“Cacen am byth!” is an ancient Welsh saying uttered by sweet-toothed folk across the nation to proclaim their love for cake.
Okay, so maybe it’s a saying that I just invented, and perhaps I’ve never heard any other Welsh person use it. But these three words, translated as “Long live cake!” or “Cake forever!”, are the perfect way of summing up my recent visit to Bodysgallen Hall to sample their afternoon tea with a Welsh twist. Surprisingly, there were no leeks, dragons or handsome rugby players involved…
My mum and I were given a voucher to spend at Bodysgallen for our recent birthdays and, being the food connoisseurs that we are (What do you mean, McDonald’s isn’t gourmet?) we decided to spend it on afternoon tea.
I challenge you to find something more British than afternoon tea. It’s an impossible task, unless you can bring me the Queen or even Geri Halliwell’s patriotic dress. It’s an experience at the top of many foreign tourists’ travel bucket list, but speaking as a native, we don’t indulge as often as you think. Indeed, this was my very first time sampling this teatime treat.
Bodysgallen is a short drive outside of Llandudno, a resort on the North Wales coast where visitors are greeted by a sea of not just water, but of grey hair. The hall is also something of a golden oldie, bearing in mind it dates back to the 13th century. The driveway is bordered by sweeping parkland with views of the distant Snowdonia National Park and it felt like the Downton Abbey theme tune should have been playing as we drove.
After parking in a small car park below the main building, we headed to the entrance with trepidation. It looked rather posh, to say the least. Thank god I’d left my ripped jeans at home! Our first impressions were confirmed when we stepped inside. Portraits of long-dead members of the local aristocracy adorned the dark walls and the wood-panelled floor creaked ominously below our feet. Despite the grandeur, the wonderfully soft lounge chairs that we were invited to sit in made any feelings of intimidation disappear.
Two waiters appeared, one behind the other, and headed to our table armed with a pristine white tablecloth and a platter of teacups and sugar. Both Mum and I plumped (ha) for a pot of Earl Grey tea and waited for the main event to arrive.
A short time later, we were presented with the three-tiered stand of joy. The lowest plate was filled with a variety of crustless sandwiches: salmon, tomato, cucumber and egg mayonnaise. Each sandwich was roughly the same size as an iPhone, however they were quickly gobbled up.
Next we tasted the top tier, which boasted a scone and slice of bara brith each. The lovechild of cake and bread, bara brith is lightly spiced and studded with dried fruit. Ours was topped with butter, making for an even more luxurious taste. The scone was served with a healthy portion of clotted cream and a little pot of strawberry jam. If you’re British, it’s likely that you’ll have enjoyed a hearty debate about whether the jam or cream should be put on first. For me, it’s cream first and then jam, simply for “spreadability”, but Mum is a jam-then-cream kind of lady. Whichever way you eat it, it’s delicious!
We possibly saved the best. The middle tier was decorated with six of the tiniest but most precious cakes you will see. For each of us, there was a tiny cream eclair, a miniscule Victoria sponge and a cute almondy slice. Although we were getting full, we had to make room for these gorgeous little delights.
Our time at Bodysgallen ended with a stroll around the well-groomed gardens. The hall is now in the hands of the National Trust and all profits from the hotel and restaurant go towards the upkeep of the property. You’re not just paying for the lovely food and drink, but also for the maintenance of a historical gem.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” – Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden