten-free but this didn’t seem to faze them or even slow them down. All the stands were brought out at the same time and everyone was happy. In fact, barely an hour later, there were only crumbs left. Under the watchful gaze of the statue of the Duke of Devonshire outside, we ploughed out way through an tantalising course of tastes and textures and the scones were freshly-baked, as is proper. The most experienced afternoon taster in our party thought the top tier cakes could have been a little more creative but apart from this minor observation, she declared that her overall impression was very close to the offerings in London.

Afternoon Tea at Buxton Crescent
A cosy alcove, across from the restaurant

So afternoon tea at the Crescent gets a 9/10 from us. If you’re looking to treat someone on a special occasion, we recommend it. Big shout out again to Anne, whose service was attentive, polite and unhurried. Despite getting big thumbs up from everyone in our group, there remained one mystery: Where was everyone? Okay, so it was a Sunday afternoon in January but we couldn’t help but chance the occasional glance around this large and lavish restaurant and wonder why we were the only ones in there. At £34 per person (even cheaper with the residential discount), the 5-star experience was very reasonable. Give the national coverage of the Crescent’s restoration, perhaps Ensana feels it doesn’t need any publicity and that people will just flock towards it in droves. However, the reopening was in 2021 and if our Sunday afternoon was anything to go by, they may need to rethink. It seems a shame to spend millions on restoring the Crescent to its former glory, serve fantastic nosh by some fantastic staff and not shout it from its crescent-shaped rooftop.

Find out more: To book for Afternoon Tea, contact the hotel directly on 01298 808 999.

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