Coach, Horses Tea Room — ‘blend of comfort food, elegance’
Winchester — The Coach and Horses Tea Room in Winchester prides itself on offering to the restaurant industry what a bed and breakfast gives to the hotel industry.
Between the atmosphere, service and food, people shouldn’t walk away feeling like they had an ordinary dining experience, said Mick Mallin, who co-owns the tea room with his wife, Jane Nelson.
“The idea behind the tea room is focusing on individual service,” said Mallin of Star Tannery. “We wanted to provide what was, in our opinion, a much needed type of food establishment in the Shenandoah Valley.”
Coach and Horses, which opened Dec. 1, combines the history of the house with the traditions of an English colonial tea room, he said.
The restaurant at 949 Cedar Creek Grade is a circa-1790 home that, in its most recent history, was the site of Homespun Gallery of Crafters and, before that, Homespun Gifts and Gardens, Mallin said.
With their new endeavor, Mallin and Nelson have worked to create a place where the food is as much of an art form as the decor. Whether customers are sipping on a cup of tea, nibbling on a scone and clotted cream, or devouring a chicken and apple sausage roll, the meal is meant to be memorable, said Nelson, who is also head chef.
Customers can expect a blend of elegance and comfort food, Nelson said. People can choose dainty sandwiches and sweets, which are plentiful in and of themselves, or one of the heavier items, the “traditional British tavern fare.”
“One thing we do have around here is portion sizes,” she said.
Nelson came up with original recipes for the tea room’s menu through trial and error. They are traditional British dishes with “deference to American sensibilities.”
As far as meal services go, people have two choices — morning or afternoon tea, she said.
Morning tea is served from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday only and is aimed at people wanting light refreshment.
Each of the morning selections is served with “bottomless tea” and homemade scones with Devonshire cream and fruit spreads. Devonshire or clotted cream is a thick cream obtained by heating milk slowly and then allowing it to cool while the cream content rises to the top in coagulated lumps.
“Real clotted cream from Devon is too expensive, so we make our own version,” Nelson said.
The simplest morning tea choice is the Boston Cream Tea Party, which adds a chef’s choice of seasonal fresh fruit to the scones, and is available for morning and afternoon tea. The Martha Washington’s Parfait Tea has the scones with a fruit and yogurt parfait with granola.
Then there is the Pot ‘O’ Eggs, a farmer’s casserole with hash browns, sliced ham, English cheddar, and eggs that is baked and served with scones, she said.
The rest of the day, customers can choose from the “tea selections” or “hearty savories” sections, Nelson said.
The Benjamin Franklin has scones, fruit and a three-tiered tray of small savories and sweets. The bottom level has tea sandwiches, which vary depending on the season, and savory items such as mini quiche. The top two tiers are different kinds of candy, cake or tarts.
“You are supposed to start at the bottom and work your way up,” she said.
The George Washington includes all of that plus a choice of soup — all homemade and varying by week — or a salad with choice of dressing. The house dressing is a maple vinaigrette. Again, bottomless tea is included in these meals.
For people wanting something a little heartier, there are several dishes from which to chose, all of which are served with a small salad.
A Cornish Pasty is a mix of slow roasted beef or pork, sauteed onions, mushrooms, diced potatoes, and turnip, all mixed with gravy and sealed in a folded pastry and baked, Nelson said.
“It is kind of like a handheld pot pie,” Nelson said.
The shepherd’s pie has beef, peas, onions, and carrots in a gravy. It is topped with mashed potatoes that are piped on and look like clouds. The dish is baked and then broiled to add a little brown on top, she said.
The tea room also offers a ploughman’s lunch, which is a traditional farmer’s meal served cold on an English wood platter. It includes a selection of English cheeses, crusty sliced bread, thick sliced ham, a Branston pickle, radishes, and a cucumber and arugula salad with a light lemon aioli.
Once or twice a month, Nelson puts together special dinners with a fixed menu. An example of one she has already done included stuffed roasted chicken with Wensleydale cheese and a cranberry glaze, asparagus, a medley of roasted potatoes, and bread pudding.
The hearty savories dishes can have bottomless tea added for $3.95 per person.
Though he talks about the entire tea room with pride, Mallin, who is Scottish, really becomes excited on the subject of tea. The restaurant has about 40 varieties of tea divided into different menus. “We have personally tried all the teas,” he said. “Tea has a habit of being astringent. Some of the blends we have chosen are to deal with that.”
The most popular teas are the classics, such as Early Grey and English breakfast, he said.
Mallin has found women often enjoy ones that are fruit infused, like the ginger darjeeling peach.
The look of the tea room is a definite nod to the past. Downstairs, the plaster walls have stencils Nelson put on by hand, Mallin said. It is historically accurate to the type of stencil done by Moses Eaton, a New England stencil artist, in the late 1700s.
“It was a style of decor that would improve a moderate home for people who didn’t have a great deal of money,” Mallin said.
Upstairs, the original log walls are visible, though the couple did restain them and replace the white chinking in between, he said.
For now, there are two rooms downstairs and one upstairs with a few tables. Each table was made using 200-year-old barn wood by Bruce Morrissey of Reclamation Woodworks in Middletown.
When the couple bought the historic house in June 2011, it was in good condition, but they had to make several changes to turn it into a restaurant within the allowed guidelines. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
They had to fit out a kitchen and add a full bathroom upstairs. They also made it handicap accessible with a ramp on the outside and a level first floor.
There are plenty of things to look at on the tables and along the walls, which is good because a typical meal lasts about an hour. It is not because service is slow but because the experience is one that is meant to be savored, Nelson said.
“You wouldn’t go to a regular restaurant and expect to sit for an hour or an hour and a half and just talk and enjoy yourself,” she said. “We are very relaxed.”
Though the tea room is not exclusive, it is a place where people come for atmosphere, Mallin said. If people bring children, they should be 9 and up and well behaved. In the spring, a deck will be added on where parents with young children can sit and still have the tea party experience.
The tea room also is going to outfit a stone smokehouse next to the large house to sell ice cream and baked goods during the summer.
Reservations are preferred but not mandatory except with special events.
The Coach and Horses Tea Room, 949 Cedar Creek Grade, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment. For more information, call 540-323-7390 or go to of-tea-i-sing.com.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com